In this series I have offered five explanations of why people of color are included in advertising. Start with the first in the series and follow the links to the remaining four here.

I am now discussing how they are included. Already I have shown that people of color are often whitewashed and that they tend to be chaperoned.  Here I show that, when people of color are included, they are often subordinated through placement and action.  That is, they tend to be literally background or arranged so that the focal point (visually or through action) is the white person or people in the ad.  You’ll see a lot of this in the previous posts in this series if you go back and look again.

Darin F. sent in this example from a poster for McDonalds Happy Meals. He noted the way in which the women were arranged, closest to furthest, by skin color:

NEW! I found another example of this skin color hierarchy, this time on a CD cover:


More instances in which people of color are background:

In the next two ads, the center of attention–or the action–is where the white woman is: 

Notice how in this ad, while there are three women of color (an exception to the tendency for people of color to be chaperoned), the woman front-and-center is clearly white:

Something similar is going on in these next two ads:

The hierarchy of height:

As Jean Kilbourne points out in her docmentary, Killing Us Softly, this visual representation of racial hierarchy tends to be found unless another axis of hierarchy is at work:

NEW (Mar. ’10)! Anina H. sent in this New York State flier advising mothers on feeding their babies.  Notice that the flier includes women of three different races, but the ideal mother (“YOUR PRICELESS BREASTMILK!!!”) is white:

NEW (July ’10)! Naomi D. saw this welcome banner at the entrance of a Methodist Church.  Notice how the racial hierarchy is represented on the banner with a White woman and child on the top, an Asian man below her, and a Black woman at the bottom of the banner:

As always, I welcome your comments!

Next up: Interracial dating, the last taboo.

Also in this series:
(1) Including people of color so as to associate the product with the racial stereotype.
(2) Including people of color to invoke (literally) the idea of “color” or “flavor.”
(3) To suggest ideas like “hipness,” “modernity,” and “progress.”
(4) To trigger the idea of human diversity.
(5) To suggest that the company cares about diversity.

How are they included?
(6) They are “white-washed.”
(7) They are “chaperoned.”

Robin B. sent us a link to a story in the New York Times magazine chronicling one woman’s decision to have a surrogate carry her biological child.  Surrogacy is, from one perspective, extremely expensive and, from another perspective, extremely lucrative.  The photos accompanying the story illustrate, almost as if by design, how “mothering” is being spread out in systematic ways to different kinds of women. Robin note that the accompanying article bought up lots of issues, but did little to think them through.   In contrast, she points to a set of letters written in response.

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.

Parameswaran (2002) writes:

The [National] Geographic’s August 1999 cover dramatically deploys women’s bodies as detailed blueprints, maps that busy readers could use to instantly trace the passage of non-Western cultures from tradition to global modernity…

More of her description of this cover after the image (found here):



An older middle-aged Indian woman, with streams of white and orange flowers pinned to her hair at the base of her neck, symbolizes tradition. The deep red silk sari with a gold border, the gold necklaces around her neck, and the thick gold bangles on her wrists clearly mark her as a traditional upper-class woman… The older Indian woman’s body and posture also announce her alignment with tradition. She is heavyset, almost stocky, and her sari demurely covers her large breasts. Her feet are placed moderately close together and her folded hands rest in her lap. Avoiding the direct eye of the camera, her face, with the trademark dot of the Hindu tradition etched between her eyes, is turned sideways as she bestows a tender maternal gaze on the young woman sitting beside her…

In contrast to the gentle passivity and the slack middle-aged body that index tradition, bold assertiveness, feminine youthfulness, and an androgynous firm body register cosmopolitan modernity in the cover of image. These biological and emotional transformations in the modern, non-Western woman’s physical appearance and personal demeanor appear to be wrought by Westernization. The young, slender Indian woman sitting next to the middle-aged woman has short, shoulder length hair framing her face. The marked absence of the dot on her forehead as well as her clothing, instantly herald her identity as a modern woman. She is dressed in a black, shiny PVC catsuit, unzipped down to the middle of her chest to display her small, almost flat breasts, while her feel are encased in sharply pointed black boots. Disdaining the gaze of the older woman directed towards her, she defiantly stares at the camera and claims her personal space with arrogant confidence. Her legs and felt, unlike the older woman’s feet, are splayed wide apart and her knees point in opposite directions. Her left arm is poised akimbo style while her left palm grips her hip in a strong masculine gesture.

In the magazines sharply polarized, binary rendering of the “new and hip” as radically different from the “old and outmoded,” one woman symbolizes ethnic tradition and the other global modernity…

Citation:  Parameswaran, Radhika. 2002. Local Culture in Global Media: Excavating Colonial and Material Discourses in National Geographic. Community Theory 12, 3: 287-315.

Miguel E. sent us a link to a story about Natural High, a Japanese company that reportedly makes “extreme” pornography.   The producer, Sakkun, felt bad that many children in Africa live in poverty and so he sent a porn star to Kenya to have sex with African men (on film, of course).  The company gave a Kenyan aid organization one million yen (around $10, 800 U.S.) and 1,000 more (currently about $10.77 U.S.) is donated for every DVD sold (story here).  Images and discussion after the jump:


I just discovered the entirely excellent website Asian Nation, run by C.N. Le and full of great information about the Asian American community. Here are some tables showing what percent of various Asian American groups are married to spouses of the same or other groups, updated as of October 2007 using Census data (an explanation of the three columns follows):

Ok, now to explain the three columns of numbers. The first one presents data for all marriages that include at least one Asian American spouse–this will include large numbers of immigrants who were married before they moved to the U.S. The second column includes only those marriages where at least one spouse was raised in the U.S., defined as either born here or moved here by age 13. The third column includes only those marriages where both spouses were raised in the U.S. According to Le, this group represents less than 25% of all marriages including an Asian partner, but “…has the advantage of including only those who were raised and socialized within American society and its racial dynamics. It is this U.S.-raised population that best represents young Asian Americans, since they are the ones who have the most exposure to prevailing American cultural images and media.”

Not surprisingly, endogamous (in-group) marriage rates drop off significantly among U.S.-raised Asian Americans. There are other interesting gender patterns as well. Notice, for instance, that Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Filipina women are quite a bit more likely to be married to a White partner (the most common out-group spouses) than are men, and for the remaining groups, women are slightly more likely to be married to a White spouse. You might discuss the social and historical factors that might cause that pattern, and compare it to the trend in marriages with a Black and a White spouse, in which the gender pattern is usually reversed–Black men are more likely to be married to Whites than are Black women. It might also be worth noting that Korean and Filipina women are significantly less likely to marry endogamously than the other Asian American ethnic groups.

I found these three ads for a private jet service in those magazines for excrutiatingly excruciatingly rich people that I’ve been posting from lately. Each ad–one for Marquis Jet and two for Delta AirElite–are pitching their service by suggesting that having a membership in their private jet service will help them be a good Dad because they can get home–for dinner, the game, or some quality time–from anywhere fast. Comments below.


It’s not just a card.

It’s a choice.

A choice to escape from it all.

A choice to get closer to what’s important.


9:00AM.   Meeting with group of investors.

1:30PM.  Meeting with district managers.

7:00PM.  The most important meeting of all.


Make 120 sales pitches on the road.

Listen to pitches in 25 different company offices.

Be there for the most important pitch.

It’s pretty unusual to see ads that highlight a Dad’s relationship with his children. And that’s pretty neat. But, second, the implication is that only men at the extremes of economic success can “afford” to be an ideal father. Hypothetically, I wonder how many people working for that Dad have the privilege of taking a private jet and getting home in time for dinner? My guess would be: Very few. In that sense, these ads uphold the idea that men’s primary role in their children’s lives involves bringing home the bacon and, if you’re really, really, really good at that (and really, really lucky and, likely, very privileged to begin with), you get to be a part of their lives too.

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.

Vintage Ads posted these three ads–one for an electric refrigerator and two for Gold Dust Cleaner–that compare the product to a Black servant. 

The copy in the refrigerator ad reads: “And So Electricity Is Made The Willing Servant.”  The accompanying image includes three white women looking leisurely and a Black servant. 

Similarly, these two Gold Dust ads personify the product as Black twin babies. The motto is: “Let the GOLD DUST TWINS do your work.”

I think these are fascinating in that they draw our attention to whose work technology is designed to replace. Earlier on this blog we’ve talked about how ads have offered to replace women’s work with the market and with technology.  In these cases, the market and technology were needed to ease women’s workload (they certainly couldn’t expect their husbands to do it).  In this case, Black servants serve to take women one step further from “women’s work.”  Instead of replacing women themselves, the product replace the servants who replaced women, making the comparison of the product to Black servants completely sensical at the time.

Breck C. sent us this link to a collection of photographs of Harajuku Girls.  Harajuku is a style for teenagers in a region of Japan (here is the wikipedia entry).  I can’t think of a way to describe them that does them justice, so here are some pictures (found here, here, here and here):

In 2004, Gwen Stefani began touring with four women posing as Japanese Harajuku girls.  Stefani’s Harajuku Girls serve as her entourage and back-up dancers. Here she is with four (Japanese?) women that she hires to be her Harajuku Girls (found here and here):

In the comments, Inky points out that Stefani says this about them in her song, Rich Girl:

I’d get me four Harajuku girls to
Inspire me and they’d come to my rescue
I’d dress them wicked, I’d give them names
Love, Angel, Music, Baby
Hurry up and come and save me

Stefani also has a Harajuku Lovers clothing line and a series of perfumes, one for her, and one for each Harajuku Girl:

I think that Stefani’s use of Asian women as props (they may or may not be Japanese) fetishizes Asian women and reinforces white privilege.  The Harajuku Girls serve as contrast to Stefani’s performance of ideal white femininity.  It makes me think of both this poster on colonial-era travel and this fashion spread.

Yet, Stefani’s been at this for four years and I can’t remember hearing any objections to her Harajuku Girls, even in feminist and anti-racist alternative media.  Further, if her fashion line, perfume, and continued employment of the Harajuku Girls are any indication, people seem to think the whole thing is awesome.  In the meantime, I bet she’s making bank on her clothing line and perfume.  Where’s that money going?

Do you think my reading is fair?

And, if so, why do you think there’s been so little outcry?

For good measure, here she is performing with her “Girls”:

In our comments, SG asks that we include the following clarification:

This article is really misrepresenting a whole fashion scene and I would like to ask that you correct it- It is just perpetuating the idiocy and ignorance surrounding these styles. “Harajuku is a style for teenagers in a region of Japan”. “Harajuku style” Is a term coined by western media because they are too ignorant to actually research the names of these actual styles. Harajuku is not a style. It is a location. The females you have pictured are in Decora (and two in Visual Kei). The only “harajuku style” that exists is the fictional one made up by Gwen Stefani and the western media.

Thanks SG.

See also our post featuring other examples of ads and artists using Asians as props.