September 6, 2013 – Day 037
The author would like to note for the record that Disclaimer No.1 has been invoked and is in full effect for the remainder of this post.
I’m not sure if this story is receiving much play in the United States, but the Thailand franchise of Dunkin Donuts found itself in the middle of a controversy. I only learned about it courtesy of this opinion piece in today’s edition of The Bangkok Post.
For those who can’t jump to the link I provided, the tempest is all about an advertisement for a new type of donut Dunkin is promoting called a Charcoal Donut. It’s not the name that have people, including Human Rights Watch, upset, it’s the person in the ad. Dunkin Donuts used a woman in blackface to promote their new offering.
Coming from the States, I can certainly see how the use of blackface is insensitive at best at racist at worst. However, as a section in the Wikipedia article on blackface asserts, “The influence of blackface on branding and advertising, as well as on perceptions and portrayals of blacks, generally, can be found worldwide.” That certainly doesn’t make it palatable, though.
However, here’s an interesting quote from the author of the Post opinion piece, “And it’s understandable that this ad wouldn’t be perceived as racist [in Thailand], especially in a country that still stereotypes people by their skin colour.”
This is also a country that sells brooms and other manual cleaning utensils with the following logo…
Finally, there is this quote from the Post piece which may speak more than the photo above, “Thailand is no stranger to showing the world that we have a limited and embarrassing understanding of sensitive historical topics…”
As an example of how tone-deaf, at times, my host country can be about sensitive topics, I need only point you to this disturbing article from Al Jazeera.
To me, the telling quote from the Al Jazeera article is this…
[F]oreign analysts are often left wondering why regular students in Thailand would have a liking for Nazi icons and regalia. “I think they just don’t know any better. World history and geography instruction are woefully inadequate in Thai schools,” said Jason Alavi, the principal of an American English-language school in Bangkok. “The vast majority of Thais I have known have very little real, useful knowledge of the details of the rest of the world. It’s just not a strong point in the Thai curriculum.”
In a twist of the old adage, “What you don’t know can hurt someone else”.