Racist Political Ad from Arkansas Targets South Asians

Check out this racist political ad airing right now in Arkansas:


The ad was created, and is being aired, by Americans for Job Security, a group that claims as its focus issue the problem of American unemployment and outsourcing. This ad criticizes Democrat Bill Halter, the current Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas, who is running against incumbent Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary to represent the state’s 1st District.

Now, I don’t blog about this ad because I’m supporting any particular candidate in this race. To be honest, neither Halter nor Lincoln were on my radar before today. As I wrote this post, I turned to the more savvy politcos that I’m currently hanging out with (one being electroman, and another being one of the bloggers of Blog for Arizona) and asked them the following question: “Do you have any particular opinion of Blanche Lincoln?” The unanimous, if relatively non-committal, answer was: “Well, she’s pretty conservative.”

Clearly, all of us in this room have virtually nothing invested in this particular race in Arkansas.

But, what I do have an issue with is this ad, which parrots one of the talking points coming out of the Lincoln campaign. Five years ago or so, Halter sat on the Board of Directors of a company called WebMethods Inc. This attack website charges that during Halter’s time on the board of directors, the company opened an office in Bangalore, India. Lincoln’s campaign is also using this issue to attack Halter; here’s an ad that she is paying to put up on Arkansas air waves:

So, what does all this have to do with race?

Well, first of all, the very idea that outsourcing is negative is steeped in race. While it is arguable that companies opening offices overseas limits American economic growth, the outsourcing hysteria is not based on this point. Instead, fearmongerers who talk about outsourcing in a negative tone draw upon an “Us vs. Them” mentality that falls directly along racial lines. They evoke images of White Americans who are jobless while people of colour find jobs: it’s the same kind of mentality I see here in Arizona when it comes to claims that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from legal citizens. The anger stems from the racist notion that White people are entitled to jobs over people of colour, wherever they may live.

While that idea is veiled in the official Lincoln ad, it is made blatant and obvious in the Americans for Job Security ad. Here, images of South Asians are coupled with stereotypical Asian mandolin music and stereotypical backdrops of India, all to emphasize the foreign-ness of South Asians. This Us vs. Them structure is further established by the juxtaposition of the South Asians thanking Bill Halter in haevily-accented English, while the narrator retorts an accent-free “thanks for nothing”.

The whole ad screams of racist caricature of South Asians, that blames not only Bill Halter, but Asian Indians for Americans’ joblessness. It amounts to a political hate crime against the Asian Indian community.

And beyond the racism, this Daily Kos blog discusses why the charge of outsourcing against Bill Halter may be disingenous and misleading. The long and short of it is that Hater’s company, WebMethods, expanded an international office. And in the same year, they made some money. As Daily Kos points out, WebMethods did not cut any American jobs when they expanded their Bangalore branch, so the charge of outsourcing is based on the notion that potential, not actual, American jobs were lost.

This is the dirty side of the outsourcing debate: the argument that any form of globalization and international business is somehow treasonous towards America. This isn’t based on worry for the American economy, it’s based on sheer xenophobia; further, it myopically ignores the fact that many American-based companies are turning towards foreign markets to expand their businesses. For a country that touts capitalism above all else, this fear of international markets is remarkably non-capitalistic; abject rejection of potential consumers by deliberately avoiding international business only hurts the bottom line.

That being said, my pal who runs Blog for Arizona remarks: “That ad is remarkably racist. But it’s going to work, because it targets fears that Americans (particularly those in Arkansas) have because of the rampang unemployment rate. If you’re going to be a racist Democrat, that ad is the way to do it.”

It’s sad but true that this ad will probably work to attack Bill Halter. If you don’t want it to, you can donate to Halter’s campaign here.

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