I realize this is only, like, the fifth most tone-deaf thing the Republican Party has done today, but the Fort Bend County Republican Party in Houston placed this ad in a recent issue of The India Herald, a local publication aimed at Indian Americans, just before the start of a Hindu celebration in Lord Ganesha’s honor.
At the very bottom, after a picture of Ganesha with explanations for his many symbols, there’s a message to readers: “Would you worship a donkey or an elephant? The choice is yours.” An elephant, of course, represents the GOP.
The message is about as insensitive as asking Christians if they want to worship a Guy Who Got Captured or a real hero.
It’s also offensive because it suggests that religion and politics are the same thing — and voting for Democrats is a weaker option for true believers.
The GOP apologized without any explanation of why they let some ignorant buffoon run this ad on their behalf.
In a statement obtained by CNN, the county’s Republican Party chairman says their main objective was to celebrate and knowledge the Hindu holiday.
“The ad was not meant to disparage Hindu customs or traditions in any way,” said the chairman, Jacey Jetton.
“This ad was created with input from those of Hindu faith so that we could properly pay respect to the sacred festival. This highlights the difficulty in outreach that can be positive for one group but not for another in the same community,” Jetton added. “We offer our sincerest apologies to anyone that was offended by the ad. Obviously, that was not the intent.”
It’s never the intent for the GOP… it just happens all the time. And they never do anything to prevent it. Also, which group is benefitting from this? How is it “positive for one group but not for another” instead of just awful altogether?
For what it’s worth, Hindus don’t “worship” elephants or cows. As the Hindu American Foundation notes, they worship the Divine and “consider all living things to be sacred.” Saying they worship elephants simplifies their beliefs to the point of losing all meaning.
Some politicians have pushed back, calling this “highly inappropriate.”
Asking Hindu-Americans if they would rather vote for a donkey or an elephant by comparing Ganesha, a religious figure, to a political party is highly inappropriate.
— Sri Preston Kulkarni (@SriPKulkarni) September 18, 2018
Despicable and offensive. @GOP resorts to attacks rooted in ignorance and bigotry because their platform lacks substance.
That’s why we’re voting them out in November. Donate, volunteer, and vote for candidates like Sri. Let’s bring some integrity to Congress. https://t.co/tuHfA6Oakg
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) September 19, 2018
Hindu American Foundation board member Rishi Bhutada gave a good explanation of why this ad is offensive. I wasn’t raised as a Hindu, but I can definitely relate:
On Twitter, he explained that the ad implies Hindus worship animals as a god, which was a stereotype used to bully and taunt him during his childhood. Kids would ask if they were eating his god when they consumed beef and wonder if he prayed to the animals at the circus. He wasn’t alone and explained that one in three Hindu students are bullied for that exact misconception.
“You’ll see it in textbooks, teachers will say it in class because they don’t know better, etc,” he tweeted. “It’s terrible, and to have one of the local units of a major political party reinforce that message is awful.”
As a rule of thumb, Bhutada advised all political parties to steer clear of using religious imagery to gain support.
He’s far too kind. He thinks the GOP was acting in good faith, and they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. A party that’s home to racists, sexists, and immigrant-bashers deserves all the criticism it gets. And just look at the update from the Hindu American Foundation about this story. They note that the GOP didn’t even send the apology directly to them and there was no indication of how the party would prevent this sort of thing from happening again.