An Asian American candidate for the Harris County Commissioners Court in Texas has accused his Democratic nomination opponent of racism.
Benjamin Chou, who is running to represent Precinct 4, called out Lesley Briones over an edited image of himself released for an ad posted on Facebook and Instagram on Wednesday.
In a statement, Chou’s campaign said the ad doctored his eyes, nose and lips and “whitewashed his skin.” The stunt also allegedly follows “a long history of doctoring images of people of color to make them look angry or menacing.”
Precinct 4 is 13% Asian American, reportedly the largest population of the racial group in any U.S. precinct. It sits within Houston and houses Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Saigon and the Gandhi District.
Chou and Briones are headed for a runoff on Tuesday. Whoever wins will face incumbent Republican R. Jack Cagle in November.
Chou, who is Chinese American and openly gay, said he is saddened to see Briones “stoop to leveraging racist stereotypes” that have been used to attack Asian Americans for over 150 years.
“With anti-Asian hate rising, Briones should know better than to redraw my eyes and face to suit her campaign,” he said.
“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,” Chou said.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorses Chou, also condemned the doctored ad and described anyone who peddles racism as “unfit” for office.
“This racist attack against Ben – who would be the first out LGBTQ Asian American elected to Harris County government – is disgusting and morally reprehensible,” the group said. “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 racism and bigotry is clearly unfit for office.”
In response to Chou’s claims, Grant Martin, a spokesperson for Briones, deflected the blame to an unnamed graphic designer: “A graphic designer used a standard Photoshop filter without our knowledge. Within minutes of being notified, we took the ad down.”
The spokesperson, however, doubled down in supporting their ad, claiming that it contained a “well-sourced, accurate list of Chou’s lies.”
Briones herself accused her opponent of spreading more lies in an earlier tweet: “Shame on Ben Chou. Rather than answering for his false attacks and defamatory lies, he is spreading even more lies.”