An altered image of darkened hands cutting a white child’s hair sure does appear to play on racist fears and should be denounced by the political party that created it.
The Republican Party of New Mexico recently mailed flyers to voters in several state House districts showing a barber with darkened hands. “Do you want a sex offender cutting your child’s hair?” the flyer asks.
The flyers cite two unsuccessful bills related to occupational licenses and accuse House Democrats of voting to allow convicted sex offenders to obtain them. Democrats and Republicans supported the GOP-sponsored bill in 2019, but it was vetoed by the governor.
A GOP amendment to the Dems’ version of a similar bill in 2021 — denying or revoking a barber’s license if they failed to register as a sex offender after conviction — was opposed by Democrats on a question of constitutionality. It passed the House on a bipartisan vote but died in the Senate.
Democrats quickly denounced the flyer because the hands of a white barber had been darkened considerably from the original stock image. “This is one of the most vile examples of racist dog whistles that I have ever seen,” said House Majority Leader Javier Martínez of Albuquerque.
The RPNM response missed the mark, saying Democrats were trying to divert attention “from their soft-on-crime agenda.” House Republican whip Rod Montoya of Farmington says images were darkened to make the flyers “gloomy.”
“Any charge of racism over this mailer is ridiculous,” he said. “A shadowy, gray figure is not a racial category. What this mailer does depict is the danger in which Democrats voted to put our children.”
But the image is not a shadowy figure — it shows clearly darkened hands. If “shadowy figure” was the intent, whoever checked the flyer should have caught the error. Otherwise, it raises the spectre of such political images as Willie Horton’s mugshot and darkened photos of Barack Obama.
State party chairman Steve Pearce must give a better explanation. As local civil rights activist Rev. Charles Becknell Sr. said last week, “It is time we put an end to this kind of crap. … We’re better than this.”
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.