‘Racist’ Union Radio Ad Angers Indian-Americans
In the battle over the city’s labor laws, a new union ad strikes the wrong chord
ANCHORAGE - It’s a pro-union radio ad that’s been airing on radio stations across Anchorage since Friday. But some are saying it’s racist to Americans of South Asian descent.
The ad depicts a woman calling 911, with her call being answered by an apparently overseas operator. “This is 911 operator, I am Brad,” the ad begins in heavily accented English. When the woman is told her hoped-for ambulance won’t be arriving—instead she’ll get a taxi—the 911 operator goes on to say “be grateful! It's nicer than the ambulance! But they were the low bidder, so...” (You can hear the ad in its entirety below.)
The ad was paid for by the Coalition of Municipal Unions, and their chairman said the ad attempts to show the downside of the mayor’s proposal to overhaul city labor laws. But some are taking issue with the accent used for the “overseas” operator.
“You’re kidding me!” Anand Dubey said today. An Anchorage resident for the past 14 years with roots in India, he ran to represent Anchorage in the state House of Representatives in the last election. He said people in the Indian American community reached out to him in anger over the ads. “This day and age, something this obviously racist, and they're airing it on radio? …I had to ask myself, what are they really trying to say?”
Porcaro Communications created the ad for the Coalition of Municipal Unions. The group's chairman, Gerard Asselin—who, as a sergeant with the Anchorage Police, also acts as the treasurer for the Anchorage Police Department Employee Association—said the ad's critics are missing the point.
“It has nothing to do with an individual, or an individual's race,” Asselin said in a phone interview today. He said the coalition is trying to make Anchorage residents aware of how the mayor's proposed ordinance could change how the city contracts with its unions.
“There's this prejudice about the place of Indians, and the role of Indians in a particular industry, and that came out. It came out very clearly,” he said.
The ad has since been changed, and the new version doesn't feature anyone with an accent. But Dubey said its too little, too late. “This shows deep rooted prejudice in my mind,” he said.
Union workers will be able to present their message to the Anchorage Assembly tomorrow in a special work session at noon.
Whether Anchorage residents find the union's message racist—or resonant—remains to be seen. But the battle between the city and the unions has officially taken to the airwaves.
This is the advertisement some are calling offensive: