The PJ Tatler

Dunkin' Donuts Pulls 'Racist' Ad Campaign in Thailand

Is this ad “racist”?

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The answer is “yes” if you want to cause a ruckus, as Human Rights Watch in Asia did.

The L.A. Times reports:

Dunkin’ Donuts on Friday apologized and will pull an advertising campaign running in Thailand that features a model in blackface makeup offering a chocolate doughnut.

Dunkin’ Donuts in Thailand had come under fire Friday for an ad that the Human Rights Watch said was racist.

The ad in question was for Dunkin’s “charcoal donut” and it features a model wearing blackface makeup and bright pink lipstick holding up a bitten doughnut. The translated Thai slogan reads: “Break every rule of deliciousness.”

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Karen Raskopf, chief communications officer for Dunkin’ Brands, apologized for the advertising running in Thailand.

“Dunkin’ Donuts recognizes the insensitivity of this spot,” Raskopf said. “On behalf of our Thailand franchisee and our company, we apologize for any offense it caused. We are working with our franchisee to immediately pull the television spot and to change the campaign.”

The marketing effort first drew fire from the Human Rights Watch.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division for the group, said it’s “rather incredible that an international company like Dunkin’ Donuts” would run such an ad.

The Associated Press said it’s common in Thailand for marketing to feature racist undertones. A Thai skin whitening cream, for instance, is advertised in television commercials as boosting job prospects for those who use it. According to the AP, the commercials say white-skinned people have a better chance of landing a job than those with dark skin.

There’s also a line of household mops and dust pans sold under the “Black Man” label. Product labeling features a smiling black man in a tuxedo and bow tie.

The initial reaction of the Dunkin’ Donuts Thailand CEO was incredulity:

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said CEO Nadim Salhani. “We’re not allowed to use black to promote our doughnuts? I don’t get it. What’s the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?”

In answer to the gentleman’s query about what if they used white to promote a product — nobody would care. And isn’t that the point?

Take a close look at that ad. It is a stylized portrait of a woman with decidedly non-black features. The lips are prominent only because they are colored pink. In fact, it is supposed to be a charcoal drawing, in line with the campaign’s product — a “charcoal donut.”

The rather nebulous racial features of the face a suggest more Caucasian origin than black. (Note: Yes, my racialist friends, there are definite differences in facial features between the Caucasian and black races.) In fact, the coloring isn’t even black — it is charcoal gray.

The Associated Press tried to muddy the waters by mentioning other products and ads that were racist by intent. That is not the case here.

The reason this ad is considered racist is because Human Rights Watch saw an opportunity to garner some free publicity by claiming it was racist — not because there was any racist intent by Dunkin’ Donuts or the company that designed the ad.

I liken it to the controversy over the use of the word “niggardly” by an aide to a former Washington, D.C. mayor:

The director of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams’s constituent services office resigned after being accused of using a racial slur, the mayor’s office said yesterday.

David Howard, head of the Office of Public Advocate, said he used the word “niggardly” in a Jan. 15 conversation about funding with two employees.

“I used the word ‘niggardly’ in reference to my administration of a fund,” Howard said in a written statement yesterday. “Although the word, which is defined as miserly, does not have any racial connotations, I realize that staff members present were offended by the word.

“I immediately apologized,” Howard said. ” . . . I would never think of making a racist remark. I regret that the word I did use offended anyone.”

The gentleman lost his job because of the nauseating ignorance of his aides, whose unfamiliarity with a word in any halfway intelligent person’s vocabulary was astonishing. There was no racist intent. But, as with the Dunkin’ Donuts ad, intent doesn’t mean squat with the racialists. The only thing that matters is being able to seize upon anything that gives the appearance of racism, or suggests the possibility of racism, in order to shamelessly exploit a situation for personal or organizational gain.

It is madness. And it’s got to stop. If intent means nothing, then basic communication between people becomes impossible. Words themselves become meaningless when someone with ill-intent is allowed to define what we say based not on generally accepted definitions, or on the speaker’s intent in saying the words, but on their own arbitrary, prejudicial, and deliberate misconstruction.

Also note the similarity in the way both Dunkin’Donuts and Mr. Howard apologized for their non-transgression. Paying homage to racialists, whose purpose is to obscure, not to enlighten, is entirely the wrong approach. Challenge the idiocy of their artificial constructs. Make them explain why an absence of racist intent is a transgression against language or good taste.

Otherwise, the hijacking of our language will continue until talking to one another becomes akin to trying to traverse a minefield.