The Stealth of Racism

Shell Ad
I saw the ad above today whilst pumping gas and it struck the same nerve that’s always a bit raw from growing up in America half-Japanese, half-white. I’ll be the first to admit I’m racist, and I also believe that means different things for different people.

I think (or hope perhaps) that there is “obvious racism” that’s easier to spot. For instance, most people notice statements like, “You’re Asian, you’re supposed to be good at math.” or looking at any written language that resembles Chinese or Japanese saying, “Hey, can you read that? What does it say?”

The ad above may be less obvious and I think this sort can be more insidious. First off, it’s a man and aren’t they supposed to know more about cars, engineering, and science? And no, it’s not the sort of man you might picture as a mechanic, but you may instantly think “Japanese engineering” and automatically feel more at ease about the statements on the sign. If you read and look closely this is a Ferrari race car so why not have an Italian or German engineer here? You may say Shell is trying to appeal to the young, married, Asian male, but I live in Fresno and in this part of town, there is nary “that sort” to be seen. Except me, and I’m only half, so what does that mean?

There is a serious lack of Asian representation in American ads and popular culture, so when I see it, I notice it. And I’m never surprised by what I see. It’s either a guy in a lab coat, an action movie character, a demure, sexualized girl, or maybe a likable comedic type that never gets the girl (and this guy will never have an accent). Even if a Chinese or Japanese guy happens to get the lead, he almost never has a romantic part. We can’t have it all, can we? And you can pretty much play this argument out for anyone that’s not a white, male. It’s nothing against white dudes. It’s the way our society is.

There are, of course, exceptions, though they are few and far between. Any time you find yourself saying, “But what about…?” try flipping it and counting how many times a Caucasian example appears in your scenario. I think it’s important for us to be aware and ask questions because this stuff is slipping by us daily, and no matter how aware we think we might be, it’s influencing how we and our children see ourselves, our world, and each other.