A gay Chinese American man running for Harris County Commissioners Court in Texas is denouncing ads his opponent ran with a doctored photo of him, which he says is racist.
Benjamin Chou and Lesley Briones are in a runoff for the Democratic nomination to represent Precinct 4 on the body, which has both judicial and legislative powers. The runoff will be held Tuesday; Chou and Briones were the top vote recipients in the March 1 primary, but neither received the majority vote required to win the nomination outright. The winner of the runoff will face incumbent Republican R. Jack Cagle in November. Harris County, which includes Houston, is the most populous county in Texas.
Briones’s ads, which were posted to Facebook and Instagram Wednesday, “doctored Ben Chou’s eyes, nose, and lips, and white-washed his skin,” as described in a press release from Chou’s campaign. “While this unfortunately follows a long history of doctoring images of people of color to make them look angry or menacing, as an Asian American candidate, Chou feels strongly about calling out the ad, which seeks to reinforce negative stereotypes that have been peddled about Asian Americans in the United States for more than a century.”
Asian Americans make up 13 percent of the population of Precinct 4, located within Houston. That’s the largest Asian American population of any precinct in the county. The precinct includes the neighborhoods of Chinatown, Little Saigon, Koreatown, and the Gandhi District.
“I am saddened to see my opponent stoop to leveraging racist stereotypes that have been used to attack Asian Americans for more than 150 years,” Chou said in the release. “With anti-Asian hate rising, Briones should know better than to redraw my eyes and face to suit her campaign. During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Houstonians of all backgrounds should be celebrating diversity instead of changing our features to fit someone else’s narrative. The Briones Campaign owes an apology to not just the Asian community but to all Harris County voters for her vicious, hateful propaganda. I will be spending the last 6 days of this runoff election focused on the issues that matter in this race: protecting our voting rights and improving ethics in government.”
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Chou, also denounced the image. “This racist attack against Ben — who would be the first out LGBTQ Asian American elected to Harris County government — is disgusting and morally reprehensible,” Victory Fund spokesperson Albert Fujii told The Advocate via email. “At a time when the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is the target of an unprecedented surge in attacks, it is not only hateful, but dangerous. Anyone who peddles in racism and bigotry is clearly unfit for office.”
Briones tweeted that there was no racist motivation, accusing Chou of lying throughout his campaign.