cultural imperialism/(neo)colonialism

Ben O. forwarded this ad for Fairy Soap (found here). It plays into the idea that African Americans are dirty and either lazy or stupid (since they don’t bother to wash their children), but that enlightened, kindly, clean whites can help them. It would make a good accompaniment to the chapter “Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising” in Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, by Anne McClintock.

UPDATE: In a comment, Brendon proposed a reading I didn’t think of:

The second ad is troubling, but my interpretation of it wasn’t that the ad was implying that African Americans are dirty – it’s implying that the young white girl believes the black girl is covered in dirt, which is the only reason why the black girl doesn’t have the white skin she does. It’s about the ‘folly’ of youth – this girl isn’t versed in the discourse of racial difference yet!

Of course, Eric points out that the “cutesy” element is undermined by the fact that the ad was made by adults who, unless we’re both totally wrong, didn’t hold such an “innocent” view of the differences between African Americans and Whites.

Also, as a commenter pointed out, given changes in hairstyles and dress for children over time, it may be those are boys, not girls.

NEW (July ’10)! Monica Y. sent along another example, this one an ad for Vinolia Soap:

In this ad for Union Carbide is an excellent example of the dichotomization of “tradition” and “modernity” and the conflation of “modernity” with the West.  Text:

Science helps build a new India.

Oxen working the fields . . . the eternal river Ganges . . . jeweled elephants on parade.  Today these symbols of ancient India exist side by side with a new sight–modern industry.  India has developed bold new plans to build its economy and bring the promise of a bright future to its more than 400,000,000 poeple.  But India needs the technical knowledge of the western world.  For example, working with Indian engineers and technicians, Union Carbide recently made available its vast scientific resources to help build a major chemicals and plastics plant near Bombay.  Throughout the free world, Union Carbide has been actively engaged in building plants for the manufacture of chemicals, plastics, carbons, gases, and metals.  The people of Union Carbide welcome the opportunity to use their knowledge and sills in partnership with the citizens of so many great countries.

UPDATE:  In the comments, Village Idiot mentioned the imagery which I, ironically, lost sight of in favor of the text.  The great white hand (of God?) pouring what looks like blood out of a scientific beaker onto a scene of dark figures!  Wow!

Found at Vintage Ads thanks to Ben O.

Culture-sharing, of course, is nothing new. But with new forms of media, they are intensified and, increasingly, we get to see what “they” do with “our” art forms. Jenelle N. sent in this fascinating music video of artists in Bulgaria appropriating American hip hop and, correspondingly, elements of “Black” culture (highly produced and largely invented by music executives) and blending it with more “indigenous” art forms (please do note all of my scarequotes).

This duet is, as Jenelle explains, “between two of Bulgaria’s hottest chalga performers, Azis and Malina called Iskam, Iskam (I Want, I Want).”


See also the Google sari.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

In Elk City, Oklahoma, I saw this billboard for Howe Nissan car dealership:

In case it doesn’t make sense to you, it’s based on that stereotypical image you always see of Indians in buckskin posed like this saying “How” in greeting in movies and stuff. You know, “Howe” and “How.” If you didn’t know, whenever you meet an Indian, they raise their palm to you and say “How.” My mom does it all the time. It’s totally the Indian version of “talk to the hand.”

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting use of a stereotypical Indian image to sell stuff. You’ve got all the goodies–the universalized “plains Indian” outfit, the portrayal of Native Americans as though they all still run around in buckskins, the play on a made-up version of “Indian” language, and the stoic face.

Disclosure: My dissertation, called “Female Genital Mutilation” in the American Imagination, is about how different U.S. constituencies (mainly doctors, activists, journalists, and academics) have framed female genital cutting over the past 30 years.  I offer this context for the images below (submitted by Craig C. and Breck and found via boingboing and adsoftheworld):

There is great conflict among feminist activists over how to go about decreasing the prevalence of “female genital cutting,” better known to most as “female genital mutilation.” One of the reasons for this conflict is the tendency of “Western” feminists to impose their own worldview onto communities where we find cutting (mostly among some ethnic groups in Africa, but also found in the Middle East and Asia). For example, the importance of sexual pleasure derived from the clitoris, and the relationship between orgasm and women’s liberation, is a central tenent of post-second wave feminism in the West. From this perspective, reduction of the external clitoris (clitorectomy) appears particularly horrendous and an obvious sign of women’s oppression. However, many women who are part of communities where cutting occurs find this logic to be irrelevant to their lives. Sexual pleasure takes a backseat to the benefits that come with cutting for the women themselves (group membership, attainment of adult female status, marriageability, becoming fully feminine — it varies tremendously, but be sure that the practices are important and meaningful in their own contexts). In any case, if “Western” feminists are going to try to “help” women in other parts of the world, many women say they’d much rather have clean drinking water and freedom from penalizing economic policies imposed by the U.S., than sexual pleasure. (I should point out, by the way, that whether and which and how much genital cutting practices actually do eliminate sexual pleasure and orgasm is hotly debated.)

These images are part of a campaign to raise awareness about and opposition to female genital cutting in Spain (I editorialize below):

I try not to get too emotional on this blog, but this hits me right where it hurts, and I find these images utterly appalling. The idea, of course, is that when women’s sexual pleasure has been excised (and remember, this is a controversial assumption) they feel nothing, but the implication is that they ARE nothing. These ads suggest that women who have experienced genital cutting are equivalent to fuck toys. Everything else about them disappears in these ads.  They are completely defined by the status of their genitals, and the status of their genitals is the status of their souls.  Even if it is true that these women no longer experience clitoral orgasm, or even experience pain during intercourse, they are still multidimensional human beings who love others and are loved by those around them for their uniqueness and individuality… yes, even the men they sleep with. 

What a horribly offensive ad campaign. The fact that it is likely made for people in Spain and may never be seen by women who are genitally cut makes it no less offensive.  Instead, it is an excellent example of the kind of ethnocentric, arrogant transnational activism that makes people in the West look like total assholes. 

I should clarify: I am making these observations as a sociologist, not as an activist.  I do have opinions about various sorts of male and female genital cuttings, but that’s not my point here.  My point is not whether or not FGCs are oppressive to women or whether individuals in the West should be involved in eradication efforts.  My point is to interrogate how we go about expressing opposition and intervention.  There are many ways in which to go about this.  As you can tell, I do not particularly like this one.

UPDATE: Racialicious made my day when they asked to repost this post on their own blog. It is well worth taking a look at how different the comments are here versus there and thinking about what that means.

Here is the trailer for Resident Evil 5, which is not yet on the market:

The player is the sole white person in a dismal, threatening city, apparently in Africa. The locals engage in torture (which we see in some detail) and gleefully cheer at a hanging. At one point the hero is accosted by an angry mob, all of whom just make gutteral, animal-like sounds. In a beleagured voice he tells us he just doesn’t know “if it’s all worth fighting for. Who knows?” Oh, the white man’s burden, indeed!

Thanks once again, Patrick C.!

Jeff G. sent in links to several articles about the game, if you’re interested. Here’s one with the director, and here’s an article about a British government censorship agency officially ruling the game isn’t racist.

NEW! Ryan sent in an image of a character from the game:


Ryan points out it’s another example of non-White women being portrayed as exotic or animalistic. Thanks for the image!

These images came to us from Dianne who saw this on BoingBoing and dug deeper to find all these great examples!

Illustrating the way in which whiteness is taken-for-granted and others are always, well, other, Plan Toys sells these doll sets labelled “Ethnic Family,” “AsianFamily,” and, “Doll Family.”

They also sell a “farmer” and a “farmer’s wife.” Dianne notes: “Women don’t farm, apparently, they just marry men who do.”

They also sell this generic “Native American set” of which they write:

“Children can create imaginary stories with the Indian figures, camp, teepee and authentic accessories. They can learn about the traditional American tribe and their lifestye.”

Notice how American Indian tribal difference is erased with the phrase “the traditional American tribe.” Diane pointed out that the set actually combines teepees and totem poles which were traditions of tribes in the plains and on the west coast respectively.

In the “How to Play” section, it says:

“Children can imagine and tell stories about Red Indians, helping to stimulate their imagination and expanding their horizon.”

Yes they really do say “Red Indians.”

Diane notices that, just like the doll family is obviously white, “here again, apparently the default child is white, who can ‘imagine… stories about Red Indians.'”

Ironically, the company claims that they are “socially & environmentally responsible” and promote “good values.”

Thanks so much Diane!

NEW: Kirsten D. sent us this link to a series of Playmobil toys.  All of the non-white characters are given racial designations, but the white characters are not.  I included some examples below.

African/African American Family:

Asian family:


Medical Team and Patients:

Prince and Princess:


Also in the neutral and the marked: men are people and women are women and from pale to pumped with racial stereotypes.

This is Jewel’s new video for her song “Stronger Woman.” I can’t figure out if Jewel thinks that all women are essentially the same (in the sense that we need to throw off patriarchy) or that contemporary American women are superior (and all women, then and now, should aspire to be like us… oh yeah, and by “us” I mean young, gorgeous, thin, white, blonde women who “love” themselves). In either case, I don’t like it:


Click here if the video doesn’t load.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.