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Pet Sins January 2001

Playing it safe with IR combinations - Asian males toe the 'mainstream' lines by presenting AWWM images for corporate communications

I work in the US branch of a large MNC with offices all over the world, including China. There is a large Chinese employees' association in my company. Recently, there was an interal ad campaign encouraging Chinese-speaking employees to engage actively with the clientele in China. The ad featured a yellow woman and a white male working together. I was curious - just which person in the picture is supposed to represent the China client, and which person is supposed to represent the Chinese-speaking employee? I supposed the woman could represent the client, and the white man could represent the Chinese-speaking company employee.

But the ad campaign was specifically targeted at the Chinese employees' association, which, as far as I knew, comprised largely of people of ethnic Chinese descent. Chinese-speaking whites were of course, present in the association, but they were a very very tiny minority, and even fewer of them were actually fluent enough in Chinese to be able to assist clients. So I was wondering whom the ad was supposed to appeal to - the average Chinese-speaking employee, or the white mainstream?

I started asking questions and found that the image for the ad was not provided by the corporate communications group, but rather by the 'leadership' of the Chinese employees' group. Then the second ad in the campaign appeared. It featured a Chinese man working with a white woman AND a white man. Compare this ad with the previous ad, I can only surmise that the entire ad campaign puts the ego of the white-male-dominated mainstream before generating audience identification with the target demographic. The pairing of the white male and yellow female in the first ad is an image that appeals to 'mainstream' white males.

But in the second ad, a yellow male and white female are featured for gender balance issues, perhaps. But because the white males would be offended to see a yellow male paired with a white female, the creators of the image have to throw in a white male to break the implication of 'coupling' the yellow male and white female. It was a yellow male who chose the ad images.

It is sad to see a member of the oppressed demographic playing into the unjust double standard of white men having free access to women of color, but men of color being denied the same access to white women. Even when Chinese people supposed to be doing something for themselves, do they have to bend over backwards to take the comfort level of the white mainstream into account?