Brow Beat

Old Poster Goes Viral, Teaches Multiple Lessons

© Devito/verdi

Earlier this week, Cleveland’s CBS outlet ran a story about the poster you see above. “An American Indian organization has shed new light on the context of how offensive and racist sports team images like the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins is to their community,” the piece, which ran under the byline “CBS Cleveland/AP,” began. “The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) published a powerful poster featuring two baseball hats that each have a stereotypical racist image of a Jewish man and Chinese man to show it has the same connotation as the Cleveland Indians.”

The poster is a smart, simple image that shows the double standard between stereotypical Native American mascot and other racially charged epithets. And when I tweeted it out yesterday, it clearly hit a nerve:

Three hundred retweets later, this poster strikes me as a good lesson for advertisers and other groups trying to galvanize Internet virality: People respond to images that encapsulate a controversy and fill the viewer with righteous rage.

But there’s also a lesson here about the frequent absence of context on the Internet. As it turns out, the poster isn’t new—not even close. Jacqueline Pata, a spokeswoman for the NCAI, pointed me to the original poster, which was created for the NCAI by the advertising firm Devito/verdi in 2001. And Pata told me that her group likely wouldn’t consider running the same advertisement in 2013. “Those kinds of racial images aren’t even acceptable today,” she said.

Coincidentally, the NCAI published a new report on the mascot issue today. It’s called “Ending the Legacy of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful ‘Indian’ Sports Mascots.”

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