So last week a video went viral featuring the most racist commercial I have ever seen. I mean, over the top racist. Starring a white man dressed in yellow face, the ad references Confucius and uses poor grammar in a manner that would make Mickey Rooney proud. (on a side note as charming as Audrey Hepburn is in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, scenes like this make the movie uncomfortable to watch.)
Without further ado, the ad……
Where the story gets more interesting is that it turns out thelaw firm was not responsible for the video. A man named Jim DeBerry produced the ad without consent from the firm. Unfortunately, prior to figuring out the law firm was not responsible, the popular legal blog abovethelaw.com published a snarky story about the commercial in which the blog joked about the firm being from Alabama. In response to abovethelaw, the law firm not only issued a denial, they issued a statement that included the following:
“You know nothing of my life and yet you stereotype me as promoting racism based upon this video. The State of Alabama has had it’s share of race problems, that cannot be denied. This State has addressed those problems and continues to do so. Quite frankly, if the video had portrayed a “southern redneck” I doubt you or anyone else would have even cared. But racism for people like you is ok, as long it is not directed at you.”
This story has a lot of layers, but a few quick observations. On a positive note, this story shows that society is progressing because it appears that someone purposefully made a racist video to smear the law firm. In other words, because the video is so obviously racist, its intent was to associate the firm with racism and everyone knows racism is bad. On a less positive note, the reactions to the video show we have a long way to go. While I am not surprised a blog that calls itself “above the law,” published by a yale grad who worked in New York, acted elitist towards Alabama, the response was still not appropriate. Similarly, even though the law firm was framed, their response should have shown more sympathy towards those offended by the commercial rather than make a strange statement about how nobody is looking out for rednecks. Both responses indicate that when people are under attack, the fight or flight response kicks in, and all attempts to avoid stereotyping are abandoned. This reminds me of the most famous catfish story involving Manti Te’o who told Katie Couric that he was “far from gay” when questioned about his sexuality. While Te’o was a victim, he felt the need to lash out with a homophobic remark when confronting his embarrassment. I know that “turning the other cheek” would have been the morally superior way for these parties to act, but I am not sure how I would respond to being catfished. What would you have done?