Sunday, September 27, 2009

The postracial world of .....TV Commercials?

Racism...its not a topic I had thought of too much before I came to America. Once here, of course, it has become central to my life. The fact that I am different was obvious and also thrust on me from multiple sources. Nothing is black and white (well, actuallty it is - and that's the point of this - but I really wasn't going there - just a bad pun!) anymore. For every action and reaction, I wonder - how much of this was spurred by the fact that I am Indian?

Early days in New York, I remember going to a salon on Long Island to get my hair blown out. The ladies at the salon raved about my "thick, dark, beautiful" hair. It had been no cause for celebration in India where thick, dark hair abounded and was mroe of a nuisance than an asset. Innocent remarks were sometimes funny as in when an older colleague at IBM asked me, "So, how do you celebrate birthdays in India?". "We cut a cake and sing Happy Birthday," I responded, unable to suppress a sarcastic smile. Once I moved to New York City, things were a little better - or maybe we just got used to being a minority. 9/11 was hard - not just because it was a traumatizing experience to watch as I walked the streets of New York while the planes were flying into the towers - but more because people actually suggested that we didn't feel the sadness and horror of the act because we were not the "targets" of the attack.

The move to Seattle has brought a fresh perspective to this ongoing debate in my head. Microsoft is a virtual microcosm of the world - not even in New York did I work with people from so many countries and backgrounds. But home is different - I live in an affluent suburb which still means - a mostly white suburb. While we definitely have made some very good friends in our neighborhood, there have been very ugly incidents which have made me think long and hard about what it means to live as a brown person in this society.

For a lot of the reasons above, I hailed and rejoiced in the election of President Obama. " What a great difference for all the balck people in this country," I remember thinking to myself, "to have a role model. To see this family in the White House." No matter what else happens, there is this person of color in the highest office of the land and that is something that has the power to inspire and motivate millions of young people, previously excluded from this conversation. I was exultant every time I watched the President and his family being fawned over. " I think we will apply to be citizens now," I emailed a friend as I watched the new first family on my TV.

Since then, I have heard lots of commentary on why the election of President Obama has not meant a post racial America. I agree, whole heartedly. However, there are subtle shifts - which is how, I think, change starts to brew. One trend I have noticed in that central pillar of the American capitalist structure - TV advertising. Commercials for household items like Tide, Cheerios, Campbell and NetFlix have been featuring black people - kids, fathers, grandfathers - as normal people with normal lives in normal houses. Just like the rest of the world. The Netflix guy even rides a bike in his leafy suburb. Of course, that has always been true - there is nothing new about the lives being depicted here. But, at least to me, the newness and power is in these images of normalcy finally being beamed down from TV sets across the country. These are normal people, folks - our neighbors. Nothing to fear. And that is a trend that I am celebrating and hoping to see more of. Now, if we could only stop seeing Indian characters with horribly pronounced accents. That would be a victory closer to home.

Watch the Cheerios ad below and click on over to youtube to watch the Tide Commercial. Tell me if there are others you see.

1 comment:

  1. Nikki. Actually, I was on the BananaRepublic website and surprised to see a fair proportion of the clothes modeled on women with dark brown skin. To me it seemed like a big shift. Not that I shop at BananaRepublic online much, but it stood out as unexpected. I was pleased.