As I was idly checking my email today, a flash animation ad on the Yahoo! mail site came up big and bold and red. In the animation, an obviously Asian woman (with her slim retro capri pants, black bobbed and barretted hair, little slippers, and slanted eyes; even the red color palette is vaguely Asian) groaning under the weight of freshly dry cleaned clothes walks out of a shop. She leaves the frame of the ad dropping a dress on the ground. Then the ad hocks Yahoo! HotJobs, where ostensibly this struggling woman can find a less strenuous and more fulfilling line of work. So, what do we do with this image? This stereotype? This covert racism?
Both the t-shirt and the Yahoo! ad remind of Dwight A. McBride's book Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch and his work on unpacking the strange bedfellows of capitalism, commercialism, whiteness, race, and sexuality. In a deep sense, looking at (really looking at) and critiquing and unknotting what may seem innocent or innocuous or humorous (but in startling actuality is fraught with prejudice) is necessary work. How does the Yahoo! ad talk about race or class or gender or citizenship as whole? McBride says, "While the dominant rhetoric of our national identity presents a color-blind, 'united we stand,' Horatio Alger narrative of upward mobility, in reality, citizenship is raced, gendered, and classed, and the original texts that define citizenship and national identity in the United States reflect this reality" (68).
So, what do we do with the above image? A quick Google search turns up no response or reaction to it. I have yet to see the advertisement again. Maybe it got pulled. Maybe I haven't been fortunate enough to witness it another time. However, I do think there is something going on, something nefarious in kitschy, cute, bubblegum pink, 'humorous' clothing. What made the advert makers choose an Asian woman? Dry cleaning? Red? Separately, these details seem arbitrary. But together they add up to years of stereotyping, assumptions, and racialized (even racist) representation of Asians.
The irony here, of course, is that Yahoo! is one of the major employers of the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley, which I would guess employs a great number of Asians. You would think they would be a little more aware of their own constituents (or maybe it's one big inside joke that just isn't funny).