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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Is this ad racist?

I had to re-iterate Keith Boykin's question here after I came across his post about an Intel advertisement he found in his mail. The ad featured a white man, his arms akimbo, with a smug smile, while several black men are in a bowing position around him. The men purportedly represent sprinters, which was to be a metaphor for performance speed. Well, if Intel meant thsi innocuous message, it quickly got mired in racial implications. Can we even see what Intel is selling here?

The consensus of the commentors over at Boykin's blog is that this ad is racist, although some dissentors say at the most it's just racially insensitive. Well, ok, let's go with the latter premise (although to me this is argument about the varying shades of the same fruit). So the question is how in the 21st century can ad execs be this insensitive to racial politics that they couldn't even see the insinuation of a white "lord" basking over the subjugated black bodies around him? At the least, it harps on stereotypes of white male=brains, black male=muscle.

Another commentor stated that while the ad itself isn't racist, the insinuation of black male bodies as "well-oiled machines" is. Well, this is an ever-present depiction of black men in the media, particularly sports. How can we ignore the fact that "well-oiled machines" are exactly how they are promoted when they are talked up by sports commentators as "powerful", "aggressive", "quick", "naturally athletic." Never "smart", "intelligent", "calculating" or "cunning" which is more likely to be attributed to a white athlete.

How many want to bet that the men (and women) who sat in the marketing meeting and thought this ad was a good idea follow sports closely? How many want to take a guess at the ratio of black men they see on the field to the number of black men (and women) who are seated next to them at work? I have a feeling that the ratio would be slightly if not dramatically skewered.

This ad reminded me of a similar ad I came across over fifteen years ago when I was temping at a bank. I was leafing through a magazine (downtime activity) and came across an ad supposedly pushing some sort of software that was to organize your hard drive to free up space. The ad claimed that the hard drive was a jungle that you had to tame. And depicting this jungle were black natives in grass skirts carrying a white man dressed as the great white hunter in some pallet. My senses immediately said "racist"; to test whether I was being too sensitive, I showed the ad to a white supervisor, half-way expecting him to deny what was before his eyes. But no, even he saw what the ad executives obviously didn't see or didn't care to see, and immediately agreed that the ad was racist.

A few years later, I saw another ad pushing some international phone service where all of the countries were represented by people in their native dress. Africa was represented by a monkey or gorilla. I guess the marketing director decided an african in a Togo shirt would have been more insensitive.

Intel did apologize after the ad blew up in their faces. Again how could they not see what was before their eyes? But again, I guess the real question is how many black engineers, programmers, IT staff, support staff, board members, CEOs, CFOs are employed at Intel? How many are in their marketing department? How many occasions do white employees and executives get to see blacks as their intellectual equals and not just some oiled bodies to be used in servitude?

So again, I ask, is this more than racial insensitivity? Is this ad outright racist in its implication? To put it in another perspective, I use the words of another commentor at Boykin's: "Same ad with a team of all-Middle Eastern or all-Asian men, or all-female runners. Love to see how far that would fly. Not far, I'm guessing."

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Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 8/18/2007 06:52:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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