Dunkin' Donuts Under Fire for 'Racist' Ad in Thailand, Issues Apology

Dunkin' Donuts apologized on behalf of its Thailand franchisee on Friday for an ad campaign that’s being called racist for its image of a woman in blackface.

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Human Rights Watch denounced the ad for the new “Charcoal Donut” on Friday, calling for American company Dunkin' Donuts to pull the campaign.

“Painting someone with blackface to sell a chocolate doughnut is racist,” Phil Robertson, Thailand-based deputy director of the Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told Yahoo Shine. “This is unfortunate, and Dunkin’ Donuts should take action and drop this ad. They should also show some degree of atonement and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

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Dunkin’ Donuts, which is based in Massachusetts, apologized for the ad on Friday through spokesperson Karen Raskopf. "Dunkin' Donuts recognizes the insensitivity of this spot and on behalf of our Thailand franchisee and our company, we apologize for any offense it caused," read the statement, released to Yahoo Shine. "We are working with our franchisee to immediately pull the television spot and to change the campaign."

Meanwhile, the CEO of the Dunkin' Donuts franchisee group in Thailand, Nadim Salhani, earlier shrugged off the criticism as "paranoid American thinking," calling it "absolutely ridiculous,” reported the Associated Press.

Robertson noted that, in Thailand and throughout much of Asia, there is a “palpable sense of racism” and an “unfortunate lack of consciousness of what these racist images mean.” He said the Dunkin' Donuts ad was not particularly out of context, considering that Thailand sells products like the Blackman Mop, which uses blackface images in its marketing, and Darlie (formerly Darkie) toothpaste, which has a “Sambo”-like image on its packaging.

Using blackface, according to sociology professor and race-relations expert David Pilgrim, founder of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Michigan, is a tried-and-true way of “mocking.” Often, he told Yahoo Shine, it’s done in “a place where there’s no criticism, so it feels safe to do it,” as with the old minstrel shows of the mid-19th century.

“Because this [Dunkin’ Donuts] ad is not caricatured, you are going to have some people who will say it’s not offensive, and others who will find that it is,” added Pilgrim, whose museum’s 5,000-plus racist artifacts — depicting images of the “pickaninny,” “mammy” and whites in blackface — are used in an effort to teach tolerance.  “I personally find it offensive, as it taps into the long tradition of whites being safe to escape their whiteness by blackening their face.” He noted that his first reaction, though, was, "I need one for the museum," as it would provide a good opportunity for teaching.

The use of blackface is a controversial issue that rears its head from time to time, such as with Korean pop groups like the Bubble Sisters. Last year, Israeli Lt. Sacha Dratwa, who oversees social media for the Israel Defense Forces, posed in what he called “Obama style” blackface in a photo put on Facebook; he defended himself from criticism noting that he was “not racist.” That incident prompted Slate’s Forrest Wickman to ask “Do other countries find blackface offensive?” Yes, he concluded, noting that, while minstrel shows began in the U.S., they quickly spread to Western Europe and especially the British Empire. “Even today, the legacies of blackface survive in countries all over the world—accompanied by varying degrees of condemnation,” he wrote.

As for the Dunkin’ Donuts ad, Jim Crow Museum director Andy Karafa told Yahoo Shine, “I can't help but wonder whether the ad was created by borrowing minstrel imagery or whether it was created (as much as anything can be) in a vacuum without the understanding (and/or the willingness to understand) how it would connect to the history of blackface.” Still, he noted, no matter how it came about, “I am not excusing the outcome, regardless of the route taken to get there.”