In late September, Apple released the iPhone 5, which soon became one of the most widely used pieces of technology across the globe. Although one of the most influential companies, I’ve observed that Apple does not represent exemplary stewardship in the business world, by the inherent racism in their advertisements, as well as the use of low wage slave labor in third world countries. Even 150 years after slavery, our society still does not value equality, making the Apple iPhone ad an important artifact representing a lack of change in our societal mindset.
Take a look at the image from one of Apple’s signature advertisements for the iPhone 5. A pristine looking white backdrop accompanies the sleek white device, held in the hand of a white man or woman. It is interesting that Apple chooses these light colors and the clear simplicity of the product, however this is no coincidence.
In several of our class discussions, we have analyzed the connotations of colors such as white, and black. White is often the color representing light, goodness, purity, and innocence; virtually the color of perfection. Now, look at the the word “black” which by definition means devoid of light, dismal, pessimistic, gloomy and connotes anger, hatred, and evil. Considering our history of slavery and racially inequality, it is no coincidence that the white men who wrote our English dictionaries painted the word “black” in negative light. Even in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible we see the negative connotation of the word: “She is blackening my name in the village! She is telling lies about me!”(Miller 22). Here, Abigail connotes that using the word “blackening” is tainting her reputation of adultery. It is clear that even three hundred years after slavery and our dark history of racially inequality, one of our era’s most prominent companies, Apple, still follows this same mindset portraying “black” in a negative light, proving little change in our society’s mindset.
Moreover, Apple’s use of innocence, and purity in their color scheme for the iPhone ads is a strong contradiction to Apple’s dark background with the use of cheap slave labor. Recently in the news, and in class, we discussed a Foxconn plant, which manufactures Apple products in China and has been noted for the horrible conditions that their workers are subjected to. This is similar to Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, a short story that portrays a utopian society with a dark secret. With the happiness of Omelas, the price is paid by a miserable child who, “…lives on a half-bowl of cornmeal and grease a day”(Le Guin 281). In Omelas, a poor child is forced to suffer while the rest of society reaps the benefits of a happy life. Apple is similar in the fact, that behind the purity and perfection of their ads and products, there are people who are treated like the child from Omelas.
Companies like Apple, try to cover up their atrocities through ads and as classmate Zach Peltz wrote in his poem regarding slave labor, people in third world countries are “Sold to white men with thick, black hair, And to the eye of abuse, misuse, and profit” (“Just Do It”). Again, we see that unbearable working conditions and treatment exist behind the very “utopian” products on which we use and value so much. Society continues to value luxury and comfort over fair treatment, and the companies who make these products value their profits over standards. I believe recognizing what we value and believe is crucial for a society to evolve and thrive, but through Apple’s iPhone 5 ads, the clear connotations of “black”, as well as their use of cheap labor shows that although the 13th amendment abolished slavery, society’s mindset of equality really hasn’t changed.