Commercials conflate whiteness with modernity.

In Romanticizing Ancient Chinese Wisdom at Sociological Images, Lisa Wade writes:

This 40-second commercial for HSBC bank, sent in by Michelle F., is an excellent example of the way that non-white and non-Western people are often portrayed as more deeply cultural, connected to the past, and closer to nature than their white, Western counterparts. Sometimes this is done in order to demonize a culture as “barbaric,” other times it is used to infantilize them as “primitive.” In this case, it romanticizes.

[…]

Running on both English and Chinese language channels, the commercial contrasts the wise Chinese man with the young, white man. The music, the boats, their clothing and hats, and their fishing methods all suggest that the Chinese are more connected to their own long-standing (ancient?) cultural traditions, ones that offered them an intimate and cooperative relationship to nature. Simultaneously, it erases Chinese modernity, fixing China somewhere back in time.

HSBC, which stood for “The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation”, was founded in Hong Kong, but now its headquarters are in London, UK. Regardless of who created the commercial, the Eurocentric/Anglocentric stereotype of white people (or whiteness) being “modern” is internalized even by Asian societies.

Here is a Fair & Lovely ad from India (via Racialicious) that conflates white skin with modernity:


Related posts:

15 Responses to “Commercials conflate whiteness with modernity.”

  1. JP Says:

    As an Australian-Indian who has visited India several times, I got the impression that skin whitening stuff is less about race but rather like using fake tan in western countries. As in, more about looking different than looking Caucasian or western.

  2. Eusthenopteron Says:

    iirc, that whole skin-lightening thing has as much to do with the “light skin= status” association (which is very old and iirc exists/ed pretty much across the Old World, including Europe) as it does “looking white” per se…

  3. fred Says:

    In western countries lighter complection has been historically associated with status and for a very good reason. The majority of the population were peasant farmers working outside. So a tan meant one was a peasant farmer who worked outside. The wealthy didn’t work in the fields and thus were lighter.

    Today, most people don’t work outside. They work in offices and factories. So having a tan means one has enough money and leisure to spend time outside away from their jobs. For example, one might hear, “Where did you get that nice tan?” with the response being, “I just came back from Hawaii.” Poor people usually don’t vacation in Hawaii. So the lighter = status is an intraracial concept, not an interracial one. Though as JP suggests it exists in many cultures and probably for similar reasons.

    I do, however, find it interesting that people would complain about White Privilege TM with one breath. And in the next spout slurs such as “redneck” without realizing it is intimately connected with the class and status of lighter skin in the first place. To me that just shows what a big fat load of crap the so called Anti Racists TM really are.

  4. Restructure! Says:

    iirc, that whole skin-lightening thing has as much to do with the “light skin= status” association (which is very old and iirc exists/ed pretty much across the Old World, including Europe) as it does “looking white” per se…

    I’m not talking about the “light skin = status” association, but rather the new “white skin = modern” association.

  5. numol Says:

    Oh come on fred. I mean I get what you’re saying about slurs and all, but completely dismissing all movements against racism because of one use of “redneck” is just lazy (also where did you even see the word used?). Also your use of “trademarks” is annoying and hipsterish.

    @Restructure! — That “Fair & Lovely” ad is scary. I don’t know exactly what context the ad has in India, but I do see the “whiteness = modern” association. It frightens me, and I’m a White American. And how these ads impact the kids that see them…

  6. numol Says:

    * In that comment above I should have said “dismissing all movements against racism that call themselves anti-racists“. Not everybody who works against racism actually calls themselves or their movement anti-racist per se.

  7. fred Says:

    numol writes, but completely dismissing all movements against racism because of one use of “redneck” is just lazy (also where did you even see the word used?). Also your use of “trademarks” is annoying and hipsterish.

    I’m not “dismissing all movements against racism because of one use of ‘redneck’ “. I’m dismissing most movements against racism because most of the people involved in them are hypocrites. They’re simply trying to promote racism under the guise of anti racism. Hence the “TM” to indicate the difference. And I intend to keep using it. That it annoys you gives me satisfaction.

    By the way, I didn’t say the word was used in this thread. But I’ve frequently heard the word used by those claiming to be “anti racist”. I’m kind of surprised that went over you head.

  8. Lisa Harney Says:

    I remember my ex disparaging my interest in Irish history and mythology as “Roots for white people,” which I still have trouble untangling beyond seeing her imply that Roots was bad, and I guess having a history is bad? Or something for black people and regressive for white people?

    I mean, I wasn’t oppressed by this at all, but the attitude implied a lot about black people relative to white people.

    Fred, I’m anti-racist and I don’t use “redneck.” Some do, some don’t. That some do doesn’t say anything about anti-racism in general, except to point out that classism is itself a problem in general.

  9. fred Says:

    Lisa writes, “except to point out that classism is itself a problem in general.”

    I think that sometimes it’s “classism” and sometimes it’s “racism”. Regardless, anytime someone uses a slur while pretended to be Anti Racist TM they’re a hypocrite. And there are plenty of hypocrites. Though I actually believe you when you say you don’t use it.

  10. Lisa Harney Says:

    Well, I don’t really agree that negativity directed at white people by people of color is racism, and I think that honestly a lot of people who are impacted by oppression in various ways manage to also perpetuate oppression, and I don’t think it’s hypocrisy any more than it is for a cisgender hetero able-bodied neurotypical white guy to perpetuate racism, you know? We all learn to do it, some are just actively harmed by it.

  11. fred Says:

    Well, I don’t really agree that negativity directed at white people by people of color is racism,

    Speaking of double standards…

    and I think that honestly a lot of people who are impacted by oppression in various ways manage to also perpetuate oppression

    Unless they’re colored eh?

    and I don’t think it’s hypocrisy any more than it is for a cisgender hetero able-bodied neurotypical white guy to perpetuate racism, you know

    If that was intended to describe me then it’s inaccurate.

  12. Lisa Harney Says:

    Not a double standard at all. Racism = Prejudice + Power. I don’t like to call prejudice POC may have for white people “racism” because I think that trivializes the impact that white racism has on people of color’s lives, and exaggerates the impact that prejudice against white people has on white people (fairly minimal). I mean, sure, it may hurt your feelings, but it’s not at all comparable.

    I did not say anything that implied people of color cannot perpetuate oppression. I was not as clear as I could have been about what I mean by racism.

    That wasn’t intended to describe you. I was trying to say that everyone perpetuates oppression and that I don’t believe it’s hypocritical for oppressed people to do anymore than someone who experiences very little – if any – of that oppression. I should have added “upper class” and also made it clearer that I wasn’t trying to model a specific person in this conversation.

  13. fred Says:

    And you say that’s NOT a double standard??? You need to check yourself. Because something’s not right.

  14. Lisa Harney Says:

    It is a double standard. People of color have less institutional power than white people. It’s just the opposite of the double standard you’re claiming it is.

  15. fred Says:

    If it’s any consolation, I don’t think you’re a jerk – just mistaken. I can’t say that about many on this blog.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: