Choose Your Stereotype

Fight Fraud!

Image from

I’m probably just being over-sensitive here, but when I saw this image on‘s website, this is what went through my mind: Is this “positive racism” (read: Asians are smart and good with computers, so they can protect you well from fraud) or “negative racism” (read: guys in China are totally trying to defraud you)? I’ve had enough issues trying to use an American card in China and being flagged for fraud (despite repeatedly telling the bank that I live here) that I’m inclined to suspect the latter.

Of course, I’d like to be able to say, “it’s just an Asian guy’s face in a graphic,” but I’m American, and everyone knows Americans are obsessed with race. We just can’t let it go.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I agree, John. You’re being a bit over-sensitive.

    heh. For all you know, the lad pictured in the advertisement above could very well be the CEO of the company.

  2. It would be kind of weird if there were like 20 different people and every single one was Asian, but it’s just one. Obviously there’s plenty of Asians in the US, and in the IT industry. Really, it’s just an Asian guy’s face in a graphic.

    Let’s talk about white chicks in Chinese bra commercials. The illustrations are more fun.

  3. John are you getting paranoid from all the years in China? 😉

  4. Just an asian guy’s face in a graphic.

  5. it’s all about race, it’s always about race…

    Maybe showing the asian dude is a BEWARE! picture… of course I don’t believe that; the guy looks trustworthy and inspires confidence in me… but of course I’m an asian guy too. And not a pirate. Mostly.

    The white collar, clean haircut, and thin glasses’ frames seem very honest. But then what’s with the up-angle photo? Why is he looking down at me?

    Ok, let’s do the test that we learned how to do in Ethnic Studies class…

    1) Is anyone being victimized by this? No, non asian people are still able to get housing, employment, and education, and enjoy all their liberties in a free society; this ad doesn’t take away from any of that.

    2) Is someone’s ethnicity being exploited for someone else’s benefit? Eh, maybe… maybe the company is just using an Asian face to promote their product. But probably not; seems a little esoteric to me.

    3) What message would it be sending if you used a black man, with similar hair, collar, and glasses? Or a white man? Would the message change?

    For goodness sakes, don’t feel paranoid because you look for visual cues in marketing. It’s MARKETING. You know the conversation was NOT: “what kind of picture should we put up?” “Oh, just put whoever!”

    Our cultures, and our cultural differences are wonderful, rich sources of knowledge. People use that cultural knowledge (including stereotypes) to make money, whether they know it or not. The real questions are: who is the victim? who is getting exploited for whose benefit?

    I don’t think you’re being over-sensitive. I think you’re being thoughtful. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

    ps> somebody ask why they chose a man instead of a woman! come on, people, it’s MARKETING!

  6. Ok, everyone go to the website, right now. That’s an order.

    “Sign up now!” is a smiley white guy, the guy we supposedly all want to be! “Free support” is a young white woman with short hair, glasses, and an earpiece; looking smart and helpful: librariany. “Fight Fraud!” is our trusty kung fu monk, and the customer is a faceless young black woman with sensible nails, the kind we all want to be friends with.

    Come on! You cannot tell me those people’s ethnicity and gender were chosen at random!

  7. His glasses are dripping lead paint and he looks like he’s gonna sneeze SARS on me. That’s all I know.

  8. I’m glad that the stereotype of a librarian is “smart and helpful”. I am a librarian (by degree, anyway). I do have short hair, I am white, I wear glasses, but I don’t have an earpiece. Oh, yeah, and I’m not a woman.

  9. jp: “The white collar, clean haircut, and thin glasses’ frames seem very honest.”

    Aren’t white collar types the most likely to commit fraud? After all, they’re the ones with the most access to other people’s money and the means to shift it to places it wasn’t supposed to be.

    Reminds me of a conversation I had with my cop brother. He insisted that Maori deserve the extra police harrassment they get because they dress like criminals. I couldn’t help thinking: Then go down to the CBD and start harrassing business and civil servant types, because they all look like fraudsters to me.

  10. John-
    I know what you mean about the credit card. Several times I have had my card come up unvalid at ATM’s. When I called the credit card company, they told me that it was a suspicious transaction because it was in China. I told them I had lived in China for 3 years, and probably would be using my card from China again. They said they could put a note in the system but it would only work for 30 days. Imagine that…somebody is living outside of the US, and actually wants to use their credit card from time to time to get money???

    As for “positive racism,” try telling people your Jewish. The typical response goes something like this…”Oh yes, you must be very smart and clevar. You know the Jews are the only race of people more intelligent than the Chinese.”

  11. Ben —

    The credit card fraud looks for transactions outside a certain radius from the billing address. If the card is issued by a US company, notify them of your billing address in China & sign up for e-statements. That should eliminate any challenges to using the card in China.

  12. So he does have glasses? I thought so at first, and then spent about five minutes looking at the image from different angles, wondering if they had been photoshopped out or something. Really odd. And that jaggy typeface they’re using on the left isn’t doing them any favors.

  13. Profitable marketing – people who buy into the model minority stereotype will click for better protection, those that buy into the hacker stereotype will click because they are scared.

    Of course, it may well be racist – but people do these ads to make money, right?

  14. I always wonder about the countless ads featuring attractive Westerners in my city, in which exactly 14 foreigners live. Why not just use Chinese models? I brought this up in class, and my students all said there was nothing wrong with this, it just made them think it was a quality product.

  15. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too oversensitive. I saw the image and thought it might be the programmer who developed the application.

  16. A while back I used to to know some casting agents in L.A. They definitely would put out calls for Asian-American extras if there was a need for doctors, students, kung-fu, etc., roles. This was both at their own discretion, specific requests from directors, or pushback from assistant directors.

    In contrast, a limit was kept to not bring in too much “color” in many cases, for example the background extras of Beverly Hills 90210. This same kind of attention goes into ad campaigns.

    After the internet boom, many companies specifically pushed casting agents and marketing agencies to change the “look”, because the companies own staff wanted more diversity and often were in positions in the company to force it. Yahoo was especially insistent and effective in this.

    Other companies pushed out different stock image photos, etc., etc. And most ad images are more diverse and reflective these days.

    I would say that the ad image you brought up is a “positive” stereotype of Asians being smart, honest, etc. It’s a bit played, much like the old stereotypes.

    About the credit card. It doesn’t specifically call out China, it would happen if you used the card in Europe all of a sudden, or suddenly had large purchases overseas.

    The U.S. information systems are not set up for foreign living, try getting them to put in a Canadian zip code in their U.S. zip code field! Imagine the confusion of a call-center person trying to type in your pinyin address.

    Conversely, I’ve had a similar experience trying to put in a passport number in a Chinese system set up for their ID card number. Why don’t non-Chinese get some sort of ID card?!! In Japan they have one. haha…don’t know if that’s actually good or bad.

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