Yes, some Nigerians do perpetrate fraud; anyone with dial-up knows that, and it does seem like theft-protection company Identity Guard's new TV ad is trying to play on that notion by scaring you momentarily before then prompting you to say, "Silly, racist me!" However, fraudulent business practices also come out of the Hamptons,--Bernie Madoff has a house there--but you might not get a gut feeling in that direction just looking at their residents. Case in point: super-cute Hamptonite Christie Brinkley. Ok, we haven't seen her without makeup in a long time, but still.
If you haven't seen the commercial, let me educate you. From the comfort of a white sectional couch, a lovely, white capri pants-wearing blonde clutching a credit card is buying some sandals online. They have a patch of zebra skin on the buckle, and I know a few single professional ladies who would call them "super cute." Nevermind that she's already wearing cute sandals; she deserves more. And she deserves to buy them from the comfort of her own Nigerian-free home. Or does she?
Cut to the crowded streets of Lagos, Nigeria with nary a white person in sight. We then follow a sketchy looking wire attached to a computer in an even sketchier internet cafe where a guy with the right side of his lip curled up in scary pirate "Yar!" style stares at a monitor. When he receives an email with our heroine Dana Cole's shoe order and personal info, his lip broadens into a smile. He hands the info off to a child who jumps on the back of a motor scooter that flies through the streets of Lagos, the paper he's clutching rippling in the wind, paper he eventually hands off to an older fella behind the counter of a second sketchy location - the kind of second location Chris Hansen from Dateline warned you about. The older fella also does the "Yar!" scowl, and then breaks into that familiar smile.
Of course we, the rapt TV audience, are yelling at the screen, "No! Don't do it! No!" It's like the white person's version of a "Showtime at the Apollo" audience, only the scary talent is a cast of purported identity thieves. Except surprise, silly! They're not thieves! They're awesome, and they're awesome because Identity Guard made sure they were awesome. Dana is getting awesome shoes from awesome black people in Nigeria, and what's wrong with you for thinking otherwise?
They key question is: did Identity Guard really do enough to subvert our prejudices, even though they may be prejudices based on very real cases of fraud? Did they really make us look at the man in the mirror? Look how that turned out for Michael Jackson. The Nigerian folks in the ad do resemble the bad Nigerians in "District 9," or the "skinnies" in "Black Hawk Down," and it's likely this has fed our paranoia. But let's go back to The Hamptons.
If you didn't know who Ruth Madoff was, would she elicit a gasp on her own? Or better yet, would her resemblance to real-life costumer, the iconic Edith Head, or Head's fictional counterparts Edna "E" Mode from "The Incredibles", and Linda Hunt from "NCIS: Los Angeles" elicit a "Don't go in there!" the way the Identity Guard fellas do because they may remind us of the criminals in "Lord of War?" Doubtful. For those who do believe Ruth Madoff was complicit in her husband's fraudulent schemes, there would be those who would then separate her from her innocent doppelgangers, the way we do with say, Nelson Mandela. And do our gut feelings work hard enough to consider the Mandelas before we go for the alternative? The commercial brings up tough questions, the most baffling of which might be this one: what do you think our three costume designers would think of those zebra sandals?