People are still talking about this year’s Super Bowl commercials. Aside from the most obviously controversial advert, one other spot is generating a lot of conversation. That ad came courtesy of Volkswagen:
The chattering classes immediately began to try drumming up controversy based on the fact that the ad shows white people speaking with Jamaican accents. This silly critique shows what I consider to be a remarkable irony: in this effort to play the race card where it does not need to be played, these people show the same kind of ignorance that many of the racists they criticize are guilty of.
My mother actually introduced me to this commercial on Facebook prior to the Super Bowl. She loved it, and so did I. Most every other Jamaican I’ve seen has no problem with it. Yet we have Americans claiming offense on our behalf.
Aside from the fact that the Jamaicans themselves generally have no issues with this ad, there are a couple of other reasons why the “racist” calls are nothing short of pure fuckery:
1. “Jamaican” is a nationality, not a race.
Culture and nationality can transcend racial boundaries. You would think that those who loudly claim to oppose racism, given their commitment to egalitarianism and opposition to rigid box definitions/generalizations about groups of people, would be able to understand this and perhaps grasp the possibility that not every Jamaican must be black. You would be wrong.
2. Going off of point one, there are many non-black Jamaicans.
Here is a site that catalogs photo albums of major club/party events in Jamaica. You can see a lot of young Jamaicans there. They are disproportionately from the island’s socio-economic elite (those are the folks who frequent these particular events most), but still Jamaicans all the same.
What do you see?
White Jamaicans. Chinese Jamaicans. Indo-Jamaicans (Jamaicans of East Indian heritage). Black Jamaicans. And many more people who are some combination of these.
There are hundreds of thousands of these people running around in Jamaica, and they all have the same Jamaican accent you’d hear from Afro-Jamaicans. Jamaica (and, for that matter, the rest of the Caribbean) is far more diverse than people think.
Our national motto is “Out of many, one people”. We take that seriously, and I don’t appreciate watching idiots in the media subvert it in order to drum up needless controversy.
In this episode we see the limits of the race card and how it can be played. So quick have certain progressives and supposed anti-racists come to play the card that they now begin to show the same level of ignorance and offensive generalization their more racialist opponents are said to be guilty of. They place artificial divisions among peoples based on their own incomplete understandings of them, and in doing so foster some of the very division they claim to be fighting.
In working so hard not to offend, they end up being more offensive.
Multiracialism is a foundation of Jamaican culture (hence the whole “Out of many, one people” thing). We take that as a serious matter of national pride. Supposedly this is the kind of thing the folks opposed to this commercial would support given their opposition to “racism.” Yet their critiques imply a Jamaican identity that isn’t multiracial as it is in reality, but strictly mono-racial, one in which black Jamaicans are the only “real” Jamaicans.
You cannot knock down boundaries by erecting artificial ones. I’m all for pointing out instances of racism when they appear as racism is still an issue, but such efforts will soon be futile if people continue to play the race card where it is unwarranted. One can only cry wolf so many times before they are ignored.
When these people come to understand this, perhaps the irrational use of the race card in instances like this will decline. Until then, people need to sit back and just enjoy the commercial.
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