This afternoon, Gizmodo's Evan Narcisse introduced the internet to a racist Chinese laundry detergent ad with four simple words: "yo, fuck this commercial."
The commercial in question was produced by Qiaobi and features an interracial couple flirting with one another while the woman (who is Asian) lures her love interest (who is black and seemingly speckled in paint) over for a little loving.
The logical progression of the commercial might have led to the man taking his shirt off and tossing it into the washing machine. Instead, though, the woman feeds the man a gel detergent pack before forcing him into the machine and hopping on top of it to make sure that he can't get out. After a few seconds, her boyfriend (husband?) emerges from the machine fresh and miraculously transformed into an Asian man.
The ideas at work here (black people don’t have distinct ethnicities; brown people are just covered in dirt) are problematic, yes, but ultimately, they're a rather common element of China's obsession with fair skin.
While skin whitening products are something of a cultural taboo here in the West, they're some of the most in-demand cosmetics in China. According to Dale Preston, Nielsen Greater China's managing director for retail measurement, products specifically designed to bleach people's skin lighter account for about 30% of the country's $5.38 billion cosmetics industry. That doesn't excuse the blatant racism on display in Qiaobi's ad, but it situates the commercial at the intersection of the company's business interests and the country's ideas about race.
As China's population of black foreigners has continued to steadily grow, more and more people have taken note of the everyday instances of racism that tend to pop up in Chinese media. Last year, Star Wars fans were shocked to see that Finn and other characters of color had been edited out of the poster used to promote The Force Awakens, a move that many suspect Disney made to appeal to Chinese audiences.
The Chinese state media responded by denying the accusations of racism.
"Since the poster is merely a promotion method and an individual case," Beijing Film Association rep Chen Qiuping told The Global Times. "It would be unfair to criticize Chinese audiences for discriminating against the black actor."
Regardless of whether Qiaobi meant for its ad to come across as culturally insensitive to black people or not, the commercial isn't the first to play upon China's racist views of black people and it probably won't be the last.