Why this Chinese detergent commercial is not 'the most racist ad ever'

What is racism? Only when discrimination is meted out against a coloured person?

Rutu Shah May 27, 2016 15:56:53 IST
Why this Chinese detergent commercial is not 'the most racist ad ever'

Here are two advertisements.

Take a moment to watch them before you go any further:

Watched it?

Good. Now watch the next one:

The Italian advertisement for the washing detergent ‘Coloreria Italiana’ was released in 2007 with a simple message ‘Coloured is Better’ (which seems like a bit of a mixed message considering it is an advertisement for washing powder).

Now, the advertisement opens with a woman doing her usual load of laundry as a man with a skinny butt and hairy chest walks in. The lascivious Italian is clearly putting the woman off, so as a means to get rid of him she invites him over with a coy smile and then throws him in the machine as he approaches to kiss her.

Why this Chinese detergent commercial is not the most racist ad ever

The Italian and Chinese commercials for the laundry detergent.

With a satisfied grin, the woman perches herself on top of the machine and when the load is done, she opens the lid. To our collective surprise, the man that comes out is different — he has droolworthy abs, no chest hair and surprisingly, he is coloured. While we appreciate the spectacular body, we are slightly taken aback by the spin of events. Was the message that the man who goes in as a sloppy and slightly uncouth Caucasian man, comes out as a suave black Adonis? Oh no, we are not racist, we are simply questioning the tagline ‘Coloured is Better’.

For the sake of this article, let's ignore the incredibly sexist undertones of these advertisements. That's an argument for another day.

Now, on the flipside you have your Chinese commercial for Qiaobi laundry detergent. They decided to do the exact same advertisement (bye-bye, copyright laws) for the same product, only here a paint-spattered black man goes in and out comes a light-skinned Chinese man with bright pink lips.

Now both of these advertisements suggest that a person of a certain race is unclean — since this is a washing powder advertisement — and both try to assert that a person of another race is superior. To make things clearer, let’s just take a slight detour and focus on a fairly commonly agreed-upon definition of racism: A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

In other words, thinking that some races of people are better than others.

This brings us to the other issue. When the Chinese advertisement was released, while it was ill-timed considering last year's ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in the US and other anti-racism movements going on around the globe, the script was the same as the Italian version.

So why the outrage now, and not nine years ago? Why term the Chinese version as ‘the most racist advertisement ever’? (Maybe because of the residual anger over the removal of John Boyega from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens poster?)

If racism is racism, please penalise the Italian version equally, and while we are it, let’s abolish poverty, abolish hunger and bring about world peace.

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