Unfortunately, the day was kind of book-ended by...well...this.
I'll preface all of this – which has been said many times before in ways that will undoubtedly put what I'm about to write to shame in terms of style – by letting you know that I don't find this spot racist.
Poorly thought out.
Just plain dumb.
It's a bad advertisement for many reasons and I'll leave it at that.
Since last night, though, I've been really interested in the commentary surrounding the ad and the responses from Volkswagen. First, the 100 Jamaicans thing is ridiculous and I don't even know what they're trying to prove by trotting out that number. Did they specifically go out and ask 100 Jamaicans what they thought of the ad? Did they put a study into the field for which they had 100 Jamaicans who happened to a) respond and b) like the ad?
I don't know and even if the number isn't made up, I don't really care.
What seems to be the common response is, "Why care? It's saying that Jamaicans are happy! That's a good thing!"
What people are either unable or unwilling to understand is that positive stereotypes are bad, too! It doesn't stop being a harmful thing just because you're not saying, "All Jamaicans smoke weed!" (Which is annoying.) Or, "All Jamaicans do [insert bad thing here]!" It's obnoxious, rude, and hurtful to lump people into broad categories for the sake of simplifying your understanding of them. Period. It's not a giant leap from saying, "All people with giant ears are great listeners" to swapping out some of the words in that sentence and coming up with something truly awful.
Moreover, stereotyping people in this way makes it WAY too easy to start thinking things are compliments when they are absolutely not.
Let's take a trip down Personal Anecdote Lane, shall we?
All through high school and college (not so much now, probably because I have a mouth on me now), people would say to me, "You're really pretty for a black girl."
Meaning well I suppose, but honestly, what in name of Merlin's pants would make someone believe that that's a nice thing to say? Because, what? Black women aren't usually pretty? Is that it? So thank goodness that I've managed to rise to meet your standards of being conventionally attractive? Awesome. Thanks.
Or how about constantly being asked why I was a middle-distance runner when I should be a sprinter? After all, black people run fast.
The above seemed like fine things to say to the people who were saying them (who operated on some plane of existence alternate to mine) because of the reinforcement of certain stereotypes. When I balked at one of these statements, people would literally look at me as though I had just sprouted an extra arm right before their very eyes. What they didn't understand, and what the positive associations obscure, is the fact that othering people in that manner leads you to diminish their individuality ("Brown people like rap music!"), undermine individual achievements ("Asians are good at math!"), and make entire groups of people into a commodity ready for consumption (the problems with cultural appropriation that Native Americans face daily).
It's not just about worrying about people saying the obviously offensive things, it's the "nice" things, too.
While I don't think VW set out to be evil and mean, I think this ad was a really, really bad move. And the people who are defending it are missing a key point: it's not about what you find offensive. Just because it's fine for you doesn't make it okay. If you want to reduce an entire country of people who are consumed by crippling poverty, plagued by one of the highest rates of gun crime in the world, and are dealing with a metric ton of other serious, complex issues to a care-free, singing and dancing caricature then don't be surprised when people ask, "What the hell are you doing?"
And I'm asking, how did this happen? If you felt that you needed to ask "100 Jamaicans" if this was cool by them, didn't anyone stop to think that maybe moving on to another concept would be a good idea? If you need to rationalize something this much, maybe it's time to take a step back and realize that you were in the wrong.
I think this Cultural Appropriation Bingo Card (which I found a while back via this article) is so spot on:
via Sheila Addison.
This blog is focused on the appropriation of Native American culture, but it's a good starting point if you're interested in this sort of thing. Also if you're wondering why I don't find you frolicking around in the woods wearing a headdress for a photoshoot to be cute.
I registered the @badvertising Instagram account a while back after seeing this. I'm thinking it's maybe time I start using it?
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