Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Light Saqib, Dark Saqib

Campaign consultants love to get creative with mailers. That’s why they’re paid! And sometimes they use Photoshop to make their point. But when an image of a light-skinned candidate is altered to look like a dark-skinned person, does that cross the line? That question is now being asked about Senator Nancy King’s most recent negative mailer targeting her challenger, Saqib Ali.

Check out the Sleazy Saqib mailer sent out by King criticizing Ali for taking PAC money. Note the two images of Ali on the first page.

The top image of Ali seems to be a real shot. The bottom image has been altered in two ways: it has been flipped and darkened. Every aspect of Ali in the bottom image – his hair, his skin, his five-o’clock shadow, his tie and his suit – is darker.

Dark Saqib is then enlarged later in the mailer.

Here are Light Saqib and Dark Saqib side by side. The alteration can’t be missed.

What is the point of Dark Saqib? Is it to show him being corrupted by PAC money? Is it to show him as some sort of sinister figure?

District 39 resident Liz McKenna emailed us her reaction to the mailer:

I was shocked and offended when I saw the latest anti-Ali flyer in my mailbox today. I know Saqib, and it was immediately obvious to me that the photo of him had been altered using something like Photoshop to make his skin look darker.

I don’t even know where to begin -- this kind of dirty trick not only misrepresents Saqib, but plays on offensive negative stereotypes regarding skin tone. The ugly trope at work here is “darker skin = unsavory” and that in itself is wrong. Many of us remember when O.J. Simpson’s mug shot was similarly darkened for the cover of Time Magazine back in 1994. I had hoped that I had seen the last of such racist editorial decisions in this century. Apparently I was wrong.

Saqib Ali deserves an apology. All people of color, and people of conscience, deserve an apology.


Elizabeth M. McKenna
North Potomac, MD
This is the second time something like this has happened during this campaign. When Senator King sent out an education issue mailer showing students of color goofing off and reading comic books in class, Council Member Valerie Ervin asked, “Is there an explanation for why all the kids in the photos are black and latino?” No one replied.

We are not – repeat – NOT making a judgment on this. But we can’t ignore it either, because people are talking.