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History of racist characters in advertising

mgregus
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mgregus
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Slate Magazine has a slide show that looks at the history of racist imagery in advertising.

quote:Nasty stereotypes have helped move the merchandise for more than a century, and the history of their use and abuse offers a weird and telling glimpse of race relations in this country. Not surprisingly, the earliest instances were the most egregious.

It includes the interesting case of Uncle Ben, one of the last few remaining characters of this type, who has recently been "promoted" from kitchen to boardroom.

quote: After some 60 years of loyal service, Uncle Ben is being elevated from fictional cook to fictional CEO of the fictional Uncle Ben's Inc. Mars, which owns the brand, is about to spend $20 million on a campaign to spread the news. Visitors to "Ben's office" can take a tour of his virtual premises, a wood-paneled suite with a Mac and a leather chair. But what's amazing about this guy isn't his fake promotion—it's that he still has a job at all. Uncle Ben is a rare survivor in the once-crowded world of racist spokescharacters. Most of his contemporaries were fired a long time ago.

Michelle
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How about Aunt Jemima? It amazes me that they still use her. Although at least they've updated her look. But still.

ceti
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I read in some magazine ages ago about the story of some American missionaries in a West African country that spooked the local community with their Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben food packages. The people thought the missionaries were cannibals, and that the stories of people disappearing was realized to their horror as being shipped of to the US for consumption.

Pride for Red D...
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you ought to google ivory soap- I've seen several old advertisements showing Africans being turned white by using Ivory soap in the 19th century.
With regards to Aunt Jemima and other old sterotypes that persist in advertising, its just through plain ignorance that people don't protest them- updated look or not, they still represent the same ideas that set up colonialsim, segregation and all that muck.
I seem to rant often about the media on babble.

[ 30 April 2007: Message edited by: Pride for Red Dolores ]


Maysie
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quote:Michelle: How about Aunt Jemima? It amazes me that they still use her.
Aunt Jemima and other racist images are not pulled because they work: they sell products and make money for the corporations. I heard (sorry no link) that a few years back the company pulled the image off (maybe as an experiment?) and sales dropped. Racism sells.

quote:Pride for Red Dolores: With regards to Aunt Jemima and other old sterotypes that persist in advertising, its just through plain ignorance that people don't protest them

Actually, there's been an unofficial boycott of those products (Aunt J, Uncle B and others in the US that use racist images) for a number of decades. Clearly, it's not been enough, but it certainly doesn't mean that there have been no protests.

Steppenwolf Allende
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quote: Aunt Jemima and other racist images are not pulled because they work: they sell products and make money for the corporations. I heard (sorry no link) that a few years back the company pulled the image off (maybe as an experiment?) and sales dropped. Racism sells.

It's true. Sadly racism does sell. But it may be more complicated than just saying too many people welcome racist imagery.

I too grew up with the Aunt Jemima image on pancake mix boxes. But around our house, in our working class immigrant ignorance of US history, she was seen as simply a great cook--and a family-type gal who's the traditional aunt happy to prepare good meals for her relatives. That's why she must be so famous, right?

I was quite unpleasantly dismayed (to put it lightly) to learn several years later of where and how the Aunt Jemima image came to be and what it in fact represented--how it in many ways celebrated slavery and exploitation. I felt misled.

It seems that in our corporate capitalist dominated economy, we are generally taught only to look at how cheap a product supposedly--stress supposedly--is, not to think about where or how it's made, what's actually in it and the actual history of the imagery used to promote it.

For example, I doubt too many people in Canada would associate Uncle Ben with an Uncle Tom servant (especially since the Canadian and very Anglo-Saxon folk singer Burl Ives was featured in Uncle Ben’s TV ads across this country for years).

Probably in the US, it's different, which is likely why the firm's bosses have now changed the fictional character's position from cook to CEO (since being a dictatorial over-paid unaccountable corporate hack is supposed to be someone to look up to and respect, more than someone who actually does something useful for a living).

So it seems that an even bigger problem than the racist imagery itself is the fact that most people are not educated about the oppressive history that resulted in that imagery in the first place.


Makwa
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quote:Originally posted by Steppenwolf Allende:
It seems that in our corporate capitalist dominated economy, we are generally taught only to look at how cheap a product supposedly--stress supposedly--is, not to think about where or how it's made, what's actually in it and the actual history of the imagery used to promote it.
This is even sadder. I remember having a huge fight at a party where my hosts had a proudly displayed collection of historical and blatently racist Aunt Jemima memoribilia in their kitchen, as 'kitchy' stuff which they thought to be cute and 'historically' funny. They were really quite upset at my increasingly angry assertion that this was racist propoganda and should be kept, if at all, private. It is the absence of awareness which enables the continuation of racism, just as much as the active propogation of racist imagary.

abnormal
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This isn't restricted to America. Who can forget Darkie Toothpaste.

The name has been changed to "Darlie Toothpaste" because of western sensibilities.

Colgate bought them in the late 80's and fought hard to keep the name. After all it it was a well established brand.

As a grad student in the 70's I had a Chinese roommate and his parents regularly sent him Care packages from home - this among them. Darkie Toothpaste was a stock item in our apartment during the years I roomed with him. And I remember asking him why he didn't find it offensive - I forget the exact words but he literally did not understand why anyone could find it offensive.

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darlie

[ 01 May 2007: Message edited by: abnormal ]


mgregus
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quote:Originally posted by Michelle:
How about Aunt Jemima? It amazes me that they still use her. Although at least they've updated her look. But still.

Remember how it was made out to be such a big deal when the update was introduced -- which amounted to removing the cloth over her hair and giving her a permed, coiffed hairstyle? There was so much patting of the back going on, you'd think it was the progressive move of the century. That was back in 1989, according to the company website and I still remember the hoopla that surrounded the change.

Looking at their site, it's interesting to see how Quaker characterizes the changes to Aunt Jemimia's look. They say that "the image of Aunt Jemima was updated by removing her headband and giving her pearl earrings and a lace collar." The reference to a headband suggests that it's as simple as changing a scrap of cloth. They also say that in 1992, they "tilted Aunt Jemima’s head into a more upright position." I wonder what the motivation for that was.

quote:It seems that in our corporate capitalist dominated economy, we are generally taught only to look at how cheap a product supposedly--stress supposedly--is, not to think about where or how it's made, what's actually in it and the actual history of the imagery used to promote it.

The normalization of offensive imagery in this way, especially in promotions targeting children, is what makes it so insidious. That's why education, vigilance, and awareness are so important, as Makwa pointed out.

quote:It is the absence of awareness which enables the continuation of racism, just as much as the active propogation of racist imagary.

[ 01 May 2007: Message edited by: M.Gregus ]


Sven
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Should any human be a symbol for a company? For example, General Mills has “Betty Crocker” as the face of their company. Although, Mills updated her (yet again) relatively recently and gave her a slightly darker hue than the pure white stereotypical ьber suburbanite she used to be.

Michelle
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quote:Originally posted by Sven:
Should any human be a symbol for a company?

Hi, that's not what this thread is about. Note the forum? Anti-racism. This thread is about RACIST characters in advertising. Please stay on topic.


Jingles
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When I was a wee lad back in the late 1970's, on our annual spring road trips with my family, I remember going to a restaurant in California called "Sambo's", whose character was a blackface boy, based on the "little black Sambo" stories.

Hard to believe now.


Croghan27
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quote:Originally posted by Michelle:

Hi, that's not what this thread is about. Note the forum? Anti-racism. This thread is about RACIST characters in advertising. Please stay on topic.

Michelle - Sven does bring up a good point, can any human be used as a selling point without, almost by defintion, being part of a racist ad?

Commercials ahve such a limited time to convey their message that they have to appeal to steriotypes rather than complete characterizations to make their point - so are not all people in commercials in some way racist?

Celebrities provide a short cut here, Paul Newman can do his salad dressing and such thing, Donald Trump can shill for whatever - but if Aunt Jemima was racist, is Juan Valdiez, the Columbian with the ass selling coffee a racial typing too? How about Chief Boyardee?

To expand that - can the Atlanta Bravesor the Cleveland Indians be said to be racist? Edmonton Eskimos? Does the mention of an identifiable group immediately make that venue racist?


Pride for Red D...
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quote: So it seems that an even bigger problem than the racist imagery itself is the fact that most people are not educated about the oppressive history that resulted in that imagery in the first place.

I wholeheartedly agree with this- its what I meant to say earlier.Racism is such a powerful and ingrained thing in our society that few people notice it when its in front of them -Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben being cases in point.
I'm also pretty certain that US and Canadian racism is pretty much the same as the idealogical basis is the same.

Maysie
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quote:To expand that - can the Atlanta Bravesor the Cleveland Indians be said to be racist? Edmonton Eskimos?

Yes.

quote: Does the mention of an identifiable group immediately make that venue racist?

If the identifiable group is a marginalized group with little to no systemic power, then yes.

N.Beltov
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In reply to the following question ...

quote:Does the mention of an identifiable group immediately make that venue racist?

... BigCityGal noted: "If the identifiable group is a marginalized group with little to no systemic power, then yes."

I would just add that perhaps it would be more precise to assert that the product/service becomes racist when images of the marginalized group are appropriated, i.e., taken possession of without authority.

Edited to add: And maybe more. I can think of an ad {a public service ad - mind you - for some common good] in which the image of a "Native American" is used by some branch of the US Government to discourage littering. In this example that I'm thinking of, the image is used in a way that honours the marginalized group by being used as a way to lend dignity to a social good. Instead of appropriation we have empowerment.

From the capitalist point of view, however, selling a product is much more sacred than rebuffing racist imagery of identifiable or marginalized groups. Money trumps everything and there is no law against such things. Boycotts, solidarity and moral revulsion must suffice to combat these sort of racist appropriations.

It's the capitalist way and a good example of capitalist "civilization". Blecch.

[ 02 May 2007: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]


Catchfire
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quote:Originally posted by N.Beltov:
And maybe more. I can think of an ad {a public service ad - mind you - for some common good] in which the image of a "Native American" is used by some branch of the US Government to discourage littering. In this example that I'm thinking of, the image is used in a way that honours the marginalized group by being used as a way to lend dignity to a social good. Instead of appropriation we have empowerment.

I'm afraid you're off base here, Beltov. What you've described is the established power propagating the odious stereotype of the "noble savage." That is, images that support the misconceived notion that all aboriginals are environmental, studious, respectful and the like--while the majority of First Nations live in cities. It's akin to the "Yassah, yassah" stereotype of the respectful African American. And it's out of line.


N.Beltov
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Well, if you're right, then the example would be appropriation and not empowerment. It's been a very long time since I saw the ad.

But I would still want to include the idea of appropriation. Otherwise Black History ads would be racist.


Croghan27
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quote:Originally posted by N.Beltov:

I would just add that perhaps it would be more precise to assert that the product/service becomes racist [b]when images of the marginalized group are appropriated,
i.e., taken possession of without authority.

Edited to add: And maybe more. I can think of an ad {a public service ad - mind you - for some common good] in which the image of a "Native American" is used by some branch of the US Government to discourage littering. In this example that I'm thinking of, the image is used in a way that honours the marginalized group by being used as a way to lend dignity to a social good. Instead of appropriation we have empowerment.

From the capitalist point of view, however, selling a product is much more sacred than rebuffing racist imagery of identifiable or marginalized groups. Money trumps everything and there is no law against such things. Boycotts, solidarity and moral revulsion must suffice to combat these sort of racist appropriations.
[/b]

Please do not think thatI am in any way a racist, or a supporter of capitalism for that matter - I just want to explore a subject here that I think should be explored.

What I see from above seems to say that few things are innately racist - they lie in the context and the comprehension of the context. The example used is that of the US dept. of the Interiour honouring the marginalized FN group. How does that fit with the, now, well known advertisments for what I consider snake oilmarketed under the LAKOTA brand? Are they racist, even if they feature a very obvious FN person?

Trotsky's quip about nothing being more disgusting than a capitalist in the act of primative accumulation jumps to my mind when I see it.

If some racial representatives are not used in advertizing their absence is (rightfully) higlighted. Yet in some cases it is called tokenism. Where is the line? Does it stop with Juan Valdez and his ass?

I have heard the use of the name Braves (Atlanta) described as more an appeal to the macho side than the FN qualities and I remember listening to a CBC interview with an Inuit about the use of the name Eskimo - he said he did not care, but he was a Stampederfan anyway.


N.Beltov
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I had a look at the Slate Magazine slide show. Holy Shit. I remember the "Injun Orange" and "Chinese Cherry" flavours of Pillsbury's "Funny-Face" drink mixes from childhood. Yet I can't recall any outrage being expressed in my family at the time. And I don't think I will ever feel quite the same about Robertson "Golden Shred" marmalade, what with their "Gollywogs".

There is a remark in the slide show that bears repeating:

quote:Once again the company stuck with the product only for as long as the upside of cash flow outweighed the downside of adverse publicity.

In other words, a successful boycott, adverse publicity, etc. CAN work. But it won't be the advertising industry that leads the charge against racist ads - it will be organizations in civil society. Capitalism is incapable of policing itself.


Maysie
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quote:Originally posted by N.Beltov:
But I would still want to include the idea of [b]appropriation. Otherwise Black History ads would be racist.[/b]

This is a good point, so I guess I should clarify. When images are made of a marginalized group, which includes both "good" and "bad" stereotypes (like the "noble savage" crap that the anti-littering ad was feeding into, as well as more obvious offensive ads) and such images are not made by and for the group in question, and as made for capitalist gains, then it's highly likely that such images are racist.

No residuals have been paid to FN groups for the use of such terms as names of sports teams, I can be pretty certain of that. Not that getting paid off gives one license to use racist imagery, but it would be something.

quote:I have heard the use of the name Braves (Atlanta) described as more an appeal to the macho side than the FN qualities

Why can't it be both? Representing both racism and masculine insecurity (aka "the macho side")?

quote: and I remember listening to a CBC interview with an Inuit about the use of the name Eskimo - he said he did not care, but he was a Stampederfan anyway.

Well! If "an Inuit" who was interviewed said so... [img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img]

Um, I mean, one person saying they don't mind doesn't magically make the image not offensive or not racist.


Michelle
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"Braves" is not an allusion to macho bravery. It's an allusion to First Nations people.

They may have gotten rid of this:

but they still use a tomahawk in their logo, so it's pretty obvious what the logo is all about.


Contrarian
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Sometimes the environmental movement has used the noble savage imagery; like the purported speech of Chief Seattle, which was not spoken by Chief Seattle in the 1800s or whenever, but written I believe in the 1960s by a white guy for a film.

Croghan27
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quote:Originally posted by Michelle:
"Braves" is not an allusion to macho bravery. It's an allusion to First Nations people.

They may have gotten rid of this:

but they still use a tomahawk in their logo, so it's pretty obvious what the logo is all about.

You do not mention the "tomahawk chop' antic that the fans perform at the games, which I find very offensive (both in Atlanta and Cleveland). But here is part of a discussion between [/B]Dr. David Anthony Yeagley [/B] and Russell Means. Yeagly seems to be a right wing favourite, while Means was once connected with AIM, an organization I hold in high regard. (Means is Ogala Soux and Yeagly is Comanche, Chickasaw on his mother's side.)

They are speaking to the point we are discussing now, the icons of the Atlanta and Cleveland basball teams. The Washington Redskins are deal with elsewhere.

quote: MEANS: It's not only my view. It's the view of every intelligent Indian I've spoken to in the United States of America. These protests have been ongoing for over 30 years, since I sued the Cleveland Indians baseball team in 1970 for its its franchise worth over the mascot. The mascot is insulting. But what happens here, whether it's a college team or a especially from the the opponents of those schools. You have fraternities and sororities putting out T-shirts, for instance, and handouts and handbills with drawings, obscene drawings, you know, at different kinds of animals fornicating Indian men from behind.

YEAGLEYtakes a different tact:

quote: YEAGLEY: Well, I'm looking at to the future. It seems to me that modern American Indians have very little imagery to deal with. We have pre-reservation imagery of the warrior, the brave, the man that's courageous, the man that lives for his people, the man that will sacrifice his life for his people. This side of the war days, our image is quite different. We have the Indian alcoholic, the Indian suicidal, the Indian...

Well, I I'd rather I'd rather hear of the Atlanta Braves than the Atlanta Alcoholics. I'm looking for what what do Indians have to build on for the future? We have very little. And and a mascot that calls to mind the kind of bravery that I spoke of, the kind of dedication to people, to one's own people I think this is admirable.

Around the mid-60s the little sister of a lady I knew objected to being taught Mark Twain in High School - particularily Huck Finn with the n---ger Jim character. (She was black.) After a great search the best word I could find on the subject came from the local Rabbi.

Unfortunately it was long before the internet and no electronic record of it remains ... but his point was that something was racist, so long as an individual finds it racist. It is a subjective judgement and cannot be made universal. It is racist for that person.

This is probably a badly remembered conclusion of a very erudite essay the good Rabbi wrote - but the concept was adapted by the Dept of Education. If someone finds a racial problem with a text, or assignment they are excused from that assignment and an investigation is done to see if it has a wider application.

web pagehttp://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=1271


jas
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never mind [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 02 May 2007: Message edited by: jas ]


Croghan27
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quote:Originally posted by jas:
never mind [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 02 May 2007: Message edited by: jas ]

Jer:

As I said before I can be in no way described as a racist - but as a ex-teacher I feel the best way to deal with racism/discrimination and associated ideas is throught education, disputation and confrontation.

If your responses is not a misguided, personal slage, please let it stand.

I have to deal with the world around me, and those that have been the recipient of the spin put on the title Braves, is but one of them. A good start, in this case, has already been made my Mr. Means.

Tripping off into a philosophical places is not much help went someone, in the lunchroom, says; "Ain't the Braves/Redskins/Indians (or Aunt Jemima - for that matter) "sumpin elses, Eh?"

This is more about a cry for aid then it is an attempt to justify racisms in any of it's incidious forms. If I am to tell someone what they have believe without question, for their life, that is is now racist, I need help.

(I am sort of an Atlanta fan, enjoy the Indians and liked Joe Theisman with the Redskins.)

The consatant fear is that if you (and I do not mean to be persoinal here) cannot be logical, rational and clear about your positon there is a danger of your being wrong. Perhaps it is incorrect ----


Makwa
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quote:Originally posted by Croghan27:
How does that fit with the, now, well known advertisments for what I consider snake oilmarketed under the LAKOTA brand? Are they racist, even if they feature a very obvious FN person?
Many African American people over the years have participated in racist marketing and imagery - this makes it more racist in my mind. I find the Lokota pain relief advertising soo offensive on so many levels, not least the actor's use of ceremonial dress for the commercial. The whole product is based on racially stereotyped imagary - irritates me to no end.

Steppenwolf Allende
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quote: quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
To expand that - can the Atlanta Bravesor the Cleveland Indians be said to be racist? Edmonton Eskimos?
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Yes.

quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Does the mention of an identifiable group immediately make that venue racist?
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


If the identifiable group is a marginalized group with little to no systemic power, then yes.

This is partly the case. But I think whether people consider it racist, or to what degree it is offensive, depends on how much respect or status those who use the ethnic imagery or names or symbols.

For example, seems that one of the reasons why major footballs teams can get away with using names like Braves, Indians, Eskimos, etc., is because people look to them as symbols of respect and social power.

So those names, and often the image of the ethnic groups they represent, are seen in a sort of honourable or respectful way--even though it is still stereotyping and in many way appropriation.

For example, "Brave" was apparently the English translation of a Cheyenne Nation word for fighter or soldier--someone who was apparently held in high esteem in that culture.

Another case is how people often accept racist stereotyping and imagery because of the status and wealth/privilege portrayed of those people of that ethnicity--especially in TV and music.

An example is that I know many people who see the TV show The Sopranos as some sort of empowering message, even though it is basically a cynical blatant example of stereotyping of Italian Americans as mobsters, racketeers and thugs. Yet because often these types often command respect (even though they don't earn it) gives them status among the general public.

You see a similar situation with the whole Black urban gang culture: tough, ruthless, demanding, loaded with cash and connections, having access to things that most working class people of every ethnicity can't have, etc.


Makwa
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quote:Originally posted by Steppenwolf Allende:
For example, seems that one of the reasons why major footballs teams can get away with using names like Braves, Indians, Eskimos, etc., is because people look to them as symbols of respect and social power.
Nonsense. These are merely cartoonish colonialist stereotypical myths of masculine imagery. Nobody is showing real Anishnawbe any respect by using such demeaning symbols.

Steppenwolf Allende
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quote: Nonsense. These are merely cartoonish colonialist stereotypical myths of masculine imagery. Nobody is showing real Anishnawbe any respect by using such demeaning symbols.

Forget nonsense.

I never said the Anishnawbe or anybody else of any of the ethnicities in question gets respect as a result of this.

What I was trying to point out is that the imagery is presented in the context of power and status--not that people who aren't football players or actual "Braves" warriors get any respect as a result.

Remember, it's the imagery that's being talked about here, not any real benefits (if there even are any) of the average working class folks of these ethnic communities.


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