Racism in East Asian Marketing Strategy
As John Boyega’s star rises, we become more aware of the puzzling elements of racism he encounters. Each opportunity the actor gains appears pro-Black to the naked eye, like a mirage of diversity, seeming to quench the thirst for acknowledging talent. But to our irony induced shock and disgust, the actor’s experiences reveal a more anti- Black agenda, which materialises in a sting of vivid and palpable racism. As the fight against discrimination reboots, the push to normalise intolerance is bolstering itself.
The Star Wars actor recently appeared in a Jo Malone advert which he originated, directed and featured in. The ad was then duplicated for the Chinese Market however, it omitted one majorly obvious aspect. The copy and pasted version excluded the actor himself. It did not however, exclude his personal stories and the vision he created, but it did, in fact, thoroughly erase him and all the Black people including his friends and family who featured. The campaign inserted Liu Haoran- a Chinese actor, with no Black faces in sight. If in doubt of the levels of censorship, plagiarism and unconscionable racism that were edited here, then feel free to watch both ads side by side as they were copied frame for frame.
To add more insult to injury, Tianwei Zhang, London and China Market Editor for Women’s Wear Daily, then took upon himself to grab some gas and a lighter, even though Jo Malone issued an apology and nobody asked him to, by stating that “I don’t think it’s fair to criticise brands wanting to engage deeper with the local audience and show respect to the market, which may appear odd to the mainstream Eurocentric views,” he said. “[Jo Malone] appointed Liu [for] the same reason they worked with Boyega: to acquire new customers, whether Chinese or Black.” And there we have it, the incredible misuse of the word “fair” and the aptitude to deny the glaringly obvious. This level of ignorance allows these offensive failures to happen again and again, without a single ounce of remorse or dignity. Similarly, to how John Boyega was resized and shrunk on a Stars Wars film poster in China, racism cannot abide to give Black people their deserved respect.
To brazenly defend racism as marketing shows that there is either a lack of understanding on the concept of selling and promotion, or a deep belief that countries such as China are anti-Black, so pick one Mr Zhang because you can’t have both. Marketeers would happily give us the explanation that there are no Black people to advertise to in Asia, and that nobody knows who John Boyega from Star Wars is, and we’re all just supposed to eat it up. Not only is it insulting for its callousness, it also insults the intelligence of us all. Especially as this marketing defence immediately conjures up memories of the time when a Chinese washing powder advert featured a Black man becoming white. I won’t even expand on that because the advert was so wildly racist, I feel like I’m being run over by a lorry whenever I think of it. This ridiculous rhetoric seeks to override a history of racism against Black people in Asia and pretend as if the context is irrelevant. It only continues to gnaw away at our understanding of each other. Furthermore, ignorance towards context plays a fundamental part in maintaining racism. Therefore, with that being said, I’ll just quickly illuminate all those at Women’s Wear Daily as well as Jo Malone, on the sensitive issue of race they might have seen all those people marching for.
For Black people, challenging racism goes far beyond white against Black. It is an intricate idea which presents multiple layers and barriers in achieving racial equality. This is one of the many aspects that this destructive and effective notion reproduces over time. Fighting racism stretches far across the board of dismantling deeply entrenched racial caste systems spread around the world. Those who facilitate caste systems such as groups from both South and East Asia, practice the colourism aspect of racist ideology, by placing darker skinned people at the bottom of the totem pole. Therefore, it is unsurprising when Black people are treated with utter disdain under this caste construct in the East. This mythical and racist “racial hierarchy” that has been established by white people for centuries and is heavily prevalent in East Asian countries with citizens aiming to achieve the “white standard” in any way that matters aesthetically. Changing eye-shape, skin tone, nose and lip size are artificial aesthetics that have become familiar to us all therefore, this is no far-fetched theory. The self-hate within Asian communities blows up in Black people’s faces as they pursue equality on a global scale. However, this does not negate the fact that racism in East Asia is fully established outside of white supremacy. Therefore, the move to delete John Boyega from his own work only highlights the reality of racism against Black people in Asia. This is something the Jo Malone team and co could have factored in. When people such as the editor of Women’s Wear Daily, utter such dross about local markets and fairness, what is quite apparent is the need to appeal to and imitate whiteness, the problems with self-hatred that East Asian’s face when confronting their own racial identity and the anti-Blackness that feeds these ideas. White people indoctrinated racism into society, but East Asia has fully duped it as their own idea.
The most sickening aspect concerning the way John Boyega was treated, is the way in which Black people are commodified. Evidently, he was chosen for his whole being, his talent, prowess and charm, now in hindsight also to presumably capitalise on “progressiveness” too. Whereas within the Asian market, he was pulled apart by marketeers, as they selected the “desirable” qualities which were those hidden behind the camera, and the most visible quality, seemingly an undesirable one, was his Black skin left on the cutting room floor. The process of electing to compartmentalise and exploit his intellect, his experiences and his presence all into repackaged commodities, couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of how Black people are dehumanised. Picking him apart and discarding his whole being as a Black man is an intolerable action that displays the dispensability of Black people which racism seeks to ensure. If the act of removing John Boyega was simply to engage a local market, why would they use a story inspired by a boy growing up in Peckham to do so? The sheer laziness that hindered them from creating an entirely new campaign for the “Asian market” and complete disregard for Black people’s lives and experiences is all too clear to see. We are simply viewed as quaint stories that can be packaged and shipped to anywhere, as long as you remove the “Black” label. To take a thoughtfully crafted idea and replace it, doesn’t speak to China’s Asian-centric views, it’s speaks to its flagrant, unashamed racism. But what more can be expected from territories where governments run Muslim concentration camps and instil bans on Black people from entering restaurants. Racism in Asia is so commonplace it’s a way of life.
In all of this, Jo Malone the company and Estee Lauder issued their apology for this entire mess but it is unacceptable for them to simply wash their hands of this and fling a “heartfelt” apology. John Boyega recently spoke about the different treatment he experienced as a Black actor working on Stars Wars, and yet the perfumer didn’t see fit to ensure that his experience with them was nothing short of royal. This is where the issue lies with racism in the West. Those running Jo Malone’s western marketing definitely have their hands dirty without any explanation. Their actions confirm that they have been so unaffected by the problem of racism, because presumably it is so far out of their mental periphery, that when the ship hits the iceberg and everyone stars drowning, all they can do was apologise. This type of incompetence and ignorance is simply just intentional at this point and furthermore the bottom line is that it fuels racism.
John Boyega has since stepped down from Jo Malone and his frustration radiates. To be mishandled in such a fashion is a daily humiliating occurrence in Black people’s lives. Though racism is ubiquitous it requires Black people to be involved therefore, the talented actor will be flooded with opportunities by racists and anti-racists alike, but what will remain is that many Black celebrities will continue to march into jobs with much trepidation. It is truly a sad state of affairs when a person sees no other option but to resign because the idea of remaining is far, far worse. The film star’s exit as the Jo Malone ambassador will undoubtedly send a clear message to all those deniers who would have us to believe it was a marketing decision. Let this be a lesson that when it comes to using Black talent, we must be appreciated as whole beings or you can keep your hands off our talent. That is Black people’s greatest strength, to understand our value, to call out racism and never to stand for it.
Although Jo Malone sold her company to Estee Lauder years ago, it’s fair to say that she might feel outraged at her name being inserted into this tragedy and her intellectual property under scrutiny. However, this is only but a fraction of the dismay we can imagine John Boyega’s feels at his entire presence being taken out, simply because he is Black.