Former NFL star Colin Kaepernick did not look like himself in a fundraising email that was sent by the National Republican Congressional Committee yesterday.
The message included a picture of Kaepernick that appeared noticeably altered to make his skin darker, an attack ad tactic that has been used before and is considered by many as racist.
One Democratic operative who saw the NRCC’s Kaepernick ad described it as “disgusting.”
“House Republicans are running on racism, plain and simple. It’s disgusting, it’s offensive and it should be fireable, but there’s no accountability in the Republican Party,” the operative said.
The NRCC is one of the main Hill committees run by the two major political parties.
It is dedicated to electing Republicans to the House of Representatives.
The message the group sent to supporters advertised a “Betsy Ross mug” and referenced Kaepernick’s opposition to the slavery-era flag.
“WHO DO YOU STAND WITH? DONALD TRUMP AND THE BETSY ROSS FLAG OR ANTI-AMERICAN FLAG COLIN KAEPERNICK?” the message asked.
Pictures of President Trump and Kaepernick appear side-by-side in the message.
The photo of Kaepernick appears to have been altered to make his skin several shades darker than it is in original copies of the image.
In an email to Yahoo News, NRCC communications director Chris Pack insisted, “The photo was not darkened.”
The NRCC email advertised a mug emblazoned with a 1770s era flag that supporters would receive in exchange for a $25 donation.
It was a clear reference to the announcement by Nike that it wouldn’t sell a shoe model featuring the 18th century flag, which Kaepernick said he found offensive because it was used during slavery.
Kaepernick, who has an endorsement deal with Nike, has become one of the more prominent African-American activists focused on racial justice.
He last played in the NFL in 2016 and famously began a protest against racial oppression and police shootings by kneeling during the national anthem at games.
His protests spread, and Kaepernick became a lightning rod, drawing criticism from President Trump.
Political ad makers have previously been accused of darkening African-Americans’ skin in photographs to appeal to racist sentiment.
In 2015, a study of negative ads that aired against Barack Obama in the 2008 election showed that the campaign of Republican candidate John McCain consistently darkened Obama’s skin in commercials.
That study also showed McCain’s skin was lightened in some ads and found those images appealed to “stereotypes” and negatively affected some voters’ impressions of Obama.
There is a wide body of evidence indicating racial prejudice is stronger against African-Americans with darker skin, and multiple other studies have echoed the finding that some voters respond negatively to candidates with darker skin.