A series of television advertisements featuring a characterization of Confucius were pulled last week after members of local Asian groups-including the U’s Asian American Student Association-sent complaint letters to the Ken Garff Automotive Group, which ran the ads for its Honda cars.
Paul Fisk, a graduate student in education, culture and society, sent a letter on behalf of the AASA asking Ken Garff to remove the commercials, which have been airing since January, because they were “inappropriate” and “an ignorant way to portray someone’s background.”
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Fisk said. “I was not happy.”
Michael Kwan, chairman of the Utah Organization of Chinese Americans, also sent a letter to Ken Garff saying he was upset because the company used the Chinese philosopher to sell its product.
“We doubt your company would ever present a commercial in which an Uncle Tom-type characterization was portrayed (because) the African-American community would be rightly outraged,” Kwan wrote.
Kwan, who has served as judge for the Taylorsville Justice Court for nine years, said he was also upset because Confucius spoke in broken English.
“This reinforces negative stereotypes about Asians and makes them seem like foreigners and second-class citizens,” Kwan said.
Fisk, who serves as the social justice chairman for AASA, agreed, adding that although he knew the commercial was meant to be humorous, he was offended because people “did not talk that way in real life.”
Six hours after the formal complaints were sent to the company, the commercials were removed from local stations.
Steven King, Ken Garff vice president of advertising, sent a letter of apology to the UOCA saying the company was not trying to “be offensive to the Asian community or to any who may have taken offense on the grounds of any stereotypical characterization.”
“We’re not in business to offend,” King said. “And we will make sure something like this never happens again.”
Kwan said he was satisfied with the apology.
“We know it was not their intention to demean anyone on their part,” Kwan said. “But they were obviously not aware of (Confucius’) status in the community, which shows ignorance on their part.”
Because Fisk’s letter was sent to Ken Garff in Orem, King has not yet seen it. Fisk said he was happy the company withdrew the ads, though.
The UOCA is planning to meet April 18 in the Ken Garff headquarters to discuss cultural issues with Ken Garff associates. Fisk said he did not wish to be part of the meeting, opting for a conversation over the phone instead.