Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Chinese Detergent Commercial

When Coalitions Break Down And No One Notices.

There's been an internet year's worth of controversy in recent days over a Chinese-made detergent ad that shows a black man being put into a washing machine and coming out as a light-skinned Chinese man. Naturally, the media has taken the incident and run with it - although, surprisingly, Asian progressives haven't yet latched onto the incident to spout their anti-Asian rhetoric and use it as a reason to launch an anti-Asian exclusion movement from higher education. That may still come - I'm sure.

Completely shocked (shocked I tell you!) that racism can exist in the media, some news sites have even suggested that the ad could be the most racist ad ever. America's ethnic minorities long used to being casually demeaned in the media, may not agree, however, but this post is not about obvious media racism per se. 

I first read about the detergent ad in a Washington Post article that describes incidents from India and China that actually happened on the same day, from which the article's author deduces that China and India "have a huge problem with racism toward black people." Yet, the two incidents described are worlds apart in nature, severity, and consequence.

Firstly, the article's author,  Ishaan Tharoor, describes the incident that happened in India....
Just minutes before his birthday, Masonda Ketanda Olivier was beaten to death. The Congolese national was confronted by a mob of men late at night last Friday in New Delhi and killed. Police said the incident was a dispute over the hiring of an autorickshaw; Olivier's friend, an Ivorian national, said it was a clear hate crime, with racial epithets repeatedly invoked.
There you have it - an African student was beaten to death by a mob shouting racial epithets in what one witness believes was a racially motivated attack. In terms of severity, dying from a racially motivated beating is pretty severe. 

The consequences of the beating are huge....
This week, irate African diplomats in the Indian capital pointed to Olivier's murder as evidence of wider discrimination and bigotry against black people who visit and live in India......"The Indian government is strongly enjoined to take urgent steps to guarantee the safety of Africans in India including appropriate programmes of public awareness that will address the problem of racism and Afro-phobia in India," Alem Tsehage, the Eritrean ambassador and the diplomat representing other African envoys in New Delhi, said in a statement. They also warned against new batches of African students enrolling in Indian universities.
Hmm...serious stuff. And then.....
A number of African diplomats chose to boycott a planned event celebrating the history of India-Africa ties on Thursday.
African envoys are so concerned about a wider societal antipathy towards black people living and working in India, that the incident has prompted a diplomatic crisis in which African diplomatic representatives are discouraging African students from enrolling in Indian universities.

The latter part of Ishaan Tharoor's piece addresses the issue of anti-black racism in China - in this case, as evidenced by the racist detergent ad. As I read this section of the article, I couldn't help but notice that there was no mention of murderous mobs attacking Africans and beating them to death, nor did I read of any notion of a diplomatic crisis caused by the belief that the ad reflects a deeper violent anti-black prejudice in China.

In fact, in my opinion, the two incidents should not have been placed in the same article since the latter story of a racist ad somewhat diminished and detracted from the far more serious issue of a violent expression of anti-black sentiment in the former story which should have been explored in more detail.

Don't get me wrong here, I agree that media portrayals shape attitudes and can dehumanize groups of people to the extent that it has the potential to lead to violent behaviours and in and of itself, the ad certainly has the potential to do that. But from an Asian-American perspective, the idea of placing a negative media portrayal on the same level of severity as a racist murder seems to go against everything that both white America and our very own Asian progressive friends tell us about the Asian-American experience of race.

White America informs us that we need to lighten up in the face of anti-Asian media portrayals, and Asian progressives downplay anti-Asian racism as insignificant compared to the violent racism faced by black Americans. Yet, somehow an American media outlet suddenly elevates a racist ad to the same level as a racist murder. Bearing in mind that only weeks ago, Chris Rock paraded three Asian children in a live broadcast of the Oscars and proceeded to racially mock them in front of millions of viewers, the media's response to this Chinese detergent ad seems arbitrary and certainly biased.

Few, if any, commentaries in the mainstream media called Rock's skit an outright racist performance even though it was similar in scope and kind to the detergent ad - worse, perhaps, since it exploited kids. It is not controversial to say that anti-Asian racism is not taken seriously, and it is rare that the issue even makes the agenda of many politicians. Even ultra-liberal Bernie Sanders in his June 9th speech after meeting Obama, failed to mention Donald Trump's anti-Asian rhetoric and mockery of Asians in the early stages of his campaign for the presidency during his condemnations of Trump's anti-Muslim and Hispanic speeches.

In fact, the mainstream media at the time of Trump's anti-Asian rhetoric seemed largely apathetic to his racist speeches towards Asians, failing, in my view, to come out strongly enough to condemn him. There was certainly no one in the GOP nor the conservative media who called him out on his racism, and the liberal media's reaction was muted to say the least. It was only after Trump expanded his rhetoric to target Muslims and Hispanics that his racism was considered a problem.

Tharoor continues...
Yet many Africans who have come in the tens of thousands to China and India as students and businessmen, petty merchants and backpackers, complain of persistent racism.
And how does that manifest in the two countries? Well in India........
In February, a Tanzanian woman was stripped and beaten by a mob in Bangalore after a Sudanese man, in an entirely separate incident, was believed to have hit a local with his car.
Last year, an Indian publication put together a moving, sad video, below, of testimony from African students and professionals about their experience of daily discrimination. It also includes 2014 footage of a mob in a Delhi metro station attacking three black men with sticks, while chanting nationalist slogans.
Now that's bad. It seems that time and again, there are bouts of spontaneous mob violence targeting Africans in India. But what about China? How does the racism there manifest?

According to Tharoor, it is a "similar" picture.....
In China, it's a similar picture. In a 2013 account, an African American English teacher recounted his students complaining about their instructor: "I don’t want to look at his black face all night," one said.
Africans across the country, whether on university campuses or elsewhere, have also been subject to attack and abuse. Growing merchant communities in certain cities, such as in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, rub up against a wider population that is ethnically homogenous and largely unfamiliar with the diversity and history of black populations elsewhere.
The African community in Guangzhou has taken to the streets to protest unfair treatment on a number of occasions, including in 2009 after the death of a Nigerian man fleeing a police raid and in 2012 after another man died mysteriously in police custody.
Sorry, but that is not a similar picture at all, not by any reasonable stretch of the imagination. On the one hand, you have disturbing incidents of spontaneous mob violence resulting in the murder of Africans. On the other hand, you have a case of racist students - kids - and cases of police brutality. Now racist students and police brutality are bad things, but is it reasonable to say that issues of spontaneous mob violence that must arise out of a mutual, widespread negative attitude towards blacks, can compare to racist kids or even police brutality?

This is not to say that police brutality towards blacks in China is not a terrible thing, but can it be implied that this reflects a larger, society-wide attitude of racist feeling? After all, we are not hearing of any cases of spontaneous mob violence in China, and police brutality is a problem faced even by the Chinese themselves, not just minorities and should be viewed as a part of a general democratic deficit and lack of political accountability. So police brutality cannot be used as a reliable means to gauge wider racial attitudes within China.

A little online research into Chinese attitudes towards blacks who live in, or visit the country reveals some interesting things. The reports of people crowding black people to touch their hair and skin, stories of how whites are favoured over blacks and other non-Chinese Asians and Asian-Americans, as well as reports of vicious online racism are cringe-worthy and terrible. Despite these somewhat uncouth attitudes and behaviours, what we don't find are any reports of mob violence against black people in which there is a spontaneous eruption of anti-black violence involving the apparently random assembly of racist mobs.

In short, it's beyond unreasonable for Tharoor to conclude that there is similarity in racist attitudes in the two countries, and it is completely unrealistic to imply that these attitudes manifest in a similar way in both countries. Even more telling is the way that the media has almost completely ignored the lynching of a black man in India, and become hysterical about a Chinese detergent ad. There is a great irony in this that suggests Indian attitudes towards blacks more closely resemble, in unexpected ways, American attitudes towards East and SE Asians - as this incident of two random strangers joining forces to harass a Chinese woman suggests.

Even the way that the media responds and covers Asian subjects resembles a mob mentality. Take for example, the case of student Jarrod Ha. Last year, Ha was set upon by a mob of white female rugby players at his college, where he was beaten, kicked, and then attacked by a male student, Graham Harper, who beat Ha, whilst repeatedly slamming his head into a car. This sounds like an attempted murder that was only prevented because Ha defended himself by stabbing Harper several times. In the aftermath of the attempted murder, it was Ha who actually was arrested and stood trial while Harper and the women who started the fight, have to date not been charged with a single crime.

The media reaction to the case had all the hallmarks of a mob mentality - almost all outlets that covered the case, painted Harper as a hero, and Ha as a villain, ignoring the facts of the case and all but asserting his guilt. Almost all early reports took Harper's version of the story as the truth and all but ignored Ha's version of events. The reasons are difficult to discern, but perhaps these outlets were responding more to their own bigoted concepts about Asian men's supposed misogynistic behaviours and attitudes, and that this clouded their capacity to report fairly on the subject. Just like spontaneous mobs in India who, perhaps, also congregate based on their ideas about black people, the American media spontaneously spurts biased reports based entirely on their racist conceptions of Asian people.

The point here is not to detract from the violence faced by Africans living in India, nor to throw South Asians under the bus since, in my opinion, the point of these kinds of media hysterics when describing racism perpetrated by non-whites is a kind of deflection away from America's own race problem. The point is to make us cognizant of how the media will manipulate tragedy to push an anti-Asian (specifically an anti-Chinese/East Asian) agenda. It is often lost on us that the media can use incidences of racism to promote racism and racialized thinking about Asians and their cultures. It's like giving with one hand and taking with the other and if we don't call it out, no on will.


  1. This American media-manufactured outrage is an example of the United States playing the Race Card against two of its emerging economic rivals in Asia (India and China).

    Americans specialize in shedding crococile tears about problems in rival nations primarily as propaganda fodder to smear them and also implicitly to assert the USA's (snicker) moral superiority.

    This is a time-honored tactic dating back at least to the Cold War.

    Negative news about other nations makes Americans feel better about themselves--and distract from problems within their own borders.

    In this case, it's about geopolitics--but disguised by America's particular brand of "gotcha" racial identity poli-tricks.

    And I hardly think the Land of the Free has a leg to stand on in terms of racism given the USA's own unending track record of police repression and murder of Blacks (among other racial groups), as evidenced with the Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore revolts, as well as killings of Tamir Rice, etc.

    Just recently, Edward Nero, the Baltimore cop involved in the killing of Freddie Gray, was--surprise, surprise-- acquitted of all 4 charges against him.

    1. Good points. Racism against Asian-Americans cannot be separated from geo-political policy.

      Asian activists - particularly our most recent generation of Asian progressives - have failed to contextualize our experience in that way.

      You can't have a fully accepted/integrated/acculturated/empowered Asian minority if in the minds of America's mainstream Asian cultures and countries are considered mortal enemies.

  2. The only thing all people ever have and will forever continue to respond to is the threat of violence and the ability to back it up. This is why the Chinese and other East Asians need a paradigm shift in some key aspects of their contemporary culture, bring back the old ways of jianghu honor and bushido spirit. No one else will protect us except ourselves. No one will respect us as men unless we take that respect by force.

    1. I prefer the pen to the sword, which I think can be just as devastating since ultimately it is a battle of ideas. A silent man is more beaten than a beaten-up man. We have to state our case before we can defend it.

  3. Ben, I agree with everything you have written regarding this, this post expresses almost exactly how I feel about the white-run media in the US.

    You are a very good writer, easy to read, yet not in a simplistic way. Regardless, have you ever contracted with some of the traditional print media or perhaps some of the new online print media?

    If everything is really about subscriptions and/or clicks, then some of your views might fly, as I think would an audience (asian or otherwise).

    1. John

      Thanks for your comment!

      I would hope that Asian-Americans would create the space for diverse opinion to flourish within our community, but I find that all too often, there is apathy towards strong opinion unless it reinforces one of the liberal/conservative positions.

      I think Asian-Americans are only an afterthought - when we are lucky! - in both of these movements and shouldn't waste our time with either until we are recognized as an autonomous political entity with our own experience of race, politics, and so on.

  4. I don't entirely agree with the construct of "Asian" as a political numbers term created to encompass the vast cultures of dozens of countries. Since geography-wise there's a contiguous landmass of EurAsia and Afro-EurAsia of the old world and where does the term end?

    For instance, not even the Jenn Fang and Phil Yu SJWs are jumping at the bits for the Orlando shooter Omar Mateen to be included and demonized as "Asian" in the same way that Seung-Hui Cho and even Peter Liang.

    With that said, I think this type of divide-and-conquer mentality of Indians vs Chinese and black vs Indian/Chinese certainly only benefits Haoles, since that's the ploy they like to trump up (pun intended) forever.

    I definitely agree it's a deflection tactic that's MANUFACTURED to sow discord between people of color.

    The Peter Liang incident was a prime example of this, and the BS Star Wars China poster incident, and of course this ad was highly likely to been promoted by Western ad agencies in Shanghai - I've worked on the peripheries of that industry and tons of haoles in Shanghai coordinates with Madison Ave NYC on ads for China.

    Plus, let's not forget the US "conveniently" downplays any sort of US military rape-murders in Japan and S.Korea in recent months, sometimes by black military service members and contractors.

    The whole thing is just propaganda and brainwashing as usual.

    Props to you for pointing it out, but don't forget the white man behind the curtains as culpable first and foremost.

    1. I kind of agree that the term "Asian-American" is -or has become - meaningless. the reason is that for the most part it seems as though in a political sense it has largely become a subcategory of the liberal/conservative dichotomy with activists main aim seeming to be to align the term and the people it supposedly represents with one of these sides.

      Problem is, we seem to be at best an afterthought in mainstream political discourse and the issues that concern many of us run counter to fundamental ideologies of either side.

      For me the two biggest concerns for AAs as it relates to mainstream politics are xenophobia and martially toned belligerence towards Asia, and the slow rate of immigration of Asians - particularly East and SE Asians.

      Both libs and cons participate in combative anti-Asian rhetoric - these days focused on China, but in the past aimed at Taiwan, Japan and S Korea - and for libs Asian immigration is in conflict with their championing of domestic labor.

      the warlike belligerence in particular is troubling and is an indication of of how anti-Asian sentiment shapes America's political and global identity.

      These issues should be fundamental to any AA discourse, but those who put themselves forward as spokespeople for us seem focused on making AA activism about other people's issues.

      And I agree that it is the culture of western anti-Asian sentiment that creates the avenues through which casual racist rhetoric can pass with ease such that even Asians themselves contribute with enthusiasm.

      In my mind the India/China "conflict" is an invention and tool of western hegemony - despite their being thousands of years of history between the two nations, I don't think that there have been that many wars between the two.

      It is no coincidence that this "conflict" seems to be a largely post-19th century situation in which the "ideologies" that drive it are largely western.

    2. I'm not an expert, but I think the historical reason of lack of India/China conflict is because of geography: the Himalayas are impassable for either country.

      I've seen several history documentaries all mentioning this fact about the "expansion" of ancient China. But within the modern day territories of China and India there been tons of conflicts. The caste system in India (even modern day) is no joke.

      Also, being involved with the "high tech sector" in the US and dealing with Indians on a daily basis sometimes I've definitely encountered their brand of racism and discrimination.

      With all that said, the power and media propaganda in the US is concentrated in the hands of Haoles, and the fact the laundry detergent ad is heavily "criticized" by Occidentals (and even their vassal subjugates like the Korean Phil Yu of yomyomf) is no less to deflect the intrinsic and systemic racism of the Occident.

      I hope there can be more solidarity of the "APIA banner" but having worked in the media in China and US doesn't make me believe it's the case: tons of anti-China and anti-Chinese portrayals are taken up by Koreans like KKKen Jeong, Will Yun Lee, Bobby Lee and the other way: Matthew Moy. I've even seen tons of background "actors" depicting evil Chinese henchmen who are Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and other Asian backgrounds.

      And the current vilification of Chinese is eerily similar to pre-WW2 rhetoric...

      At least when it's this blatant even Jenn Fang is starting to call it out. lol

      Stay safe in Turkey, lest they mistake you for a Chinese with all the latest NATO racism going on over there as Turkey tries to be their newest Vassal State.

  5. Damn, why do Chinese hate Koreans so much? I've noticed this with the Chinese folks I've talked to, plus some of the comments I've read online. I would've thought you people wanted solidarity or something.

    1. Damn, why do Koreans hate Chinese so much? KKken Jeong made a career out of racist mockery of Chinese, plus most Koreans were hoping VT Tech was Chinese before Cho was named...

      As a vassal state of the US, the culture is obvious.

  6. What is really Orwellian about Mainstream America and its Free Press is that they've worked themselves into a lather about a "racially insenstive" (to use American PC-Speak) detergent ad in China, while they are largely indifferent to, apathetic towards, or supportive of the outright murder, imprisonment, and racist profiling of minorities like Blacks by America's own criminal injustice system, which has been going on for decades!

    This kind of unbelievable hypocrisy is increasingly a defining attribute of the United States.

    In many ways, this kind of American finger pointing against foreign nations is a pathetic tactic to overcompensate for (and divert attention away) from the fraudulent nature of America's boasts about being the "Land of the Free."

    Americans would do well to remember Matthew 7:3.

    "Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?"

    1. The Peter Liang case was far more interesting of US racial politics and the "SJWs" finger pointing...