Alex Blaze

Racist Intel ad?

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 20, 2007 7:05 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Intel, racism advertising

intel ad.jpg
The ad to the right there has been floating around the internet since it appeared in a Dell catalogue. It's an ad for Intel's Core 2 Duo. Intel says that it's supposed to "convey the performance capabilities of our processors through a number of visual metaphors," and, well, one of those metaphors stumbled upon, for many people, is that of antebellum slavery.

I'm not going to sit here and divine the intention of Intel's marketing division with this ad, but I will say that that interpretation is pretty obvious to me, with six identical and identity-less athletic African American men in a pose that strongly resembles bowing all around a smarmy, nerdy white guy. But while I'm not going to pretend to know if this is a shout-out to a *cough* certain white audience *cough*, an outgrowth of the stereotype that white people are smart and in control and black men are good athletes, or just a complete coincidence of imagery and a total mistake, I do have to wonder about the ad department over at Intel and what sort of minority representation there is. Considering how many people would have to look over something like this before it got approved, it can't be a total mistake....

Regardless of Intel's intention, they're presenting an ad like that in a society that fantasizes paranoid about black men, where all of these stereotypes do exist, and where people are going to read it in the context of everything they know. I doubt there'll be any sort of repercussion for this besides a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of consumers, so I suppose we just take this as another footnote in the argument "Racism Still Exists".

Intel has apologized, though, calling the ad a mistake. It's interesting to notice the way this story's been commented on at various blogs. Both Keith Boykin and Gizmodo posted about it and received quite a few comments, and, well, scrolling through them and comparing the two sites one can see that there's still a long way to go when it comes to a national dialogue on race in this country and a lot of education that needs to be done around these issues.

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As a former professional programmer, I see a bit of poetry in the ad --- poetry which, by the way, does not negate the possibility of racism.

My bet is that the nerd in the center of the ad, or a nerd like him, designed the ad itself. The idea of the ad, obviously, is that if your PC or server has multiple processors, then it will have more power and speed for getting work done.

The nerd in the center is obviously the operating system's "kernel" (colonel, perhaps?) and the athletes, who obviously are supposed to be sprinters, each represent a discrete unit of work inside a computer called a processing thread (or, either a "process" or a "thread" for those of you who are computer scientists and require technical exactness).

Poetically, in some programming languages (Java is one), the creation of a new thread is achieved via a command (actually, a method) called "Run" ... and thus the thread "runs" (executes) inside the system ... and the analogy with the ad picture becomes all the more obvious. At this point, we see that the ad wasn't even all that imaginative.

So, I think Alex's commentary is correct: The ad wasn't designed by a racist, it was designed by a computer nerd.

... and y'know, nerds are known for their accidental insensitivity, aren't they?

But on the other hand ... if you were to buy a microprocessor, would you select one represented by a young, fit African-American sprinter ... or one suggestive of a fat, red-faced, retired white guy tooling around the 17th hole in a golf cart?

Perhaps the guy designing the photo could have used young, white (or mixed race) tennis players and avoided the whole bruhaha. Well, Unix wasn't written in a day ...