Recently, Donald Trump released an ad meant to condemn Joe Biden for being too "soft" on China. The ad showed clips of Biden interacting with Chinese officials, including Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, the ad drew criticism due to one of these clips showing Biden with Gary Locke, who is actually Asian American. Locke, who was born in Seattle, is a former U.S. Ambassador and governor of Washington.
The inclusion of this clip with Gary Locke among clips showing Chinese officials, especially in an ad that targets China alongside Joe Biden, depicts Gary Locke as a Chinese official, despite the fact that he is actually an American official. This oversight of the ad is careless, irresponsible, and problematic. The implication of including Gary Locke among Chinese officials is that Locke, despite being Asian American, can still be seen as foreign -- that is, the ad perpetuates the perpetual foreigner stereotype, whether it intends to do so or not. Even for people who might recognize Locke in the ad, this depiction is still harmful as he is implicitly portrayed as a foreigner rather than an American.
If the use of this clip is really a mistake, the reason why the clip was used in the first place still needs to be considered. The people behind the ad may not have intended to depict an Asian American as a foreigner, but the fact that they saw a clip with an Asian man in it and assumed that he was a foreign official without fact-checking says enough about how Asian Americans are still perceived. The perpetual foreigner stereotype is very much prevalent here, and this incident only shows that Asian Americans are still not always seen as fully American. An incident like this occurring in an ad released by our current president is especially discouraging, as these false perceptions of Asian Americans clearly exist even in our government.
The Trump campaign did respond by stating that their intention was to show Biden next to the Chinese flag, stating, "The shot with the flags specifically places Biden in Beijing in 2013."This explanation isn't quite sufficient: if their intention was to focus on the flag, then why is Locke so clearly in the frame? In any case, regardless of intention, the inclusion of this clip of Gary Locke with clips of actual Chinese officials still has implications of the perpetual foreigner stereotype. The fact is that people probably aren't going to interpret this clip as just showing Joe Biden in Beijing, and that in an ad like this, viewers are likely to assume that Locke is a Chinese official just like the other officials shown in the ad.
The use of Gary Locke in this ad is extremely irresponsible, especially considering the current reality of COVID-19 racism that Asian Americans are facing. Government officials and the Trump administration have shown disregard for how relations with China and the current pandemic are fueling anti-Asian racism, from Trump and other officials repeatedly referring to COVID-19 as the "Chinese Virus" and an ill-timed resolution demanding that China take responsibility for the pandemic. While this ad, among other incidents of misrepresentations of Asian Americans, and government officials' responses to COVID-19 might not seem like a "big deal," these sorts of incidents do contribute to the way Asian Americans are perceived and therefore treated, regardless of whether or not that was the intention.