No China, this ad IS racist and we are not being ‘sensitive’ about it!

Published: June 2, 2016

The pursuit and appreciation of fair skin has always been considered to be a desi obsession but this week, an advert shown on Chinese TV showed that this unhealthy preoccupation with fair skin transcends boundaries. 

In this seemingly innocuous advert, a Chinese woman beckons a black man, who is wolf whistling at her, dishevelled and wearing dirty clothes. She then proceeds to stuff his body into a washing machine and adds the particular detergent that is being advertised. After the spin cycle is complete, the man emerges as ‘fair’, clean and Chinese. It has, understandably, sparked outrage across social media and mainstream news outlets across the world.

The ad has however caused little to no reaction in China. The company selling the product sees nothing wrong with the advert and says instead the world should stop being so ‘sensitive’. It seems Chinese bias against people of African descent has not shifted considerably despite China becoming one of Africa’s biggest trade partner. The ad is nearly as bad as those ‘Fair and Lovely’ ads where a woman’s complexion slowly starts getting fairer and fairer as the days pass until she reaches the appropriate quotient and bags the handsome man she pines for.

Such ads are uncomfortable to watch and so inappropriate. The fact that the black man in the advert was seen as dirty and dishevelled and in need of a good wash speaks volumes about Chinese perceptions regarding black people. It is almost the modern day equivalent of the highly racist Pears soap advert which appeared in Britain that shows a black boy being washed by Pears and coming out white (despite retaining a black face). Such awkward adverts from the post-slavery era show just how painful and offensive such advertising can be towards black people.

Photo: Vintage advertising

People of all colours and backgrounds should be celebrated and appreciated not ridiculed or made to feel bad about themselves. Laundry detergents should just stick to showing how stubborn stains on clothing can be removed instead of changing the colour of someone’s skin, something which laundry detergent can’t do in the first place. Although people in China don’t understand the uproar behind the advert, it still makes for extremely awkward viewing. Let’s hope Chinese perceptions regarding skin colour change if China is to make a positive impact in this globalised world we now live in.

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Faiza Iqbal

Faiza Iqbal

A law graduate from King's College, London Nottingham Law School. Having worked at Mandviwalla & Zafar as an Associate, she now writes freelance articles and is trying to qualify as a barrister in Canada.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.