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Representing White Supremacy/Digital Slavery

by Ash Sharma
7 Aug 2007 • Comments (2) • Print
Posted: General Issue [0] | Commons

Intel Advert

I was about to comment on this US print advert for a new Intel computer chip, when after complaints of racism, Intel have apologized and pulled the offending ad.

This is Intel’s statement on their blog:

Intel’s intent of our ad titled “Multiply Computing Performance and Maximize the Power of Your Employees” was to convey the performance capabilities of our processors through the visual metaphor of a sprinter. We have used the visual of sprinters in the past successfully.
Unfortunately, our execution did not deliver our intended message and in fact proved to be insensitive and insulting. Upon recognizing this, we attempted to pull the ad from all publications but, unfortunately, we failed on one last media placement. We are sorry and are working hard to make sure this doesn’t happen again.(Nancy Bhagat, Vice President, Director of Integrated Marketing, Intel)

‘…our execution did not deliver our intended message…’ exposes the present ideological structure of racialised commodity capitalism, where the ‘multicultural surface’ of advertising represses the underlying racial hierarchies. Postmodern racism is about how meaning is represented not what is being represented. What was their ‘intended message’? Is it that the digital economy continues to be build on the physical labour of black bodies? Or that the black body is still a ’super-human’ exploited figure that continues to power new technological developments. Or are the connotations of the slave ship with the white master an ironic commentary on the structures of corporate culture?

No such thing – it seems that the postmodern fetishisation of difference, with its deconstructive play of racial bodies, so prevalent in contemporary advertising (see ads for IPod and Nike for example), tells us how whiteness remains the master signifier of racial difference. This ad makes overt this logic of white supremacy in multiculturalism.

The pathetic apology and removal of ad by Intel confirms that racist ideology is so deeply taken for granted in the corporate imaginary that only after complaints did Intel realise that the ad was ‘insensitive and insulting’. Implying that it would have been alright if it did not cause offense. Intel’s concern, in line with dealing with the ‘image’ of the offense, is to highlight the fact that they have tried to remove the ad from circulating. Their only apology is really about their failure to do this.

All this representation of post-racial digital utopia is itself the key mode in which racism works now. It is about the simulation of a de-politicised image of (multi)cultural harmony. Why else would it be the marketing director who makes the apology? (Her Asian surname nicely further marks the post-racial cultural diversity of corporate multinationals).

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Ash Sharma is the co-editor of darkmatter. He teaches at the University of East London, UK and is a member of the Black Study Group (London). He blogs at tabula rasa and co-edits the writing zine Southern Discomfort . Re-imagining (sub)urban space at twitter: @ashdisorient He is completing a book on race and visual culture.
All posts by: Ash Sharma | Email | Website

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2 Responses »

  1. Well done on your response to a highly insulting and offensive ad. It is both racialised and gendered and the physical positioning, as well as the linguistic positioning of the black men (the employees whose power will be maximised to enrich the white man) is so subservient and demeaning. Despite the argument that the black men represent sprinters, it is strange that they are all black and shaven-a case of ‘all blacks look the same?’ Why is the white man presented as looking so smug? I think this blatant insensitivity needs far more than an apology.

  2. It is hard to imagine that no one involved in what must be a lengthy production process was able (or willing?) to identify the subtext in this image.

    This is a really shocking picture. I don’t know which is more disturbing, the fact that ads like this are still emerging or that people are so immersed in the toxic culture that they are unable to see it.

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