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Advertising and Race

Global Phenomenon, Historical Challenges, and Visual Strategies

Linda C. L. Fu

Since colonization, dominant ideologies of «race» have been visualized and communicated through advertising. At its core, this book delineates the continuities and changes in what is termed the «colonial racial script» within global advertising representations. The origins of that script are traced back to the eighteenth century – through the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the age of High Imperialism, the post-World War II era to the current stage of globalization – and are identified and analyzed.
From ads selling slaves to the ones promoting the ideal of equality, from the campaigns generating new racial currencies to the ones turning down the existing racist overtones, Linda C. L. Fu examines over 100 advertisements and draws on a 300-year span of references to reveal the plurality, chaos, variation, and resilience of the colonial concepts of race in society through advertising discourses in the West.
Advertising and Race is the first book devoted exclusively to the study of strategic deployments of racial tropes in advertising amid waves of historical challenges. With a well-mixed theoretical, historical, social, and professional narrative, it presents a new approach, critical insight, and a comprehensive reference for the study of advertising and communication, as well as the study of race, society, culture, and globalization.
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Race-centered issues have been considered central to a wide variety of social struggles and cataclysmic events over the past century and even before. In 1903, the prominent African American intellectual and political activist W.E.B. Du Bois had the foresight to recognize that, as he famously put it, “[t]he problem of the Twentieth Century” would be “the problem of the color-line” (Du Bois, 2007: 24). Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we can find numerous affirmations of this claim and considerations of its continuing consequences. Given that the accelerated process of globalization from the 1980s onward appears to have altered many political, cultural, and social dynamics, we may ask: Are race politics still in play in the twenty-first century, or has the concept of race lost its currency and ceased to be relevant? Are we in an age of color-blindness, as some claim, or is it the case—as leading sociologist Howard Winant asserts—that “the quandary of race, the theme that claimed so much attention so long ago, stubbornly refuses to disappear”? (Winant, 2007: 571).

The advertising industry, while only one player in the wider modern discourse on race, has arguably been crucial in giving commercial and public expression to ideas about race and relaying them to a variety of audiences. The vital role of advertising and its imageries in modern society and culture have been widely acknowledged in scholarly discussions since Raymond Williams’s groundbreaking 1961 book, The Long Revolution. Alongside notable...

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