The software giant Microsoft has recently created controversy by crudely editing an image appearing on its Polish business website so as to replace the head of a black man with that of a white man. Whilst the apparent intent of this action was to better reflect the reality of the Polish ethnic mix, it has been widely denounced as racist. This mirrors the converse situation, where a photo of a white family appearing in a Toronto guide was likewise ‘photoshopped’ in order to appear more ethnically diverse.
Although such ‘politically correct’ image manipulation may be readily satirised, it raises the important question as to the degree to which such images should reflect reality, as opposed to depicting some idealised goal. Such debate as to the morality of image fabrication is complicated by the fact that even unmanipulated promotional images are commonly taken from a photo library, and so do not feature genuine examples of the people they supposedly represent.
Similar transformations of ethnicity can also be seen to occur within a number of scenarios involving ‘real’ people, as opposed to images.
Whilst the racist parody of the ‘black-face’ minstrel is now unacceptable, many contemporary films continue to feature white actors playing black characters, as well as vice versa. In addition to providing popular entertainment, such transformations have also been utilised within revealing social studies exploring racism.
More recently, this topic has been highlighted by the case of Michael Jackson. Whilst he claimed his progressive skin-lightening was caused by the medical condition vitiligo, other sources have attributed it to a deliberate attempt to change himself into a white person. In that case such action can been seen as a form of social mobility, enabling transfer from a disadvantaged out-group to a privileged in-group.
Microsoft ‘photoshopping’ story from the BBC
Microsoft ‘photoshopping’ story from the Telegraph
Pearson, A. R., Dovidio, J. F. & Gaertner, S. L. (2009). The Nature of Contemporary Prejudice: Insights from Aversive Racism
Tuffin, K. (2008). Racist Discourse in New Zealand and Australia: Reviewing the Last 20 Years