Is This Ad Racist? Well…

In the aftermath of the Superbowl questions of course are swirling about black outs, half-time shows and of course–the commercials. If you were on Twitter last night you may have noticed the immediate uproar to the VW commercial featuring a white man with a Jamaican accent who was not from Jamaica. Responses started flying right and left.  I happen to land on the side of “not racist.” Conversation ensued.

On today’s TWiB! Radio we discuss the ad and other magical moments (Fast and the Furious 6 anyone?) We also discuss a racist rant from the UK about paying for “other peoples” healthcare and more. Check it out here:

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And on TWiB! in the Morning there was of course more Superbowl talk, undercover agents using dead children’s identity’s, government testing HIV meds on Foster Kids and more. Check that out here:

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As per usual the TWiB Crew will be in the comments. We’ll see you in there.

59 replies
  1. 1
    wobbly says:

    Kid is alive, shooter dead!!!

    Who gives a shit about football?

  2. 2
    aimai says:

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I pretty much come down on hokey, historically tone deaf, but not intentionally meant to harm, defame, dismiss, or even parody some quality known as “Jamaicaness” or blackness. They could and will do an identical add with someone speaking with a fake french accent after a trip to Paris, or becoming a great skier after going to switzerland or something. Its an hommage, not an attack.

  3. 3
    double nickel says:

    Not racist.

  4. 4
    shortstop says:

    OT, my (white) neighbor is from Jamaica but speaks with a damn good approximation of a (Afrikaans-speaking) South African accent. I cannot figure out what is up with this.

  5. 5
    Baud says:

    I think it was racist against white people because the ad was so stupid.

  6. 6
    RobertDSC-iMac G5 says:

    It was one of the very few I actually liked. Almost all of the ads were shit.

  7. 7
    Patricia Kayden says:

    Not racist at all. As someone of Jamaican descent, I found it hilarious. Apparently the Jamaican government liked it too.;or=ros

    How is imitating an accent racist anyways? Although the joke is that he’s from Minnesota, he could have been a White Jamaican.

  8. 8
    srv says:

    Some people are mad at Spacey’s South Carolina accent in House of Cards.

    I guess there goes the white people can’t be racist meme.

  9. 9
    Alison says:

    @Patricia Kayden:

    How is imitating an accent racist anyways

    Well, I didn’t see this ad so I won’t remark on this instance in particular, but…I mean, haven’t you seen comics and such where they do “ching-chong” Asian voices? That shit is racist as hell, IMO. If you’re doing an accent for an acting role or something, that’s one thing, but just putting on a (usually exaggerated) version of an accent is often a way of trying to be funny, implying that the way that accent sounds is itself funny.

  10. 10
    Joel says:

    Not racist.

    But stupid, yes.

  11. 11
    Bago says:

    I drove out of the radome of a crashing 747. Your argument is invalid.

  12. 12
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    When I watched it I thought “This is gonna be a sore one for a lot of people.” I don’t think it was, but what do I know?

    Of course, it also wasn’t that funny, which doesn’t help its cause.

  13. 13

    If that is the case then every film of “The Pink Panther” was horribly racist cause Peter Sellars spoke with a French Accent. when he wasn’t really French. This is all bullshit.

  14. 14
    Baud says:

    By the way, Elon, I’m impressed at your ability to do this every day. I get tired after 5 comments.

  15. 15
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    I didn’t think it was a great ad, but at the same time, the most racist thing I got out of the ad was that Jamaicans are a lot more cheerful about life than the rest of us. No one made fun of him and he never did anything stupid.

  16. 16
    Roger Moore says:

    I can kind of see the point either way on this ad. The joke was that the guy was laid back because he drives a VW, and they showed this by giving him a Jamaican accent. It may not have been racist, but it was definitely playing on a stereotype.

  17. 17
    Corner Stone says:

    In the aftermath of the Superbowl questions of course are swirling about black outs

    In the conversations regarding “On Blackness”, where does a black out in NOLA actually fit anyway?

  18. 18
    iriedc says:

    My Jamaican cousins (we live all over the world) can’t stop posting the darn thing on Facebook with lots of LOLs. Not racist.

  19. 19
    mtraven says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Painting Jamaicans as somehow inherently cheerful is a stereotype, certainly on the border of offensive if not over it. (The exact same stereotype used to be applied to African-Americans, who were just as carefree as could be if they could just have some watermelon, etc).

    I’ll leave it to the Jamaicans as to whether they will actually take offense or not. Maybe they have better things to worry about.

  20. 20
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @mtraven: My son and I were talking about the Taco Bell commercial because he had to choose an ad and talk about its target audience and what the ad was trying to accomplish. I guess that one was ageist as well.

  21. 21
    Gus says:

    Not fucking racist. Jesus fuck, people, lighten up.

  22. 22
    Roy G. says:

    Best ad of the Super Bowl (disclosure: I grew up in Minnesoootah).

  23. 23
    Pete Mack says:

    I’ll go with not racist. Also:
    •not funny
    •not good

    It was one of the weakest ads I saw. I’m going with “won’t do that” M&M ad as best.

  24. 24


    I think it was racist against white people because the ad was so stupid.

    See, I disagree. Having so many Jamaican friends this commercial was especially funny to me.

  25. 25

    @RobertDSC-iMac G5:

    It was one of the very few I actually liked. Almost all of the ads were shit.

    I agree.

  26. 26

    @Patricia Kayden:

    Not racist at all. As someone of Jamaican descent, I found it hilarious. Apparently the Jamaican government liked it too.…..038;or=ros
    How is imitating an accent racist anyways? Although the joke is that he’s from Minnesota, he could have been a White Jamaican.

    That was the funny part. Folks were literally ignoring Jamaicans opinions on it.

  27. 27
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Elon James White:

    “Thanks, but I’m not offended, really.”

    “Yes you are. You’re shocked. You can’t believe someone would do this.”

    “Well, uh, OK.”

  28. 28
    NotMax says:

    Jamaican is now a separately recognized race?

    Must have missed that memo.

    Peter Finch putting on an American accent in Network or Bob Hoskins doing the same in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

    Offensive? I think not. It’s called acting.

  29. 29
    oldster says:

    yeah, I saw it on Youtube before the big day, and thought it was very funny. Even rewatched it, because I liked it so much (esp. the “Ten T’ousand Lakes!”)

    But I did start feeling a little weirder on the third viewing, when I realized that there are no actual black people anywhere in the ad. The word “appropriation” occurred to me.

    I don’t know how I feel, but then again it’s also not my culture, ethnicity, or race that is at stake. If Jamaicans were pissed off, I would be out of line to tell them they should laugh it off. If they are tickled, I would be out of line to tell them they should be pissed off.

  30. 30
    Pete Mack says:

    Speaking of literary license and racism, what about Uncle Remus. I loved those stories growing up, and I still enjoy them today. So I was shocked when I got called on using “tar baby” as having racist connotations. I’d hate to lose such a useful and colorful metaphor.

  31. 31
    Baud says:

    @Elon James White:

    I didn’t think it fit with the product they were selling. YMMV.

  32. 32
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    One ad I did like was the one with the secret voodoo priest cursing lucky charms to be unlucky. Kind of similar to this one: not really hateful or sneering, but if you wanted to make a case for it using appropriation or relying too much on stock characters*, you could. The difference is that this one was funny, or at least I thought so. Better acting, too, for what that’s worth.

    *-(But doesn’t pop culture in general and advertising in particular rely on stock characters from all races? It’s not like we’re living in a world where all the white people in ads are fully realized individuals and the non-whites are all clowns.)

  33. 33
    SFAW says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    secret voodoo priest

    You mean Stevie?

  34. 34
    Spaghetti Lee says:


    That’s who that was? Well shit, now all those Stevie Wonder references that I didn’t get make sense. Doesn’t he usually have a…beard or something. (Yeah OK I’m dumb. In my defense I was born in 1990.)

  35. 35
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    It did not strike me as racist, but it’s sort of not my place to make that call. As a pale woman not from Jamaica (though I did once name a [blonde]puppy Jamaica). It was also not a terribly good commercial, and the most pointed thing for me (as mentioned by EJW) was the active ignoring of the reaction of the people who had a right to be offended. WTF?

  36. 36

    @Spaghetti Lee: You just summarized Twitter’s interaction over the commercial in three lines. Beautiful.

  37. 37
    Yutsano says:

    @Baud: It looked like just about every other Jamaican tourism commercial I’ve seen.

  38. 38
    boss bitch says:

    Uptight White guy from Westbubbafuck gets a VW and starts to be more carefree. He starts sounding like a White American trying to talk Jamaican. We’ve all heard, “hey mon” at some point in our lives. His other uptight White friends get in the same car and suddenly take on the accent. Tells another uptight White guy in the parking lot to basically take the stick out of his ass. Wait, who should be offended here again?

    I liked the ad. Saw comments on twitter that they should have used a real Jamaican. That would do what exactly? The script would be the same. Also, no blacks in the commercial? how is this racist? Are ads suddenly racist if they don’t feature minorities now? Gah, I sound like a wingnut.

    And to be stereotyped as more cheerful? I’ll take it. People from the islands are “stereotyped” as more cheerful. What the heck do you see in the travel commercials? “Come to Jamaica and feel alright”. And the ones advertising Aruba? Do people who found VW commercial racist also these travel commercials are racist?

  39. 39
    NotMax says:

    The ‘tourism commercial’ that starts at 1:58 is still funny, more than 40 years later.

  40. 40
    SFAW says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    Bingo. I liked the part when he looked over his glasses at his hot assistant (or maybe she was a priestess?), checking her out. [She was probably someone I should recognize, but I’ll leave that to youngsters like you.]

  41. 41

    @boss bitch: While someone else described Twitter’s reaction earlier. You’ve described my own reaction. You guys are spot-on and need to vacate my head.

  42. 42
    Donut says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    Well, I’m not saying I disagree with you, but I would counter with the thought that Jamaica’s economy is heavily dependent upon tourism, and, you know, cultivating an image of being a place where people can go to relax and regain some cheerfulness.. I think the ad is playing on that way more than presenting the Jamaican people as inherently cheerful. The ad implies the island makes a person feel good. The ad says nothing, IMO, about Jamaicans as people.

    I would be surprised if a lot of Jamaicans are truly offended by this ad. Perhaps annoyed at its simplistic premise, yes. But truly, deeply offended? I would be willing to wager that the offended would be in a distinct minority.

    Being not Jamaican, I dunno, I don’t have standing to call this inoffensive, but dang, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Not every thing that plays on cultural difference is inherently racist.

  43. 43
    ruemara says:

    As a Jamaican I find it stupid because I hate the stupid ass fake broad bush accent that is a stereotype. Didn’t see the commercial, but it’s not racist. Stupid, annoying as fuck to see Americans do, but not racist.

  44. 44
    Anoniminous says:

    People who think it’s racist have NO clue about Jamaica. Listen to former Prime Minister of Jamaica Michael Manley.

    Edited to correct his title.

  45. 45
    Joel says:

    I remember seeing a comedian about ten years back who observed that Panda Express would never be able to pull off with a talking panda what Taco Bell was doing with their chihuahua ads.

  46. 46
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @SFAW: unless I’m way off, that was Zoe Saldana, who was also in the ads for Star Trek, correct?

  47. 47
    MC Simon Milligan says:

    Not racist. And neither is this piece of brilliance.

  48. 48
    Patricia Kayden says:

    @Alison: Since Asians don’t speak “ching chong”, that would definitely be racist. That’s not what happened in the VW commercial being discussed.

    Can’t link to him but Russell Peters (Canadian East Indian comedian) does a mean Jamaican accent. Absolutely hiliarious.

  49. 49
    SFAW says:

    You’re probably right, I need to look again.

    She looked familiar, but my old-fart neurons weren’t firing as well as they used to.

    OK, just re-watched it – I think you’re right.


  50. 50
    aimai says:

    Can I just say that I hate the distinction “racist/not racist.” Things are never that definitive–context, context, context. And the context isn’t always the one that a mass audience perceives. I prefer words like harmful, insulting, demeaning, tone deaf, cruel, ahistorical because they allow us to realize that some things should or should not be said for a clear reason vis a vis a specific person, subgroup, or historical incident.

    You have only to see how gleefully white people ascribe racist motives to non white people, or seize on the manifold skin color issues displayed by South Asians, Mexicans, African Americans to legitimize their own capital R racism.

    Far better to ask people to examine whether the sterotype they are invoking, or the situation they are referencing, is harmful, degrading, or insulting for someone. There’s a very old expression “Don’t speak of rope in the house of a hanged man.” Was it racist for Reagan to give that speech where the Civil Rights workers were killed? Can’t say. But I can say it was wrong–wrong for the President of all the people in a country to go an solmenize the honor and rights of a dangerous and treasonous white population right over the corpses of fallen heroes.

    Is it wrong for Jamaica to pay for an add with a White Guy suddenly becoming a dreamy, happy go lucky guy who barely seems to grasp the life and death struggle he andthe other drones are fighting in their white collar world? Well–depends on the viewer and their views on a lot of things.

  51. 51
    double nickel says:

    @MC Simon Milligan: Hahahaha!

  52. 52
    Cassidy says:

    It was mentioned just a litte earlier about how Jamaica is dependent on tourism for a great deal of it’s income. While I didn’t find the commercial racist, I think it did expose a pretty severe level of ignorance ont he part of American’s in general in that when we think of Jamaica we think of Red Stripe, ganja, night clubs, beaches, nude/ sex resorts, partying, etc. We never stop to think about the prostitution, poor people, malnutrition, rampant crime, etc. There is a reason that tourists only go to certain spots and we never try to pierce that veil. That’s what I saw anyway. I thought it was kind of sad.

  53. 53
    Crop Dusted says:

    I watched game with my Jamaican girlfriend. She didn’t think the ad was offensive, per se, just idiotic. (She runs a marketing business, so she knows from branding and such, and so watched the commercials with a practiced, informed eye.) A conversation ensued along these lines: would a non-Asian actor doing a Chinese accent be acceptable? (Or someone affecting an Italian accent, or Irish, or …?)

  54. 54
    Kia says:

    All my Jamaican school friends (now in early middle age) and my relatives love the ad and I’d say that there is a fair amount of national pride in the feeling. Jamaica is a multi-racial, integrated society, very verbal, very outspoken. One of the things that would shock Americans who get out of the tourist bubble is the liberality with which Jamaicans insult each other, on the basis of almost any personal characteristic–physical appearance, culture, skin color, religion, ethnicity, politics. Nothing is taboo. There’s an insult for just about every shade of skin and racial mix, and these are exchanged freely. Another cultural feature is a broad streak of brutally realistic pragmatism. Jamaica is a tiny place, and they know that thing that Oscar Wilde says: The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. They know better than anybody just how hard life is in Jamaica, but if putting on the happy-go-lucky act brings the yankee dollars, if it has made their culture known to the world, they are happy to put it on. If you can get attention then you have a little leverage for getting respect. Among the Jamaicans I grew up with, nobody would think that that ad is representative of any reality other than the reality of American beliefs. Beach gigolos all over the Caribbean speak fake American, which sounds, amazingly, like fake Caribbean. The idea that Americans and Europeans think this is how we sound is funny. Somehow in the whole discussion of this ad as I’ve dropped in on it around the Internets the idea of laughing at someone’s stereotype of you, as reflecting their silliness, not yours, never seems to come up, it’s as though the only response to stereotyping is to feel injured. Also it’s clear in the ad that for the lead character, being a stereotypical Jamaican is a step up from being a stereotypical Minnesotan. This would also be the Jamaican view of the matter, just out of national shit-arsedness, if nothing else. And in the robust humor of their response to the ad, and in the genuine pride of having attracted so much of the world’s attention to their culture and language, yeah, Jamaicans are happy-go-lucky and cheerful, for real. Good on us, I say.

  55. 55
    Darkrose says:

    @SFAW: Zoe Saldana, aka nuTrek!Uhura.

  56. 56
    Darkrose says:

    Racist? No, not to me.

    An uncomfortable level of cultural appropriation? Yeah.

    Confusing and not very good? Hell yeah.

    My thought was, “Wait…what does Volkswagen have to do with Jamaica? My 3 New Beetles were all made in Mexico….oh, wait. It could have been much worse.”

  57. 57
    Jon H says:

    @aimai: “Is it wrong for Jamaica to pay for an add with a White Guy suddenly becoming a dreamy, happy go lucky guy who barely seems to grasp the life and death struggle he andthe other drones are fighting in their white collar world? Well–depends on the viewer and their views on a lot of things.”

    It’s actually a VW car ad, not a Jamaican tourism ad. Though hell, to some extent it may act like free advertising for Jamaica, which is a bonus for them.

    As I recall, it’s more of a guy in an office with an infectiously laid-back attitude that spreads, along with the accent, to other white guys and an Asian guy, and they wind up driving around in a VW.

  58. 58
    Jon H says:

    @Crop Dusted: “A conversation ensued along these lines: would a non-Asian actor doing a Chinese accent be acceptable?”

    That’s a little bit different, because the underlying language is different, so a Chinese accent involves imitating someone who has difficulty with some sounds in English.

    A Jamaican accent is more akin to other variants of English.

    Of course, in the UK, where plenty of white people use ‘jafakin’ accents, and the culture has had a lot more interaction with the Caribbean, the commercial would probably seem to be way past it’s use-by date.

  59. 59
    Jon H says:

    @Darkrose: “An uncomfortable level of cultural appropriation? Yeah.”

    I think that’d be more an issue if it becomes a long-term campaign, or if they had a Jamaican accent white guy as their “geico gecko”.

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