Shameful: Cosmetic maker scraps TV commercial mocking blacks

Japan Today had this the other day:

TOKYO — Cosmetic maker Mandom Corp has stopped airing a TV commercial containing an expression mocking black people, company officials said Tuesday.

In the commercial for face blotting paper for men, several black people wipe sweat off their faces with the paper, while a chimpanzee with a curly hair wig and a multicolor outfit imitates them and wipes its face besides them.

The commercial had been on air since March 28, but a human rights group criticized it for putting black people on the same level as apes.

After consulting with lawyers and advertising agency officials, the company stopped airing the commercial June 9 and has also stopped using a printed version of the ad in magazines, saying it “lacked an international sense of ethics.”

Motonobu Nishimura, a company executive, said, “We are very sorry. We apologize to viewers and other people who felt offended.” (Kyodo News)

Here’s a characteristically nonsensical reaction from 2-channel, Japan’s virtual men’s room stall:

  • You can’t blame them. If you ever see a black smiling in a high-class car you can’t help but think they’re a drug dealer. Who’d buy such a car?
  • But Japan’s population is smaller than the number of blacks in the world! (tr: ie: We’re the minority!)
  • It wasn’t right to treat blacks as badly as we treat the Koreans.
  • What would happen if a few white people wiped sweat from their faces and then some blond ancient Greek with dark skin started mimicking them?
  • It should go without saying that this is totally unacceptable so I won’t say anything more about it unless someone comments. And I mean the racism, not the fact that they are marketing makeup to men, though I’m not a big fan of that either.

    Here’s an excerpt from a protest letter, signed by Debito, who was involved in the movement against the commercial:

    I find this advertisement to be highly offensive, particularly the use of a chimpanzee mimicking the actions of the Black men portrayed in the commercial. Visually equating Black men as “apes” or “monkeys” is a particularly egregious racial slur due to the fact that for hundreds of years, Black men have been referred to as apes in an effort to dehumanize and degrade them. Much of the anti-Black racist literature has claimed that Blacks are more akin to apes than to human beings, and the image of the メBlack bruteモ has been used to associate Black men as dangerous ape-like savages.

    Furthermore, dreadlocks in the colors of red, gold, and green are Rastafarian religious symbols. The dressing up of a chimpanzee in such garb would be akin to dressing it up as a Buddhist monk or a Shinto priest. It is highly offensive to members of a particular religious group, one that is particularly identified with Blacks of Caribbean origin, and should be avoided.

    The use of a chimpanzee mimicking the behaviors of Blacks, in addition to its use of religious symbols as a costume, is, at the least, an extremely insensitive and tasteless attempt at humor. At the worst, it can be construed as a blatantly racist and degrading portrayal of Blacks. We request that Mandom Corporation terminate the broadcasting of this commercial immediately. Furthermore, we request that Mandom Corporation show greater sensitivity when portraying Blacks in future advertisements.

    As someone living a sheltered life in the multicultural and liberal DC area, I’m curious to see examples of other countries (like China — scroll to the bottom to read about Condi’s treatment there) regarding black people with the same casual disdain that the above commercial revealingly portrays. Because outside of areas with large African populations, I suspect that it’s pervasive. At the Korean grocery in Virginia there’s an oreo ripoff cookie called “Black White” or something like that and on the cover are a cute cartoon white person and a grotesque, big-lipped black person cartoon. I was kind of shocked but then I thought Korea can’t be too different from Japan where comments like, “I wouldn’t want to eat food prepared by a black guy because it’s dirty,” are uttered as small talk, though perhaps not around the gaijin-san.

    UPDATE: Shimizu4310 has an interesting take on the issue:

    [Quoting from the apology letter] “Blacks are similar to apes,” that’s just too precious. Next we won’t be allowed to make jokes about afros! No more Danceman, Karaoke UGA (click the bottom link to see a HUGE afro), or Sergeant Afro? Human rights groups (Who are they and where did they come from anyway? They certainly aren’t the people from the commercial.), please tell me!

    [Re: the protest letter] Umm… just looking at the ad, let me say a few words. Why are they using black people in their ads? Because black people are cool! This is a country where gyaru exclaim, “I wanna be black!” lest we forget.

    If they intended to make fun of blacks OR apes, I seriously doubt they would make an ad like this. (I don’t know about the home country of Mr. “thoughtful denizen of Japan”, though! [tr: a dig at Debito I’m sure]).

    15 thoughts on “Shameful: Cosmetic maker scraps TV commercial mocking blacks”

    1. True story: I got off an elevator in Shibuya about a week ago with, among other people, a 6-foot black guy. The girls waiting for the elevator literally jumped half a foot into the air when the doors opened and they saw him. We couldn’t help but laugh…

    2. I would assert that this ad was not racist, but rather racially insensitive. These are two very big differences. The reasons?

      Discerning racism from imagery/iconography is more difficult than one would first expect. How one interprets the meaning of an ad is dependent upon the use of a (or many) cultural reference points. For instance, US culture is thoroughly ingrained with the legacy of racism and ill-treatment of those of African decent (and other ethnicities). The interpretation of the meaning of racial iconography and imagery is dependent upon this history and culture as its reference point. American’s would pay much more attention to the ad, its use of Africans, and the monkey. Their (mine as well) interpretation of its meaning takes place with the added background of racial sensitivity based upon the racism found in America.

      I believe most Japanese would approach this ad differently. Whereas Americans would inteprete the ad as being racist, via their American experiences (e.g. turn of the century American and European comparisons of Africans to lesser hominids), Japanese lack this cultural reference point, and interprete the ad without the racist slant. To them its just a “monkey-see-monkey-do” situation. There is nothing about the ad which facially hints at racism or debasement of the Africans cleaning their faces with the blotting paper. Without the added historical or cultural lens, the ad is not interpreted, or meant as being racist.

      Nonetheless, the company has a responsibility to respond appropriatly to any concerns regarding the ad’s imagery. It did so and pulled the ad, which was appropriate given the circumstances.

    3. I should also add another note. While writing the previous post, I used the phrase “monkey-see-monkey-do.” Whereas in my own mind I did not approach the phrase by its literal interpretation (e.g. that only an actual monkey can copy what another actual monkey can do), and only used it for its applicable use in real life, I quickly realized that some would interprete that as likening the Africans to the monkey.

      What I did may have been insenstive to some, but it certainly was not backed by any real or intentional racism.

    4. Of course it’s not limited to the Japanese, but what pissed me off wasn’t what the advertisement makers did (it coulda been an honest mistake, but whatever), it was 2-channel’s response (comments like those are completely uncalled for). It’s events like these that give the Japanese a bad name >=(

    5. I really know asian racism toward blacks, though i also know how pityful are them(asian) in white countries(not respected, and seen as eating flies and rats ). Black people racism is a phenomena spreading in asia because no black didnt react really, when blacks will be doing like in Usa, asian will understand that they dont have anything that blacks envy. The most horrible place for this kind of racism is In Taiwan, where they really worship white people because of their skin going until hating themself for that(dnt tell them yellow, them will be crazy)!! what a pity to see how low can be some people refusing themself and taking everything from outside!! Fortunately I admire blacks in the fact that they dnt deny themself, that’s surprising, above all with those attacks everywhere, them still call each other”black” or “niggar”. We can say wat we want but lot of asian girls really like black men, and if only people can hear wat them say about asian men, mama mia!! At least no black girls will say that about black men. De facto japanese or chinese has to solve their internal problem first of complexities before attacking others.. Thanx!!

    6. Blacks at least can accept themself that’s not the case of yellowmen who refuse their own color, who’s the monkey so? U cant runaway from urself, said someone… And anyway they should take care of their own internal problem, cause when u hear wat their female said about them, it’s a pity, I never heard that from a black girls about blackmen…so much complexities are the cause of this racism, people should accept to say the truth and stop turning around. It’s not someone fault if some people are missing some physical qualities or have some troubles to express themself and others can easily do it! Let admire life in its diversities, otherwise who is white and who is black or yellow? tell me!! naming, nothing else!! white= dirty pink color, yellow=white yellow, and black=brown, so japanese or chinese stop ur racism because u r also the best even short, with small eyes and yellow skin, but no more than any race!!

    7. I wish I had some idea what you were talking about. I think it might be racist, but I can’t even tell. Try using complete sentences next time.

    8. Goes to show you, even the apes have evolved further. It is what it is. Crime stats show that blacks are 22 times more likely to commit a crime. Immensely large ratio of blacks in the prison population, welfare, bastard children, substance abuse, and HIV. If you can’t see the numbers, it’s called denial or true ignorance. Of course there are exceptions. Nothing is 100%, but in general, blacks do not contribute much to society…mostly a drain. What about the professional athletes? Well it might be the result of 400 years of breeding by the white man. That is 20 generations breeding for physicality to pick cotton. Other than the marathon, how many blacks do you see that win in track & field that are not descended from slavery? Almost none. You don’t see true african blacks in pro sports. Intellectually primitive, physically weak, psychologically & morally depraved. You can put him in a 10 million dollar mansion, dress him in Armani suits, but you can’t remove the primal instincts that lie within him. Like a dog, he has no restraint to sexual urges and other primal behavior. My apologies to the dog. At least dogs are loyal and appreciative. It may not be too PC, but “it is what it is”.

    9. unfortunately this is not the first time japan has done something like this. they also sell a toy called dunkees and yes they are monkeys dressed as basketball players.

      often they do a lot of skits in black face in their media

      asia is known for its blatant racism towards others and self depreciation. they can easily make fun of others but they can not make fun of their desire to be white with blond hair and round eyes

      its happen so many times because asia has no diversity could that fly in europe? no could it fly in the u.s no because these are all diverse places that have moved on from such garbage

      have you seen the japanese kfc commercial? seriously all their attempts at humor is tasteless these people are stuck in the 1920

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