It’s Time for Metro PCS to End Racist Ads

Metro PCS has been running ads for the past year or so featuring two characters that spend most of the time portraying Indian stereotypes and a little bit of time talking about phone services. Ranjit and Chad have thick Indian accents and do a wonderful job of making Indians looking like morons. While some might say that these ads are all in good fun, I think Metro PCS is showing incredibly poor taste by continuing to run these ads.

Here’s an example of an early Metro PCS ‘Tech and Talk’ commercial. As you can see, Ranjit and Chad are molded as a couple of buffoons. There’s a lot of ads that make fun people, but most national brands have the sense to make fun of people’s actions rather than build entire marketing campaigns based on putting down a culture.

Here’s another Metro PCS commercial, which does little more than stereotype Indians as being backwards donkey loving people. Nobody likes being called a donkey, but it’s something particularly harsh insult in India when attached to a couple of other choice words.

While the actors in the commercials may be Indian, this isn’t simply a case of a couple of guys making fun of themselves. There isn’t a single person of south-Asian descent on the Metro PCS management team. Some of my friends have told me that they find the ads funny because they remind them of some of their older relatives or because it’s good to finally see some Indians on primetime. Other friends find the ads deeply offensive.

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Like just about everyone, I’ve been frustrated by overseas call centers. That may be your only interaction with someone from India, but my experience is a lot different than that. My family is a cultural melting pot. Explaining where I’m ‘from’ is a complex task at times and there always seem to be follow-up questions. Thanksgiving dinner is usually mix of turkey, stuffing, sushi, lumpia and samosas.

While many families have never been stung by racism, ours has. A few examples? My grandmother spent her high-school years in an internment camp during World War II and wasn’t allowed to receive a teaching credential. My nephews have been told that the speak English very well for Asian boys by one of their teachers. I’ve experienced my own fair share of rude comments and questions. We generally follow my grandmother’s advice and example of making the best of circumstances and ignoring ignorance.

My wife and I are expecting our first child in just a few weeks. He’s going to be half Indian and I want him to be proud of his background. We are going to teach him about our family’s history and how each of his parents and great-grandparent worked so hard so he could be here today. We’re going to teach him about all of their cultures and traditions. The last thing we need is a wireless carrier making fun of one of them continuously.

I think the only reason Metro PCS is ‘allowed’ to run these ads is because nobody’s making much of a fuss about them. If similar ads ran that portrayed African, Jewish or Hispanic Americans, there would be an uproar. There have been countless incidences involving big-brands misstepping when it comes to cultural issues, and they’re generally remedied fairly quickly.

The racist ads may be helping Metro PCS sell more phones in the short term, but it’s forever tarnished the brand in my book.

  

Comments

  1. transteam says

    how about you grow a thicker skin. be a good parent and teach your kids about racism. Prepare your kid for real life. Everyone is just too sensitive.
    I don’t like the metro pcs commercials myself, so i just ignore it and change the channel.

    best wishes on your kid.

    • Xavier Lanier says

      I have no doubt that I’ll be a good parent and thanks for your wishes. However I simply don’t condone racism on a corporate scale. While I’m preparing my kid for ‘real life’, others’ children will be primed with stereotypes of what Indians ‘are’ by the time he hits grade school. Do kids get made fun of for just about anything? Sure, but usually it’s done by children their own age, not billion-dollar companies.

  2. Bill Zilla says

    Let me start off by saying that I generally find those ads to be unfunny and in poor taste. I am playing devils advocate because your article made me think.
    Having said that: Would you feel the same way if the ad featured two American “rednecks”? This stereotype is of course applied exclusively to people of a certain race from a certain geographic area. Would this be less offensive? Why? Is it EVER okay to include stereotypes for comedic effect? Is it only okay when the race being mocked is perceived to be the one “in power” (as whites tend to be in America)? Who’s to say the people behind the ad, or even the owners of MetroPCS aren’t some flavor of brown-skinned person themselves? Would THAT make it okay? Does the fact that I’m even questioning this make you automatically assume I’m Caucasian myself?

    Again, I don’t want to take away from your feelings. It’s a perfectly valid way to feel and I’m torn about it myself. I’m content to think those ads just need to go away because they aren’t funny, though.

    • Xavier Lanier says

      I have no idea if you’re caucasian or not based on your comment. As I mentioned above, some of my Indian friends think the Metro PCS ads are funny, others find them offensive.

      There’s definitely a difference between laughing with someone vs. laughing at them. That’s one of the reasons you’ll find cultural groups are fine w/ calling themselves some pretty offensive names. But once an outsider does it’s war.

      Funny you should bring up the issue of ‘rednecks’ as I was actually thinking about that as I wrote this – my grandfather (and many relatives) comes from a part of country that’s stereotyped as a bunch of rednecks by east/west coasters. I think there’s definitely a difference between making fun of a minority group, especially when there isn’t a lot of material to balance things out.

      Don’t think the Comedy Channel would exist without stereotypes. Comedic effect? Sure, but these ads are about moving products, nothing else.

      For better or worse, it seems it’s acceptable to use stereotypes in marketing as long as it’s not attacking the ‘wrong’ group.

  3. Feralboy says

    As an African American male, I totally agree with your assessment here. It’s disheartening to see the level of “acceptance” to racist/bigoted discource in this country today. It feels like we’ve lost a lot of ground over the last decade or so. Whether it’s Rush Limbaugh calling our president a “halfrican” or politicians justifying unequal treatment under the guise of fear, it seems to be all around us these days. Children absorb this stuff and it colors their opinions of themselves and others. It’s much more dangerous than shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater. That said, I’m not a real big proponent of teaching kids to be proud of their race — because race is irrelevant biologically — in my book, the only value/worth we have is a direct reflection of how we treat each other. Here’s hoping that the America your son grows up in refinds its compassion.

  4. GoodThings2Life says

    Bad advertisements, yes. Racist, not really. If you have Indians willing to play the roles in a comedic nature, you can’t really call the race card. Moreover, stereotypes exist for a reason… they’re based, in part, on reality. As one commenter said, if it were American “red necks” or snooty French people or whatever, you probably wouldn’t have a problem with it.

    Anyway, I do completely agree that the ads should go but on the basis of ineffectiveness not on the basis of hurting someone’s feelings.

    • Wazupwiturface says

      I completely disagree on the they found indian actors so its not rasist. what was that my mom always told me? If your brother jumps off a bridge are you going to jump too? My response was always how high is it?. The point is if those two actors were ok with it then thats fine….for the two actors. I understand where hes coming from completely

      And on the other point…if it were rednecks…he wouldnt have an issue with it but im sure he would still think they were wrong…but then the redneck or french guy from gbm would be writing this and not the indian….its still wrong

    • Xavier Lanier says

      “stereotypes exist for a reason… they’re based, in part, on reality”
      I don’t that’s an acceptable rational for a national brand to reinforce stereotypes. Most companies are wise enough to steer clear of stereotypes that they know would cause a serious boycot/outcry. Obviously Metro PCS feels ‘safe’ with this campaign. They probably skipped over stereotypes that they knew would get them in real hot water.
      As I mentioned, my family’s very diverse and I’m not sure if a red neck/French/etc. campaign would strike the same chord, but it’s clearly different whenever a minority group (in whatever country) is under attack vs a majority- laughing w/us vs. laughing at us.

    • Feralboy says

      Oh. My. God. Do you really thing that the fact that they found a couple of East Indian guys who would take their money to play a racist stereotype makes it…okay? Seriously? I don’t mean to attack you because I’ve read many intelligent and informative posts from you, but man, this is so off base.

      Until we stop making excuses for bad behavior, it will continue. These ads are an insult to my humanity, an affront to the dream of America, and an attack on creativity. In short, they suck.

  5. LeMel says

    Companies do this kind of thing precisely to generate the kind of exposure this post is giving them. Often the agency creating the ad has other agendas as well (the chatter is exposure for them to potential clients). There are almost never purely bad intentions at root anywhere along the chain. However, having said that, it takes a pretty strong person to stand up in situ while the thing is being put together and say “we shouldn’t do this execution” since they will likely be met with the same stream of rationalizations you see here in the comments, except by work peers and to their face (those rooms tend to be full of one demographic, and mostly male to boot).

    But still, it’s difficult to be outraged since a bit of media critical savvy on the part of the viewer is required to parse and appropriately respond (say, by not buying the product) which is what I teach my own kids. The true discriminatory challenges of life tend to be much more subtle, hidden (sometimes even within your own heart), and wrapped in an almost comically bizarre layer of ‘what’s wrong with you for suggesting this might be bad?’

  6. Leana70 says

    As soon as I saw this commercial the first time, I thought it was racist, and I’m not Indian. I asked a couple of my friends about this commercial, and they think it’s racist too. And they aren’t Indian. Okay, for all the post-racist Americans on this board, I will take back the term racist. I would say rather that these characters are so exaggerated, so stereotypically Indian. That way I won’t hurt anybody’s feelings. Americans are soo afraid of being called out on racisim.

  7. StanLee says

    They’re just funny. The characters are funny.  The ACTORS are funny.  The commercials work because they’re FUNNY, and you’re simply missing the point. 
    Would any of your friends happen to characterize you as a stick in the mud? 

    • Jennifer Sternberg says

      They’re just not funny.  The characters are not funny.  The ACTORS are not funny.  The commercials don’t work because they’re NOT FUNNY, and you’re simply missing the point.
      Would any of your friends happen to characterize you as a buffoon?

  8. Jennifer Sternberg says

    Kudos to Xavier for an insightful article.  I hope these ads get removed soon!   — Jenn

  9. Mroberts200 says

     Hmmm….. What’s your last name? Lanier? Jewish, right? Are you trying to do what your people do best: create controversy where  none existed before, in order to make work for your shyster lawyer  friends and family, so that they can extort even more money from ordinary working class people ?  If you want to talk about bad stereotypes, why don’t you concentrate on your own people, instead of trying to pretend you care about the rights of others? Your crocodile tears about the “racism” you see directed towards my people aren’t going to work on us. We are smarter than that, and we see through what your kind are trying to do!   

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