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The Online Outrage Over This Racist Chinese Ad Says A Lot About How China And The West React To Racism

Were the responses in order, or is everyone getting excited for nothing?

02/06/2016 8:36 AM AEST | Updated 02/06/2016 8:36 AM AEST
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The company behind the racist Chinese laundry detergent ad that sparked widespread online outrage around the world issued a half-hearted apology for the uproar it caused. Actually, it was one of those “we're sorry if anyone was offended” kind of apologies. Nonetheless, Shanghai Leishang Cosmetics did say sorry to Africans for any misunderstandings caused by the Qiaobi detergent ad: "We express our apology for the harm caused to the African people because of the spread of the ad and the over-amplification by the media,” the company said.

It's the second part of their "kind of" apology that is especially interesting. Deep down, it's highly likely that they are not really that sorry about the whole thing, but they do seem perturbed that international media made such a fuss: "The foreign media might be too sensitive about the ad," said a company spokesman.

Media outlets seemingly picked up on the massive internet outrage that erupted -- mostly in the U.S. and U.K. -- about the ad and the shocking characterization of black people as being "dirty." For most Westerners, this type of blatant in-your-face racism is more reminiscent of 19th century blackface media in the U.S. than the more subtle, yet equally destructive, stereotypes of black people that remain depressingly common in contemporary television and film.

Now that this incident appears to be settling down and we can step back to analyze what happened, it's apparent just how little Chinese society has progressed in understanding the importance of racial and cultural diversity, as well as how seriously much of the rest of the world takes this issue. Throughout much of this affair, it really seemed that Chinese and Westerners were speaking past each other as if it was two totally different conversations. Westerners, mostly white people, were visibly outraged by the Chinese callousness. Meanwhile, the prevailing Chinese response was often confusion over what the fuss was about. Not surprisingly, this led to a retreat into an instinctive defensive crouch that occurs whenever China comes under sustained criticism from the West.

Nicole Bonnah is the Beijing-based founder of the "Black Lives in China" blog and a documentary producer working on a new film about black and African experiences in China. In response to the recent controversy, Nicole wrote an entry for her blog that said the time is now here for the Chinese to accept some responsibility for the "Afro-Phobia" and anti-black racism that is prevalent in contemporary Chinese society. She joined Eric in the podcast above to discuss her recent blog post and to reflect on the Qiaobi ad controversy as a whole.

Join the conversation. We'd love to hear your thoughts on whether you agree with the online outrage that enough is enough and the Chinese can no longer hide behind the veil of "cultural context" that is so often used to justify offensive Chinese attitudes towards people of other races and ethnicities. Or do the Chinese have a point that the hyper-political correctness in the West, so often criticized by Westerners themselves (ahem, Donald Trump), is to blame and that everyone is getting excited over this simple TV commercial for nothing?

Tell us what you think:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ChinaAfricaProject

Twitter: @eolander | @stadenesque

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