The European Commission spread a viral video showing a white (as European) woman facing down Chinese, Indian and Brazilian fighters. This video, entitled Growing Together, led to accusations of depicting Chinese, Indian and Brazilian people or non-Europeans in general in a racist manner. The video was designed to appeal to young voters and to promote the EU’s expansion (soon the EU will have 28 member states). The video features a white woman dressed in yellow (as the stars of the EU). She is walking through a deserted warehouse and when she looks behind her after the sound of a gong, an aggressive man, apparently Chinese, jumps down and shouts kung fu phrases accompanied by particular fighting moves. The next one is an Indian looking guy in traditional dress with a knife; he appears to be a master of kalaripayattu (An Indian Kerala martial art). After him a black man with dreadlocks approaches her in capoeira style. The woman looks at them and then multiplies herself in order to surround the men. They drop their weapons and sit on the ground while the woman’s yellow clothing turns into the stars of the EU. The video ends with the slogan: “The more we are, the stronger we are.” and then people are invited to click on a lick ‘to learn more about the EU enlargement.”.
The video lead to accusations of racism because it features the white person as representing Europe and others who are stereotypically designed as non-European. Besides such racial stereotypes it also typically portrays Europe as friendly, peaceful and non-aggressive while the outsiders are aggressive cowards. The latter in particular because it involves men attacking one woman with weapons. The woman prevails however and submits the men in a peaceful way. There is something more in the female – male opposition but I’m not sure what to make of that yet.
The EU has released the following statement after withdrawing the video:
Statement on the recent video clip released by DG Enlargement – Enlargement
We have received a lot of feedback on our latest video clip, including from people concerned about the message it was sending.
It was a viral clip targeting, through social networks and new media, a young audience (16-24) who understand the plots and themes of martial arts films and video games. The reactions of these target audiences to the clip have in fact been positive, as had those of the focus groups on whom the concept had been tested.
The clip featured typical characters for the martial arts genre: kung fu, capoeira and kalaripayattu masters; it started with demonstration of their skills and ended with all characters showing their mutual respect, concluding in a position of peace and harmony. The genre was chosen to attract young people and to raise their curiosity on an important EU policy.
The clip was absolutely not intended to be racist and we obviously regret that it has been perceived in this way. We apologise to anyone who may have felt offended. Given these controversies, we have decided to stop the campaign immediately and to withdraw the video.
Stefano Sannino, Director General of DG Enlargement
I have no doubt that the EU really did not intend the video to be a racist one. Nevertheless, the depiction of Europe as white is not coincidental. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries we have seen the development of an exclusionary association between being white and being European, as Alastair Bonnett argues in Who was white? The disappearance of non-European white identities and the formation of European racial whiteness(p. 1030). Bonnett, furthermore, argues that the development of whiteness as a “racialized, fetishized and exclusively European attribute produced a contradictory, crisis-prone, identity.” In this process “[t]wo sets of conflicting discourses are implicated in this process. Firstly, colonial, imperial and national rhetorics of European racial equivalence that ostensibly offered the privileges of white identity to all European heritage peoples. Secondly, the denial or marginalization of certain European heritage groups’ whiteness, a process of racial suspicion enabled by social exclusions based on gender, class and ethnicity.”
Also within Europe there have been several modes of exclusion of particular groups from being white which becomes clear when we look at the history of the Irish, people from the Caucuses (nowadays referred to sometimes as ‘blacks’) and even the whiteness of British lower class citizens was doubted sometimes.
In this sense, (and keeping in line with Bonnetts article) it is telling that the viral uses a white woman to symbolize Europe as women were seen as the carriers of whiteness; not only in reproducing the white race but they also were seen as the transmitters of the correct morals and principles belonging to whiteness. This ‘burden of the white woman’ meant that they had a special responsibility at the same time submitting them to different modes of social control (often seen as protection from negative influences by black men). If you want to know why racists hate feminists it should be obvious now; they do not submit to those modes of social control and were therefore open to ‘polluting’ influences threatening the whole white race and the idea of whiteness. But also more mainstream ideas thought of whiteness as being constantly threatened and challenged by other groups; in the past women, the Irish and working class while erasing the white history outside of Europe. Nowadays it is non-white migration, and more in particular China, Brazil and India (the EU’s geopolitical competitors) that appear to threaten the European ideal of whiteness.
Besides the stereotypical depiction of Chinese, Indians and Brazilians it is the idea of Europe as self-evidently white what is wrong with the video. It is as if the construction of a white Europe does not have a history and as if whiteness assumes an equality among all Europeans while in reality it has been a particular political project by elites to claim Europe, and Europe only, as white. Moreover it was also about excluding women, particular ethnic and class groups in Europe from being fully white.