The World of Advertising and the Consequences of Racist Ads

Islam and racism

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers started a conversation in our communities more powerful than the riots seen on television. The major media outlets may want you to see the current global movement spearheaded by Black Lives Matter as a headless rioting campaign. However, that is far from the truth. The conversation about racism needs us all to take a step back and assess whether our actions contribute to racial bias, prejudice, and persecution. As an advertising platform, we did just that. We took a look at advertising and its contribution to racism. We then went a step further and decided to take action against racism.

Racism in Advertising

“Hey, did you see that Chinese detergent ad where a Chinese woman throws her African boyfriend into a washing machine?”

“Yeah, not only does he come out squeaky clean, he turns into a fair-skinned Chinese man!”

There are countless ads that have received a backlash for their racist nature. You have to admit, these ads are entertaining and well-thought-out. One of the latest ads to stir controversy is Volkswagen’s ad which shows a giant white hand shoving a black man who happens to walk near the new Volkswagen Golf that just came out this year.

volkswagen's racist ad

“German television also suggested that the light-skinned hand could be seen as making a ‘white power’ gesture.”- Reuters announced in its article: Volkswagen Admits Car Ad Racist, Apologizes

This article is not about listing the top 10 most racist ads. But there is a whole array of racist ads you can find online. Some are intentional but one could argue that the worst ones are those that were not intended to be racist. Just imagine any other crime being committed so consistently with half the perpetrators not actually intending to commit that crime. What an awful world that would be.

Why Racist Ads are Dangerous

Racism in ads dehumanizes the objectified race, ethnicity, or nationality that is on the receiving end. In a world where people have stopped thinking for themselves and trust the ‘idiot box’ and other sources of media to do the thinking for them, such ads could be viewed as dangerous.

It is a well-known fact of history that ridiculing a certain group of people is the start of persecution. There is plenty of history out there that embodies this statement. Let’s look at the life of the Prophet of Islam; Muhammad peace be upon him:

Stage 1 – Ignored by the Quraish (the tribe of Makkah that he belonged to)

Stage 2 – Ridiculed and called crazy, poet, and magician

Stage 3 – Threatened verbally

Stage 4 – Attacked physically

Stage 5 – Boycotted together with his entire Banu Hashim sub-tribe

Stage 6 – Plot to murder him was concocted

Stage 7 – Driven out of his hometown: Makkah

Now, I just mentioned the dangers of advertising and media promoting racism. You are probably thinking, 7th century Arabia,  no media and no ads, so where is the connection?

Well, during the time of the Prophet peace be upon him, poetry was absolutely the go-to media source. If you wanted to know about what was happening around you, you’d listen to poets. History, politics, business, gossip, you name it. The ridicule, the fear-mongering, and so on all of that had its place in the poetry.

Racism in Media Fuels Hate Crime

Remember that Chinese detergent ad that I mentioned at the start of this article? There is no way that would fuel a hate crime. It may be distasteful but it is not inciting violence right? Well, not if looked at as a silo. However, as discussed earlier, this is the part where certain groups are ridiculed and basically dehumanized before the violence comes in.

The same media outlets have recently used the COVID-19 pandemic to kick out Africans from their homes in China, police confiscating their passports, and even acts of brutal violence have been committed against Africans in China.

Who can forget the “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ Sympathy for Jihadist” front-page article that appeared in the Sun newspaper just a few years back? As a Muslim in the UK, you just knew what was coming.

Islamophobic media

Many Muslim sisters were attacked in public both verbally and physically. However, if you think about it. Such an article could not have been possible without decades of stereotyping Muslims and Asians on TV shows, advertisements both on TV and online that dehumanized that group of people. It easily creates an atmosphere of us versus them (the crazy, backward people living in our country).

And We Have Certainly Honored the Children of Adam – Islam’s View on Racism

And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference.

(Quran 17:70)

No one has the right to take away the honor that The Creator Almighty gave to any human being. In fact, using an advertisement that disgraces and dishonors anyone is a serious offense against The Almighty.

Yet today, some brands will do anything in order to grab the attention of their audience even if it means dehumanizing people of a certain race, religious belief, or nationality.

O you mankind, surely We created you of a male and a female, and We have made you races and tribes that you may get mutually acquainted. Surely the most honorable among you in the Providence of Allah are the most pious; surely Allah is Ever-Knowing, Ever-Cognizant.

(Quran 49:13)

The word used to describe  “the most pious” in Arabic is ‘“Atqakum” which stems from the word “Taqwa”, piety. Well then, now we know who is supposed to be superior to all other humans right? Let’s look at the most religious guy with the best deeds and give him the title.

Well no, because the word ‘Taqwa’ comes back in a Hadith where the Prophet points to his chest three times while he says, “Piety is here”. This indicated to the followers that no matter how many good deeds or how long someone’s beard is, we can never know who is the most pious and consequently the most honored.

This is Islam’s stance on Racism which we Muslims consider to be the consequence of the world’s first sin; the sin of arrogance. Arrogance is the way of Iblis (Satan/Lucifer) which causes a person to look down on others. It was arrogance that made Iblis refuse to bow down to Adam claiming that he was superior.

[Allah] said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?” [Satan] said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from clay.”

(Quran 7:12)

Muslim Ad Network is Taking a Stance Against Racism

I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”

(Muslim – On the authority of Abu Sa`eed al-Khudree)

At Muslim Ad Network, we do not have the authority to change the evil of racism with our hand. But we have the capability to change it with our tongue (meaning using media and communication).

This is why, as the largest Muslim advertising platform in the world, we are teaming up with Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC).

MuslimARC focuses on human rights education and raising awareness. It trains Muslim communities on issues of racial justice. In order to uproot racism, they develop and deliver education on internalized, interpersonal, and institutional racism.

Muslim Ad Network will offer MuslimARC free advertising indefinitely to help them spread awareness. We will not stand still, we will not be among those who remain silent when witnessing oppression.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu

Stand up and act now!

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