This is racist, right?

Racism isn’t always marked by a burning cross on a front lawn, or a bunch of dudes in bed sheets marching around holding the Union Jack aloft.  Racism can be subtle, it can call on unspoken assumptions (read: prejudices) that we’re not even aware of.  Until, of course, some idiot in the marketing department for a new TV show decides to use those very assumptions to sell their product.  Observe:

preeeeeetty racist

preeeeeetty racist

“Is this the face of a THIEF?”  The unspoken answer is: No, of course not!  She’s a white, female, well-fed member of the middle class.  Judging by looks alone (which is what we’ve been tasked to do), members of the dominant culture (of which I am one) would say No, of course this woman doesn’t look like a thief, and not only because she’s looking away in a typical “Why no, officer” style, but predominantly because white ladies don’t steal shit.  Which begs the question: What does a thief look like?  The unspoken answer is, of course, someone with traits unlike this woman’s: dark-skinned males.

So we’re being compelled to watch this show based on the novelty of white people breaking the law, because that’s just so crazy, right?  Which is racist.  Right?

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About Toph Beifong

www.tigerlilytoph.com View all posts by Toph Beifong

5 responses to “This is racist, right?

  • Creative Metaphor

    Wow. I… got a completely different impression from that poster. That had nothing to do with race.

    • tigerlilytoph

      Interesting, what makes you say that? Why is that not the face of a thief?

      • Creative Metaphor

        I think a lot of people forget that everyone has their own set of preconceptions that don’t necessarily align with someone else’s.

        When I look at that poster, what it looks like to me is the 40-something soccer mom who used to be a cheerleader (pink in the hair, cup with straw), and of course, the pink earrings, pink usually being equated with a sense of innocence and perkiness, as a “little girl’s” color.

        The poofy hair even sort of conveys “I’m here to be noticed, not hear to try to get away with something sinister.”

        As you noted, the “who, me?” way her eyes are glancing upward again is meant to give the impression of sweet innocence.

        The poster isn’t contrasting the woman’s look with “What thieves look like” but rather contrasting the impression of innocence (pink) and age (old enough to know better?) with the apparent profession of being a thief.

        That’s how I saw it.

        Obviously neither of us knows the mindset of the person who came up with the poster. It seems a bit harsh to assume racism is the only possible explanation. To someone who doesn’t correlate theft with skin color, there is no implication that that reason she doesn’t look like a thief is because she’s white.

        I’m not saying racism isn’t a real problem still today, I just don’t see it here. Not at all.

  • tigerlilytoph

    Thanks for leaving a clearly well thought-out answer. I’m fascinated to hear opposing opinions (without the tone of irrational, internet-induced anger, lol).
    You make a compelling argument, but the part where I still disagree is where you mention that “the poster isn’t contrasting the woman’s look with ‘what thieves look like’ but rather contrasting the innocence (pink) and age (old enough to know better?) with the apparent profession of being a thief.” I would argue that the whole point of the ad campaign is to contrast the appearance of thieves/not-thieves.
    The fact is, there would be no way to say this woman DOESN’T look like a thief without an agreed-upon set of traits that determine who DOES look like a thief.
    If I’m being honest, I think there’s a balance of what your point of view and mine in this ad. If it’s not blatantly racist, it’s toeing the line.

    • Creative Metaphor

      The assertion that it’s in some way racist or ‘toeing the line’ is possible if the only option to the ‘looks like a thief’ bit is that she be not white. Whereas if they had made her look trashy or poor, made her look younger (late teens or early 20s), given her a harder or edgier look (slash the pink and the poofy hair, go more goth), or even made her male (hell, a male banker/politician and it’d still scream ‘thief’), she could still be white and yet fit the image many people would have of what a ‘thief’ looks like.

      “The fact is, there would be no way to say this woman DOESN’T look like a thief without an agreed-upon set of traits that determine who DOES look like a thief.”

      But those ‘agreed upon traits’ aren’t ever really universally agreed upon, nor do they have to include skin color, as I noted a host of possible traits above that people might imagine as being indicative of a thief.

      Again, the racism only exists if a person’s prejudice insists that looking like a thief means being black (or just, not white) whereas if one did not hold that prejudice, there would be no reason to make that connection, therefore not one they would necessarily seek to distance themselves from.

      If one does hold that prejudice, then one can see it anywhere, regardless.

      I doubt the person making this poster sat around thinking “now, how can I *subtly* slip racism into this ad for a movie? Oh, I know, I’ll make the thief white – they’ll never see that coming.”

      As I said before, racism is very much still a problem in the world, I have no illusions about that. But I do think that sometimes people see it where it isn’t, just because there is an expectation of it – which is a sad symptom of it in our society. Much of how we perceive the world is entirely subjective and context-driven.

      That does not mean that just because one person ‘sees’ it that it really is what is there, in exactly the same way another person not ‘seeing’ it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

      We too often see things according to our expectations and within our limited social and cultural contexts.

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