You Might Be Racist When ...

Wheaton Wrong About Subway Ad

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As we close in on one of the most historic presidential races of all time, we are constantly reminded that racism is very much alive and kicking in America. I'm not sure if it's the death roll of a system in decline or simply an era where everyone is going for broke. But one thing is clear, the gloves are off. The political tactic has clearly become one of fear-mongering and tapping into the racist undercurrent that runs strong here. Will this actually work? That remains to be seen. I've been listening and gathering thoughts over this last month.

What's been most interesting is that it's not working on everyone. In my travels, I overheard a white male Republican talk about how he was voting for Obama, not for any other reason than he agreed with most of his policies. But then, of course, you have those that have no problem being racist and masking it as something else.

Let's look at a couple of examples. One is this lovely foodstamp with Barack Obama's face on a donkey's body, surrounded by ribs, watermelon, chicken and Kool-aid. This offensive image was included as a Republican Party mailer by Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated.

Michelle De Armond of the Press-Enterprise was able to get a quote from the club's president, Diane Fedele. She says that this racist material was in response to Obama saying he doesn't look like the other presidents on the dollar bills. As if this is a newsflash or even debatable.

"It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of his statement. I really don't want to go into it any further," Fedele said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I absolutely apologize to anyone who was offended. That clearly wasn't my attempt."

The black community's sensitivity to this sort of activity has become a matter of debate. Lets take Subway for example.

In the Big Tent we had this discussion earlier this week when Ken Wheaton posted his thoughts on this. Ken claimed the ad wasn't racist.

According to Subway, "The Subway $5 Holla campaign was designed, in a very fun and tongue-in-cheek way, to speak to our young adult customers about our popular $5 Footlongs. Our goal was to have a little fun with the campaign and we certainly meant no disrespect to anybody. We do apologize to anyone that may have been offended by the advertising as that was not our intent."

Because clearly all young adults are like this. Not. And for those young adults who don't come from urban culture, Subway is now reinforcing a stereotype. Yeah, I'd like a veggie sub with extra BS. Thanks!

Sounds all too familiar. Both of these pieces of material clearly mocked African-American culture and people. When pressed about it after the fact, the defacto answer is this wasn't our "intent." There must be some Racist 101 training class we're not privy to. "OK, class, when the black folks get angry, just claim that it wasn't your intent and all is forgiven."

Let's take a step back and ask if this were any other culture would there even be a debate? Maybe Abraham Lincoln as a Arab cab driver, or Hasidic Jew, or stoned-out rocker white kid -- clearly, taking the stereotypes of those cultures, boiling them down to their basest level and them spewing them out under the guise of marketing is not only degrading, it's horrible creative. The reality is that it would never see the light of day. How does Subway (which I used to actually go to but am now boycotting as a result of this ad) even try to justify this. My protest has been personal until now. I just quietly opted to not support this company.

Apparently there is some confusion as to what racism actually means. So I thought I'd pull this off of Wikipedia:
Racism, by its simplest definition, is the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
I was one of those people that got the post on Facebook from Tiffany R. Warren and Erica Kennedy and I'm as blown away now as I was then. You know how you know something's racist? When a bunch of the people whose culture the thing was mocking stand up and say so. And when that voice is met with resounding agreement from others from that culture, you may want to pay attention. Unless you're from that culture, you're not really ever going to understand or feel the full implications.

Which is why some diversity internally at these agencies can help stop them from making stupid ads like this one. Let's not let the familiarity that everyone feels for Barack get out of hand. Just because you're voting for him doesn't give you a pass to make degrading media because you somehow think you're now a part of this culture. You're not.

I think that America has become desensitized to these degrading depictions, maybe coming from its long history of minstrel shows, Tarzan movies, Mammy dolls and black soldiers with tails. A great film to check out is Spike Lee's Bamboozled, it's a great examination of all of this.

The most important take away for a company is that you don't need a protest outside your building for racism to hurt your brand. Congrats Subway, you just lost a customer and I didn't hold up one sign. Until now.
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