#3. A U.K. Terror Hotline Advising Everybody to Mistrust Their Neighbors
In 2010, Great Britain's Association of Chief Police Officers began recording a series of radio PSAs advertising an anti-terrorism hotline by informing suspicious Brits of what kind of behavior they should be reporting. According to one radio spot, signs that your neighbors may be plotting against the Queen included consistently paying for things with cash instead of a debit card, keeping to themselves, and keeping their curtains drawn. Remember: If you can't see their dong, what else might they be hiding?
The ads themselves admitted that this stuff "may mean nothing" but that "together, they all add up to you having suspicions," so you should obviously report them. Hell, they want you to report all your suspicions, about anything anyone does around you, and probably things you're only imagining they did. After all, these people did studies, and science doesn't lie: Anyone who displays even the slightest hint of suspicious activity, financial responsibility, or introversion is about to strap a bomb to his chest and ruin everyone's day -- just as soon as he finishes balancing his checkbook and getting over his agoraphobia.
If that seems nuts, it's because it is. But it's not just the radio spots -- the entire campaign is finding terrorists in its own porridge.
She scratched out the label reading "FLAT 1." Smart ... but not smart enough.
Listeners, rather sensibly, did not appreciate being stigmatized as potential terrorists for simply being their usual shy or lazy selves, to say nothing of the waste of police resources on the inevitable deluge of false leads, or the potential for abuse of the hotline by petty, spiteful douchebags. ACPO apologized, and that one particular ad was officially banned for causing "serious offense." However, others continued to air, some even to this day, including one that slaps a big fat "TERRORIST" label on anyone who holds on to things of emotional value or uses Google Maps.
Unless ... don't you see? It's us. We were the terrorists all along.
#2. White Celebrities Declaring Themselves "African"
via Clutch Magazine
In 2006, Alicia Keys' charity Keep a Child Alive launched the "I Am African" campaign, centered on the idea that since humanity itself originated in Africa, we're all one big African family. But Africa is filled with families, with hundreds of wildly disparate ethnic groups, all with very different cultures, so conveying that diversity with images was difficult -- or at least would have been, if Keep a Child Alive had given even the slightest glimmer of a fuck about that.
via Clutch Magazine
I am the winds of the Serengeti
I am the sweat of the jungle man
I am the tears of Nelson Mandela
I am the lost boy of the Sudan!
Instead, they just took a bunch of celebrities, slapped some jewelry and face paint on them that look maybe kind of Africanish, and bingo! Instant solidarity. Even the most generous critics pointed out that the questionable use of a "formulaic African aesthetic" resulted only in adding cultural ignorance to an already cringe-worthy pile of sanctimonious moral peacocking. The Photoshop warriors of the Internet pointed out that this was less about raising awareness of suffering in Africa and more about convincing us that Gwyneth Paltrow looked good in tribal garb.
Turns out that a Western celebrity demonstrating that his or her understanding of Africa is limited to broad stereotypes from the 19th century isn't particularly effective at inspiring public empathy.
#1. The E.U. Promoting the Need for Unity (Because of Those Savage Foreigners)
In 2012, the European Commission released "Growing Together," a viral ad to promote the image of the E.U. as a force for peace in a dangerous world. The video begins with a pretty brunette sporting a Kill Bill-style yellow track suit, walking alone through an abandoned train station.
Suddenly, a wild Asian appears! He leaps from the rafters, menacing the woman with his natural martial arts prowess, before shortly being joined by his compatriots: a mystical, bearded, scimitar-waving Indian and a ferocious, half-naked, dreadlocked black man proficient in the Brazilian martial art of capoeira.
You think they'll join forces to summon Captain Planet, but then they just don't.
The racial stereotypes surround the brunette, but rather than engage them in the violence to which their races are naturally inclined, she calmly meditates and wills 11 identical clones into being, surrounds her attackers, and ... either banishes them into the void or absorbs them and gains their power, it's not super clear. Then the camera pans up to reveal the woman and her other selves forming the 12 stars of the E.U. flag, waving in peace and harmony now that the dangerous foreign men have gone away forever.
"We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile."
Growing Together was supposed to be about getting more countries to adopt the Euro, not depicting a Stormfront reader's wet dream. But to certain viewer demographics (for example, people with brains, people with eyes, people without pointy white hoods in the closet) the video was less suggestive of "unity" and "peace" than it was "bloodthirsty barbarians are a threat to white women" and "foreign savages are no match for the wisdom and nobility of the European race." The European Commission tried to explain that it was targeted at 16- to 24-year-olds who understand video games -- which, while certainly explaining the racism, doesn't excuse it. The clip eventually disappeared down the memory hole with your standard backhanded "sorry you were offended" apologies.
In a way, this proves how deeply set these kinds of prejudices are: Even when you're trying to march out a message as positive as "let's band together," you can still trip and go sprawling down the open sewer of ignorance.
Related Reading: This Mountain Dew ad should be in the running for "most offensive ad ever". Right alongside the video game Juiced, which advocated magic-based molestation. And don't worry, we've got buckets more racist ads where those came from.