A cell phone company in Japan is being accused of portraying Barack Obama as a monkey in a television advert.
I watched the advert on CNN today and what I saw was a Grey Monkey behind a podium with cheering audience members holding placards that read "change" in capital letters.
The advert was on YouTube but the link I provide here says it has been pulled.
The cell phone company, eMobile, did not see their advert as racially insensitive until a few Black Americans living in Japan approached the company. The company immediately removed the advert from Japanese television.
What was interesting about the CNN report is that they took to the streets in Japan and asked folks if they thought the advert resembled anyone. None of the folks they talked to made a connection with Obama.
When the reporter asked them if the advert was playing off Obama some of the respondents said "ohhhh Obama San" but hardly connected the monkey as a racist affront to the Senator.
Is the advert racist then?
The intent of the advert was to parody Obama's presidential campaign and urge cell users to "change" to eMobile. eMobile has also used a Grey Monkey as their company mascot in other adverts.
Monkeys are "revered" as holy in Japan and not used as a symbol to denigrate Blacks.
I can't, therefore, find the need to make too much out of this advert. eMobile should have known better and they have admitted that the advert represented a "cross-cultural gap issue" and there is reasonable and relative truth in this statement.
I remember an ATT advert that caused an uproar when I lived in Baltimore. ATT was trying to sell a long distance plan and it had a print advert with a world map in which national characters were calling from one continent to the other.
In the US the character making a call had on western-style cowboy attire and the one in Britain was dressed like a Charlie Chaplain charater. On all the continents the characters resembled stereotypical national characters.
The only non-human character making a phone call was a monkey on the continent of Africa. I found that advert to be blatantly racist (ATT pulled that advert).
The monkey as a character that reduces Africans/Blacks to non-humans is a mainstay of racist discourse in the US, Britain, France, etc. In fact, a Utah company was selling Obama sock monkey puppets and t-shirts that show Obama eating a banana.
In the eMobile advert the issue of racism is not so clear cut. And, I understand the argument that says unconscious racism is still racism but I won't go so far in this case.
Should eMobile executives have known about the connection between monkeys, racism, and Black Obama? Absolutely! And they do now.
Cultural sensitivity is a must in our global world. And so is the need to be informed about what race and racism means.
Still, I am going to take a cultural-relativism stand here and not make the cognitive leap to describe the advert as proof of anti-Black racist sentiment by eMobile or the Japanese in general.
I am glad eMobile pulled the advert. What say you?