The media is all abuzz about a Thai ad for black donuts that depicts a woman’s face painted black; many of the articles report that “New York-based Human Rights Watch said it was shocked to see an American brand name running an advertising campaign that would draw “howls of outrage” if released in the United States“. Try as I have, I concur with many of the comments I read following the Guardian’s version of events: is this really racist? In what way?
I haven’t been able to find the Human Rights Watch source of the kerfuffle, but I wonder if the organization (which I admire very much, normally) are aware of what the US is in the news for at this very moment? Ads for donuts with someone in blackface really shouldn’t float to the top of the pile. But HRW clearly know more about publicity than Dunkin Donuts.
Here’s a statement that sounds appallingly racist to me, and this kind of statement has been made over and over again in some form or other, over many years:
[I]n some cultures what you do with your sexual partners over time is different. In the West we tend to be serially monogamous.
In Africa, if you’ve had sex with someone at some point, the door isn’t considered closed on picking up on that relationship again.
Take a middle-class African businessman. He has had five women – nothing excessive. But the pattern we find is that he has a wife. He also has an on-off affair with an office colleague. He also has what the French call a ‘deuxième bureau’ – a mistress who might have a child. And once a year he goes back to his home village and has sex with his original village sweetheart. Then he gets HIV from a bar girl on a business trip.
Within a year he may have infected four other women. Now, if I’ve had five sexual partners and catch HIV from the fifth, as a western woman I’m unlikely to return to the other four and infect them!
That quote was from Catherine Hankins, who until recently held several senior positions at UNAIDS. She is completely in tune with the institutional racism of UNAIDS, the WHO and many other health and HIV related institutions, she even put her name to some of it. She may have come out with the above racist claptrap 10 years ago, but such beliefs lie behind numerous articles in the mainstream media and in peer-reviewed journals, recent and not so recent.
Why is the UNAIDS (WHO, CDC, etc) stereotype of ‘African’ sexual behavior so unobjectionable, and some ridiculous advert for black donuts so objectionable? It couldn’t just be because this stereotype would be considered unremarkable in the US, could it? Or will this be put down as another great victory for the Western free press?