Monday, April 11, 2005

Questionable Advertising and Race in America

There's an ad from a major pharmaceutical company in the latest issue of Newsweek. The ad begins, "Recently the FDA ordered three medicines from 'Canada.' When they arrived one thing was clear. They weren't from Canada." Below this text is a diagram showing what happened.

First, "After receiving a spam e-mail from a Web site offering to sell cheaper 'generic' drugs from Canada, the FDA ordered Ambien, Lipitor and Viagra." The diagram goes through four more steps before concluding, "The FDA tested the products and found significant quality problems. The fake Ambien had too much medicine. The fake Lipitor and Viagra had too little medicine and had too many impurities." At the bottom of this ad is the following text: "Where did all these medicines really come from? And what exactly is in them? Getting medicines from 'Canada' isn't the answer. But it does raise a lot of questions."

Like did this major pharmaceutical company really think this ad would work?

First of all, I would hope most people today are aware of the perils of responding to unsolicited e-mail. I would hope anyone seeking cheaper medication from Canada would be a savvy enough consumer to know, like anyone who shops online, that you should be wary of what you find on the Internet.

What irritates me is how this major pharmaceutical company can't make a substantiated case against buying medication from Canada. Because the fact is, pharmacies in Canada receive their supplies from America. Same exact thing that we get here, except we pay more for it. So this major pharmaceutical company resorts to scare tactics, and it doesn't even do it very well. What about the senior citizens on fixed incomes who travel into Canada and buy their medication at an actual, brick-and-mortar pharmacy? Can this major pharmaceutical company convince them that they're buying fraudulent medication?

On another topic, I ran into a former co-worker of mine, Sudhir, who's headed to India at the end of this semester to do dissertation. He talked about how he's really looking forward to it because he's just so sick of being here at this point. We got to talking about race, and he said how, since he came to America a few years ago, he's assimilated himself into the culture. Almost all his friends are white hipsters from Brooklyn, and he finds that sort of odd, how, being in New York City, almost all his friends would be white.

I told him how on Saturday, I suddenly found myself in a group of seven Asians (friends of friends of friends joining up), and I became very uncomfortable. Several of my closest friends are Asian, but I have a few who are not and have typically not had a circle of friends that was completely one race or another.

Sudhir made the observation that everything in America has a racial bent, which made me wonder whether or not I intentionally avoid being in an all-Asian group for fear of looking unassimilated, looking like an outsider in a majority white population.

My thoughts tied in nicely with a segment on The Leonard Lopate Show today, an interview with Adam Mansbach, author of Angry Black White Boy. I particularly liked this experience Mansbach related to illustrate the arbitrariness of race:

I was looking for an apartment in Brooklyn. And I was calling all these brokers, and I got a call back from this British woman. And she was telling me about an apartment in Bed-Stuy. And I said, well, you know, I'm looking in Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy is a little boondocks (?) for me, but thank you. And she says, No, no, no, really, you should check it out. Bed-Stuy's changing, it's very safe, a lot of white people are moving there. And I'm like, okay, I don't want to have this conversation. I don't want to be that guy.

So I say, well you know what, I don't really like white people. And there's a pause, she doesn't know what to say to me, and then she says to me, Sir, I didn't mean to offend you. I can tell from your voice you're obviously African-American. And I say, no, you've got me all wrong -- I'm white! ...

There's further silence. And she says, And you don't want to live around white people? And I say, no, it's like I said, they've got a real sense of entitlement, they're real complacent, no offense. And she says, Well I'm not offended, I'm black. And because of that British accent and my own messed up system of racial identification, this had never occurred to me. So all we could do was laugh. I mean, there are these ways that race is constantly a factor that we don't quite know how to understand or talk about.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

that last bit was funny. i was recently applying for a drivers license and when i stated my intentions to the guy (he's black) behind the counter, the first thing he says is "let me see your green card". (i'm japanese american). i guess to him i looked like a foreigner who couldn't possibly be american. either that or he was being an a$$hole.


4:26 PM  
Blogger mlliu said...

Did you end up showing him your passport or did you turn in your existing driver's license? I'd like to say that guy was just ignorant except there are times when I myself look at other Asians and wonder if they're FOB.

Even the use of a phrase like "fresh off the boat" is racially loaded. I'm sure there's a whole story there, how Asian-Americans discriminate against Asian immigrants.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

at best the guy was ignorant, and
although i would like to give him the benefit, the cocky tone in his voice suggested something worse to me. why are people so mean? and more importantly, do i look and sound so much like a "fob"?


6:31 PM  
Blogger athena said...

Hmm...really interesting. That passage you quoted reminded me of Chip's story (that's Dan's oldest brother). When he was looking for an apartment in Atlanta, the woman on the line actually asked him if he was "colored." Go figure.

7:27 PM  
Blogger mlliu said...

Tomo, maybe you should lay off the emperor-from-The-Last-Samurai accent. No, but really, it's kind of weird sometimes how other minorities discriminate against me more than white people do. Like I was walking down the street the other day with two friends, both Asian, and this black man started calling out, "Two Chinese boys and a girl!", some shit like that. Maybe if I thought about it long enough, I could think of times when white people have called me names.

How did Chip respond to that woman? Was she trying to screen for "coloreds"? That really does not help my impression of the South.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous tomo said...

nottoh tsuu menshon beree illegaru

10:16 PM  
Blogger athena said...

You know, I don't remember how he responded...I'll have to ask. ^_^

11:14 PM  
Anonymous tomo said...

well, i got my license finally. this time it was a nice lady that helped me. and yes, they required my passport. did you get your ny license yet, lisa?


4:48 PM  
Anonymous Vivian Darkbloom said...

The anecdote about the conversation with the real estate agent was very interesting.... I guess I am glad that conflict could be resolved with a mutual laugh. However, to me it demonstrates how internalized racism is for everyone in American society. A black woman trying to sell a neighborhood on the "virtue" of it being gentrified! Yikes!

This story made me recall an incident that happened when I was looking for an apartment in Chicago several years ago. An agent (white) showed my friend and me (also white) a nice apartment in a racially and ethnically mixed neighborhood on the far northwest side of the city. He was extolling the benefits of the area by trying to convince us how "up and coming" it was. He used many coded words to let us know that we would feel comfortable and safe in our "whiteness" there. We were very off-put by his pitch, to say the very least. Further, we were introduced to the owner of the building, who was African American. It was a sad irony that the agent was trying his very ass-kissing best to rent the apartment to "good responsible tenents" like us.

I think the major lesson to be learned from the exchange between Adam Mansbach and the agent is that talking about these things is, at the very least, essential if we are to ever progress past this point in our ugly racist history. Why not call real estate trends what they are? Let us banish platitudes like "safe" and "up and coming" from our impoverished vocabularies, and talk about what the differences are, and why they are, and what we can do about eliminating them.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous SK said...

I'm not sure about the other asian communtities but there is a strong element of unspoken animosity between the new immigrants and Asian Americans of Indian origin and I think, both are parties are equally guilty of it.

On a lighter note, there is a pretty hilarious/offensive/moronic (take your pick) video doing the rounds. Click on the link below and choose the 'Drop it Like a FOB' option.

11:12 AM  
Blogger mlliu said...

Don't know what's going on, but I can't seem to unstuff "Drop It Like a FOB" properly after I've downloaded it. But I wasn't aware that animosity was also present between Americans and recent immigrants in the South Asian community. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It seems to underscore the lack of acceptance non-white Americans continue to encounter in America.

As for what Vivian talked about, interested parties should visit this site:
Just by the letters posted on the site, you can tell how conflicted visitors feel about the site. Is it satire? Is it meant to offend? (And from what I read in one article, the creator of the site, an artist, has a black stepmother.)

10:53 PM  

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