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‘We'll Wash Away All The Black!’ -- Another Racist Russian Marketing Ploy Targets Obama

  • RFE/RL

The racist references to Obama come at a time when ties between Washington and Moscow are badly strained.

The racist references to Obama come at a time when ties between Washington and Moscow are badly strained.

There was the cutting board sold in the central Russian city of Kazan depicting Barack Obama with the ears of a monkey.

There was the laser image projected onto a Moscow apartment building showing Obama eating a banana.

Now, to the growing list of public racism targeting the U.S. president, add this: a car wash located in the Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk.

The business is called Abama, which is close to the Russian pronunciation of Obama’s name. The banner on its façade over the entrance features a crudely drawn picture of Obama grimacing, along with the promise: “We Will Wash Away All The Black.”

A tweet from the spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow:

According to the news portal Amur.Info, which first reported the banner, the car-wash owner hasn’t commented publicly on his choice for naming his business. But the readers of the article debated whether, in fact, the banner was racist.

One wrote, “It’s somehow more idiotism than patriotism.”

In what appeared to be a reference to the erroneous Russian impression that the United States has provided weaponry to Ukraine in its fight against Russia-backed separatists, another said: “Obama deserves it in my opinion. A thousand of my countrymen have been killed by weapons he has supplied and sold.”

The United States has not provided lethal military equipment to Ukraine.

Another contributor posted a picture of a jar of Uncle Ben’s tomato sauce, a well-known U.S. food brand that uses a fictional black man as part of its branding, seeming to defend the business’s use of Obama’s face.

The news site commented that federal law potentially gives local authorities the right to force a business to remove advertising if it’s deemed to be offensive or indecent, though local authorities told the site no one has complained about the car wash yet.

Racist attitudes -- toward Africans, East Asians, migrants from Central Asia or the Caucasus -- lurk just under the surface in much of Russian culture, manifesting themselves in everything from racist advertising to violence against non-Slavic minorities.

Last year, a supermarket chain in the central region of Tatarstan apologized for selling a kitchen cutting board that featured a photo montage of Obama in the company of two anthropomorphized chimpanzees.

Also last year, a company selling water heaters in the central city of Samara showed a depiction of Obama along with a caption saying: "Shame on unwashed chimney sweeps!"

In 2014, a group of university students in Moscow claimed responsibility for a laser projection onto a building just opposite the U.S. Embassy that wished Obama a happy birthday, and showed him eating a banana.

The racist references to Obama come at a time when ties between Washington and Moscow are badly strained, with President Vladimir Putin frequently accusing the United States of trying to weaken Russia and undermine his authority.

Earlier this month, an ice-cream maker in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk released its latest produce: a vanilla ice cream bar, glazed with chocolate, whose wrapping features an image of a smiling African boy, wearing an earring. The treat is called Obamka, an affectionate or diminutive Russian form of the president’s name.

The city is also home to a café that features toilet paper bearing Obama’s likeness, along with a website that includes a choice epithet toward America.

Sova Center, a well-known research group that tracks racism, xenophobia, and violence toward migrants in Russia, has documented growing prejudice and violence against non-Slavs in Russia, along with a growing number of neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant groups.

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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