Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | UPDATED: Ford dealer sells cars with racist ads against Japanese autos that raise the specter of Vincent Chin
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UPDATED: Ford dealer sells cars with racist ads against Japanese autos that raise the specter of Vincent Chin

The OC Welch Ford dealership in Hardeeville, SC, resorted to racist ads to sell cars.

UPDATE: Dec. 19: Sometimes, good sense wins out. Despite the car dealer’s initial refusal to back down from the racist sentiments of radio ads that ran a couple of weekends ago, it appears Detroit may have exerted some influence.

The Japanese American Citizens League, which has a national anti-hate crime campaign funded by Ford Motor Company, released a press release that announces a public apology from Ocie Welch, the owner of O.C. Welch Ford Lincoln Mercury in Hardeeville, SC:

Mr. Welch issued a press release and sent the apology for his comments in the recent advertisements to the JACL. He stated: “I would like to apologize for my comments in recent radio advertisements. I am passionate about my love for Ford, and I mistakenly and wrongly conveyed this passion. I do not and will not condone discrimination and am sorry for any hurt I have caused.” The JACL acknowledged the apology and noted that car dealers are one of many businesses suffering as a result of the economic downturn.

The JACL issued a letter to Mr. Welch in which it stated that the remarks were hurtful and potentially harmful to all Asian Americans because they were reminiscent of racist sentiment during the recession in the 1980’s that acutely affected the auto industry in Detroit. During that period, Japanese automakers were often scapegoated as the sole source of the economic hardships.

It was in this environment that Vincent Chin, a young Chinese American, was beaten to death on the streets of a Detroit suburb by two autoworkers who blamed Chin for their problems, saying, “It’s because of you that we’re out of work.” Chin was not Japanese, nor was he or Japan responsible for all the unemployment caused by the recession. Instead, Chin was the tragic victim of a climate of economic fear abetted by racism.

He was victimized by racism in the same manner as Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in concentration camps in remote areas of the United States during World War II. It is for this reason that the JACL abhorred the remarks of the radio ad for the racism it invoked and for any misplaced anger it may have inflamed.

The JACL has worked with American automobile companies on various programs in the past and partners with Ford Motor Company on a youth leadership and empowerment program which includes anti-hate issues.

Read the original post by clicking the “Read More” link, and listen to one of the radio ads:

Originally posted Monday, Dec. 15

A Ford dealership in Hardeeville, South Carolina, just up the highway from Savannah, Georgia, is stirring up anti-Japanese sentiment to sell cars. OC Welch, the owner of OC Welch Ford Lincoln Mercury, began broadcasting radio ads around the region the weekend of December 7 (a coincidence? Hmmm…) in which he vents venom at Toyota and other Japanese cars, saying “how come they don’t smell like a new car? All those cars are rice ready, not road ready.”

That’s a brazen statement, considering that for the past several decades, it’s American cars that have been criticized for their poor quality, workmanship and safety record. And although Ford is the only one of the Big Three Automakers begging for federal relief that isn’t on the brink of a knockout, the company’s reeling on the ropes from the economic crunch.

The ad continues: “All you people that buy all your Toyotas and send that money to Japan, you know, when you don’t have a job to make your Toyota car payment, don’t come crying to me.”

Floyd Mori, the executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League (full disclosure: I was on the national board of the JACL for six years until earlier year, as editorial board chair of the organization’s national newspaper, the Pacific Citizen), responded in a story by the Associated Press:

Floyd Mori, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, said Welch’s remarks evoke anti-Asian sentiments often aimed at Japanese and Chinese immigrants to the U.S. from the 1930s through World War II. He also noted many Japanese automakers’ cars are manufactured in America.

“It’s a blatant, ignorant, racist remark from somebody who should know better,” Mori said.

Here’s a radio news report and interview with Welch that includes the ad itself:

Mori was also interviewed by the Pacific Citizen in an article about the ads:

“Why was a point made to point a finger at the Japanese company rather that a German, French, or English made car?” he said. “Insults using race have an impact on an entire community of people whether intended or not. So when an advertisement is broadcast over the radio, it will sow many seeds of racial discontent that often leads to actions that are not good.”

That sad part is that Welch’s ads — and the resulting publicity, no doubt — helped sell 15 cars.

Angry Asian Man points out in his blog that these ads stir up the same recipe for hatred that led to the 1982 beating death in Detroit of a Chinese American, Vincent Chin, by two white men, one of whom had been laid off by Chrysler.

Chin was celebrating his coming wedding with a bachelor party, which ended with a fight when one of the killers accused Chin of causing his layoff, because of the rising prominence of Japanese cars. Chin protested that he wasn’t Japanese, but that didn’t stop the killers, who attacked Chin with a baseball bat. Chin went into a coma and was pronounced dead four days later at the Henry Ford Hospital.

The men who killed Vincent Chin were convicted of manslaughter after plea-bargaining their xcharges down from murder, and were only given three years probation, fined $3,000 and ordered to pay $780 in court costs.

Chin’s death became a milestone for Asian Americans in the fight against hate crimes and racism. Unfortunately, the hatred and resentment is still there, just beneath the veneer of political correctness that’s been brushed over American society’s race relations in the 26 years — that’s a full generation — since Chin’s murder. If you don’t believe me, read some of the comments that follow the above YouTube video.

So what if OC Welch’s ads don’t result in an act of violence against an Asian American. Why didn’t he choose to gripe about European cars? What about the Mini Cooper? The VW? What about the Hyundai, or Kia? Because there’s still a simmering stew of raw feelings about Japanese cars, and the decline of American supremacy in the auto industry.

The industry is still paying for that downfall… or rather, we, the taxpayers are now being asked to pay for the downfall.

Is it worth it?