Are Ads Attacking Yadira Caraveo Racist?

In two frequently aired ads attacking Dr. Yadira Caraveo, who's running for U.S. Representative in the new 8th Congressional District, the current state rep is depicted in black-and-white images in which her skin appears darker than its true hue — a visual representation that could be interpreted as filtering her Latinx heritage through an intimidating lens.

Are the commercials racist? They were created by the Congressional Leadership Fund Super PAC, a national Republican organization that supports Caraveo's opponent, state senator Barb Kirkmeyer; the CLF Super Pac did not respond to requests for comment from Westword.  But there's a long history of ads attempting to undermine candidates of color by darkening their skin, and it's continued into the current election cycle.

A 2015 study by Public Opinion Quarterly featured in a Washington Post article noted that "there is strong evidence linking skin complexion to negative stereotypes and adverse real-world outcomes" — an assertion supported by a study of 2008 ads attacking future President Barack Obama in which he was pictured with very dark skin.

In November 2021, Atlanta mayoral candidate Andre Dickens accused a group backing his opponent, Felicia Moore, of using photos of him in which his skin had been darkened; Dickens won the race. This year, similar claims have popped up across the country. In August, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called out a PAC backing Illinois Republican gubernatorial Darren Bailey for allegedly darkening her skin in a spot attacking Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker; one Pritzker supporter called the result "racialized carnage porn." And last month, a Republican group was accused of darkening the skin tone in a stock photo for a video attempting to undermine New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The goals of the Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission that drew the borders of CD8 included creating a competitive district that reflected the growing Hispanic population along the urban corridor north of Denver. But the area wound up incorporating a large portion of Weld County, one of the most politically conservative slices of Colorado, and Caraveo has had trouble gaining traction there.

Meanwhile, the CLF Super PAC has been filling the airwaves in Denver and beyond with two spots in which stark photos of Caraveo are paired with narration that dubs her "radical." Here's the first....
...and the second.
Caraveo's campaign, which weighed in with Westword regarding a Kirkmeyer website redesign that removed her anti-abortion stance, has been silent about these ads. "We're not going to comment on other people's commercials," emails Kirkmeyer spokesperson Alan Philp regarding the CLF campaign. Philp then adds, "Last night, I was watching an anti-Barb ad that took it to black and white. Same thing."

Kirkmeyer is Caucasian, of course, and the ad to which Philp apparently refers, created by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, briefly features a still photo of Kirkmeyer (who's labeled "extreme") that's tinted blue. See it below.
The DCCC ad isn't getting nearly as much local play as the anti-Caraveo salvos, and the national polling organization FiveThirtyEight suggests that the CLF Super PAC's spending may pay off. In an October 12 piece headlined "Why the GOP Might Pick Up Colorado’s Newest District," authors Alex Samuels and Kaleigh Rogers give Kirkmeyer "a more than two-in-three chance" of winning the seat based on polling that's shown her leading the race for months.

For his part, activist and Denver mayoral candidate Ean Thomas Tafoya, commenting on his own (not on behalf of GreenLatinos, a nonprofit organization for which he serves as Colorado state director) says that he finds the ads to be racially problematic.

"It is unfortunate that Republicans continue to seek political advantage by stoking racial tensions," Tafoya says. "Democrats are offering real solutions for working people — health care, equity, financial opportunity, housing and climate action, just to name a few examples. Voters want our leaders and communities to come together, not take us back to the Jim Crow era."

From 6 to 8 p.m. on October 20, CIRC Action Fund and several other organizations are hosting a Latino issues forum at UNC University Center Longs Peak Ballroom in Greeley; both Yadira Caraveo and Barb Kirkmeyer are among the candidates scheduled to attend. Click for more details.