Asians Angry with Adidas over ‘Yellow Series’

Discussion
Apr 18, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson

The graffiti artist whose art appears on the sole of Adidas-Salomon AG’s new “Yellow Series” is of half Chinese descent but that isn’t doing anything to placate Asian organizations
in an uproar over what they see as just another stereotypical depiction being used for commercial purposes.

Barry McGee is the artist whose character, Ray Fong, he said is based on an uncle at eight-years of age. The character has slanted eyes, buck teeth and a bowl haircut.

The “Yellow Series” was introduced at boutiques in major urban markets around the globe on April 1. Each pair retails for $250 and comes with a graffiti art fanzine.

Mr. McGee told The Washington Post he was not ready for the furor his art has caused. “I had a bowl cut and I had buck teeth,” he said. “People can perceive it as whatever
they want. I guess that’s just the power of images. The whole project was kind of a joke to me, so it’s weird because I never saw this coming.”

Frank Wu, dean of the Wayne State University Law School and author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, said Mr. McGee’s ancestry doesn’t make the image
portrayed any less disturbing.

“The problem with this is not that it’s done by bigots, because it’s not,” he said. “It’s also not that it offends people, because in many ways, that’s what art is meant to do.
The problem is that these images, even though crude and cliched, are powerful, almost indelible. They write the scripts that we expect others and we ourselves to follow. You can’t
read all that into a shoe, but it’s part of a pattern.”

Moderator’s Comment: Did Adidas-Salomon AG make a mistake by introducing its “Yellow Series”? What should the company
do now in light of the controversy surrounding the art in the shoes?

George Anderson – Moderator

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7 Comments on "Asians Angry with Adidas over ‘Yellow Series’"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

It kind of ties in with what Adidas wants people to think about them and their points of view. Taken in context, and seen from 3000 miles offshore, the US seems to be the kind of multicultural society that is least comfortable with itself. One week it’s complaints about Chinese stereotypes, another it’s Hispanics or Blacks or Fundamentalists or Muslims. One way and another, there always seems to be some religious or ethnic group that is in line to be offended and discriminated against. If there weren’t so many groups (even seniors vs. Boomers vs. youngsters) being demonised by other groups, I would say that that population seems polarised. But how can you have so many different poles? The so-called melting pot seems to be melting down into its individual constituents once again. As I don’t want to be accused of offending anyone, I will refrain from naming the people I perceive as leading the pack. But the animosity between political parties at the moment sure enough does exemplify the problem.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
14 years 10 months ago
Gwen Kelly puts it so well. The decision to go with it seems to speak to corporate America’s desire to target urban youth and do so with authenticity. Part of that authenticity can often be misunderstood by those who are not part of that youth and often urban target. There will be feathers ruffled by efforts of this nature. What is more surprising to me is the naiveté to believe that there would be no backlash. I don’t mind being controversial or tempting fate. I just think it should be a conscious decision and there should be an awareness of and a plan to deal with the fall out. To not believe that there would be those who were offended is to show more ignorance than to move forward with the shoe in the first place. I don’t think corporate America should stop taking risks or trying to see the world through the eyes of a multicultural youth base, offensive or not. But I do think they should understand the stories that surround what they… Read more »
Vasanti Ballinger
Guest
Vasanti Ballinger
14 years 10 months ago
I had to research a little before I commented on this article, which seemed a bit too read into. Sometimes, it is best to skim the surface instead of diving for something that is not there. From what I just read, Adidas is marketing products based on color. They also have a white series. The yellow series actually includes many products and does not relate to Asians’ yellow skin tones. Some of these products have images of buildings, etc. The artist simply portrayed himself or maybe others in his family and Adidas thought it would appeal to younger generations. It was included in the yellow series. Do you see yourself (I am assuming we are all business professionals reading this.) as a person that would buy a yellow shoe? The yellow series is geared toward younger people, younger than me even. How different is this than Office Max’s portrayal of the rubber band man with his giant afro that I think is an awful display of an African American male because he is unkempt. Please… Read more »
Gwen Kelly
Guest
Gwen Kelly
14 years 10 months ago

It would be very interesting to learn just what was the debate that took place at Adidas when the campaign and its creative execution were presented to them. My conventional Boomer wisdom thinks the client may have thought it was okay since the concept was developed by someone who is half-Asian. Nonetheless, it is unfortunate that Adidas chose to go with a stereotypical depiction of Asians. I am personally uncomfortable with Gen X’ers and Millennials “empowering” these stereotypes which they claim they intellectually discern the history and experience. However I would contend the younger generation does not have a true grasp of how the old-heads (e.g. baby boomers) approach this conversation from a point of view of their experience and socialization. As Dr. Cornel West of Princeton University has written, “race matters.” And at the heart of this issue are both the racially overt and covert undertones that this campaign elicits. Yes, it is best for Adidas to apologize for a cultural misstep and move on.

Jason Brasher
Guest
Jason Brasher
14 years 10 months ago

Many successful marketing plans are offensive to at least a portion of the public. Publicity can elevate brand awareness more than many other types of advertising and it is free. If the research has been done right, there is a chance that Adidas has chosen to take a path outside of the mainstream with this line and is willing to take some heat to establish the brand.

They may have been wise to offer it under another brand name if this is in fact their intent as they may feel some pain from the move among core clientele. Time will tell.

Either way, it is a bold action. Agree with their tactics or not, I can appreciate a bold effort to differentiate.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

My 28-year-old son has taught me a lot about what his generation considers offensive, and not offensive, and why. I think people his age have a far better handle, spiritually and intellectually, on such things than we did. So I can see why this shoe would not be offensive to a younger, hipper crowd; I can also understand the knee-jerk reaction of many others. If you’re after a hip, niche market, go ahead. It’s amazing what you can buy today in terms of apparel, etc. on the Internet. But Adidas is too mainstream, too big a target, and doesn’t need to be doing this. An unfortunate error in judgment. No biggie. They should take it off, apologize, and move on.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Who needs a headache caused by ethnic caricatures? Certainly Adidas doesn’t. The intent might be inoffensive, but there are an infinite variety of other possible designs. Truly creative people can express wit, fun, intelligence, or anything else without perceived ethnic slurs.

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