When They Go Factual, We Turn Five: The Jayapal Camp Responds to Walkinshaw’s New Ad

Elisa Catrina
Oct 25, 2016 · 5 min read

Before we get going: I am not affiliated with Brady Walkinshaw’s Congressional campaign, all opinions expressed here are solely my own, I haven’t talked to anybody in the campaign about posting this, blah blah.

When I volunteered to be in an ad for Brady Walkinshaw, progressive dreamboat running in Washington’s 7th Congressional district, I did so wrapped in the safe blanket of knowledge that nobody cares about local races.

But that was before the ATTACKIEST ATTACK AD EVER:

OH THE HUMANITY.

(I will point out that the main allegations in here —that Jayapal has missed a lot of votes and sponsored a piddling amount of successful legislation — are accurate. What her supporters dispute is how they should be interpreted.)

The bigger story to yours truly is that this ad immediately prompted a big response from Jayapal’s camp, with lots of “when they go low we go high”-ing and comparisons to Donald Trump.

… Wait. What?

Wait, what? In no particular order, the most ridiculous things that have been said about the Brady Walkinshaw ad

I promised you comparisons to Trump, and by God I deliver:

“As a woman in office, I’m really saddened to see desperate, Trump-style attacks on women and their accomplishments being used here in Washington state.” — State Senator and Minority Leader Sharon Nelson

“Advertisements suggesting that Senator Pramila Jayapal is an ineffective legislative leader should he held in the same regard as Donald Trump saying, ‘No one respects women more than I do.’” — statements by Officers of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, Jeffrey G. Johnson-President and Lynne Dodson, Secretary-Treasurer

I can’t actually be too mad at these folks, since their remarks make it seem like they recently awoke from a cryogenic sleep and were told the gist of Donald Trump.

But on the other hand, leave it to goddamn Seattle to take Tangerine Mussolini and use him to bludgeon a gay Latino man for not being nicey-nice enough for our frigid Cascadian sensibilities. I hope it’s clear to everyone that there is a difference between saying, “Hey, there aren’t that many policy differences between us, maybe voters would like to evaluate our work ethic and effectiveness at our jobs, here’s a chart and a link to my source,” and saying … oh my God, pick a thing Trump has said.

Bee-tee-dubs, there’s an extended and truly boring explanation of how the State Senate schedules votes in that press release. Here is a tip: if you’re defending your candidate from dastardly accusations and that defense involves calendar best practices, that mmmmight be a hint to you that the original accusations aren’t all that heinous.

And then there’s the statement from Jayapal’s FB page:

“When they go low, we go high”? Are you SERIOUS? Using rhetoric like that to respond to this situation is as overblown as if my mom said, “Elisa, it’s been two weeks, why haven’t you responded to my email,” and I replied, “You know mom, in these troubling times, it really saddens me that you’re choosing to go on the attack.”

Michelle Obama’s quote is not for deflecting conversations you don’t wanna have. It’s for when thousands of MRAs call you an ugly whore (true story), or dealing with a sexist xenophobic basketball who somehow became the Republican nominee for President, or any number of situations in which your character and personhood are actually being called into question.

And again, here is the horrible, horrible chart that started it all:

Maybe “when they go low” is a reference to her legislative output?

The one thing that actually made me sad

I do have to admit that there was one remark on the pro-Jayapal side that made me genuinely sad, and it came from City Council Member Lorena Gonzalez:

When I ran for Seattle City Council, I was also subjected to “dog-whistle” politics — being made to be the “other” and having my race brought up in subtle ways. I am troubled by a narrative of making Pramila the “other” in this race and I feel the need to call it out here. This “other” narrative is out of step with our values and while we hear this language all too often on the national scene it has no place in this race.

I’m not one hundred percent confident what these remarks are in reference to, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s that Walkinshaw has emphasized his love for and commitment to the 7th district, while Jayapal has emphasized her national connections and endorsements for what is, after all, a federal office. I disagree with the Council Member that drawing attention to this constitutes dog-whistling or bringing up race. But unfortunately, the issue runs a little deeper than that.

Walkinshaw is Latino.

His mother is a Cuban immigrant. He’s Latino. He’s Latino. His last name is Walkinshaw and I guess his fabulous eyebrows are not a sufficient clue for people, and so in this race against Jayapal, Walkinshaw is often portrayed as “the white guy.” And now Gonzalez is doing it herself, by implication. While anybody, of any race, can engage in racist dog-whistles, leveling that specific accusation without context — without ever acknowledging Walkinshaw’s position as a Latino — makes it seem as if he exists outside any community of color.

This does harm. On the phone this morning, my mother reminded me that accusations like this have been around a long time. She reminded me of the people in her hometown who, when she came home on college breaks, would ask her if she was “done yet” with pretending to be a white person. Failing to be or do the right things, leaving home, aspiring to the economic success that white capitalism assured us was a prerequisite for survival— those things will take away your Latin@-ness. And maybe one day, when you run for office, detractors will say you “sold out” and “have no connection to the Latin@ community.”

I find myself wondering if Council Member Gonzalez has faced those same pressures and jabs. I wonder if, like me, she ever worries whether she’s “Latina enough” or “a real person of color.”

In the grand scheme of things, hers was a very minor omission. However, at its worst, this type of rhetoric — that elevates one person of color while conveniently whitewashing another — promotes a weird and ugly hierarchy of race. It gives white people an excuse not to listen to an intelligent, thoughtful Latino man. I’ve seen how readily they leap to that excuse, in the way people say Walkinshaw is “flaunting his middle name” as some kind of smokescreen. As if his name doesn’t belong to him. As if they get to decide when he uses it.

This started out as a silly romp through all this ado about nothing. But if there’s one thing I want to encourage people to do, it’s to listen past the din about this “disgusting” ad that “belittles women of color.” Listen past the posturing. You may find that the lowest rhetoric is the hardest to spot.

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