So, a Yo, Is This Racist post about it just alerted me to the existence of this ad:
Now, this may come as a shock to you, but VW is facing backlash against this ad on grounds of racism. In their defense, the marketing officer has apparently said “We actually talked to about 100 jamaicans [sic] in the research and we had a speech coach on site to make sure it was authentic as possible.” The Washington Post further reports that another spokesperson has said that “the company has gotten ‘many’ positive comments from the public, including Jamaicans. ‘The response has been: ‘We get it. Accents don’t have a color,’ ’ he said.”
Dudes, the problem is not that someone in your ad was putting on a Jamaican accent, or even that the person was white – actors put on all kinds of accents all the time, and I’m sure there are white people who grew up in Jamaica. The thing is that to find this ad “cute” (which is what a lot of people seem to be calling it), you have to accept certain racist assumptions:
1) Jamaican accents are inherently out of place in corporate settings – people throughout the ad are consistently taken aback by it.
2) Jamaicans are all happy all the time, and their accents prove it. Or something. Really, people?
It’s racist. Even if many, many people aren’t offended by it, these kinds of generalizations are inherently racist. Even if the stereotype that all Jamaicans are happy might have a positive impact on Jamaican tourism, it’s still racist. (Actually, seriously, I feel the need to point out that despite the headline at that last link, nowhere in the quotation from the Jamaican tourism minister does he actually say that the ad’s not racist. He just says it may be good for business, which may be true, but doesn’t in any way imply that he’s taking a position on whether it’s racist.)
I really don’t think this should be as difficult as everyone seems to be making it.
“The Least Happy Jamaican”, by a guest contributor at Racialicious.
“Volkswagen Consulted ‘100 Jamaicans’ to Make Sure Their New Commercial Isn’t Racist”, by Lindy West (at Jezebel)