Racist Microsoft?

msoftPolishThe BBC has a story running about a Microsoft ad on their Polish web-site which has been Photoshopped to change one aspect of the original from the US site. Apart from the translation of the words to Polish, of the three people in the original photo (Asian man, black man, white woman – very PC – and no, I don’t mean personal computer) the black man has now become white – a different head has been used.

As an aside, the article points out that the Photoshopping has not even been done very well – the original man’s hands remain. But that’s just an amusing side issue. The much more interesting aspect is the apparent reaction to it. We have this:

Microsoft said it had pulled the image and would be investigating who made the changes. It apologised for the gaffe.

The “gaffe”. What gaffe would that be then? The gaffe of having done a poor job with Photoshop? Of course not. The gaffe is that a black man was replaced by a white man.

I can imagine some marketing people from Microsoft Poland receiving this photo from corporate HQ, having a chat about it and deciding that since there are very few black folks in Poland it would make sense to have a more representative picture for the target audience. If Microsoft Nigeria had received the same photo for local customisation I can imagine they would have followed a very similar line of reasoning, albeit with a result that would see that slightly scary looking white women morph into a lovely dark-skinned local.

So one cannot help but pose the question: why is it apparently so very wrong to remove the black man? I can easily imagine situations where it would indeed be offensive to do so. Say that it became known that someone in Microsoft Poland hated black people and so insisted that no blacks appear in the advert. That would be deeply offensive. No doubt. But I very much doubt that this happened! If the photo had been shot locally in Poland, would there be a black man in it? Highly unlikely. Very few Poles are black. But because one was removed it becomes Very Bad.


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