Spot the difference: it's the all-new black and white Microsoft show

Bill Gates may be spending his billions trying to find a cure for Aids and eradicate poverty in Africa, but the company that turned him into the world's wealthiest man has just suffered a setback to its hard-won, progressive reputation.

The software giant Microsoft has been forced to apologise after employees decided to alter a marketing photo by swapping a black man's face for a white one.

The Seattle-based companyhad used the image of three people sitting around desks in an advertisement on its US website urging customers to "empower your people". But when the same photo was used on the internet site of the firm's Polish business unit, the central character was suddenly white. The problem was he still had a black hand.

"We apologise and are in the process of pulling down the image," Microsoft said in a hastily prepared statement. "We are looking into the details of this situation. Diversity and inclusion are core values and business imperatives of Microsoft, and we apologise for any offence that might have been taken."

The picture's existence was first noticed by Twitter users. Within hours, it had been highlighted by a slew of Silicon Valley commentators, sparking widespread controversy.

"This is a disgrace and Microsoft should be ashamed," said a typical contributor to tech news site CNET. "Why, in this day and age, are we allowing countries, individuals and hate groups to look upon minorities (blacks or any other race) as something bad?"

Marketing experts believe the black man's image was doctored to appeal to Polish consumers. The country boasts a tiny black community, numbering just a few thousand people. At the last census, in 2002, the demographic was too small to even be counted.

The decision to alter the image prompted much speculation and soul-searching about the state of race relations in Poland. "I grew up in Poland, and never saw a black person," said a contributor to the Endgadget technology website. "Somebody out there must have thought the black man did not represent what they wanted to see. Hence, no blacks allowed."

For reasons that remain unclear, the makers of Microsoft's Polish advertisement did not see fit to replace the man on the left of the image, despite the fact that the country's Asian community is also virtually non-existent.

In addition to the inevitable outrage, the affair has also prompted its fair share of amusement. Eagle-eyed experts noticed, for example that the white laptop in front of the Photoshopped man is actually a Macbook, made by Microsoft's arch rival Apple.

Meanwhile the woman to the right of the picture is conducting a Powerpoint presentation – with the help of a computer monitor that has not been plugged into anything at all. Her keyboard cable appears to dangle in thin air.

In a tongue-in-cheek defence of Microsoft, one blogger suggested that the company was attempting to be all things to all people. "The white head and black hand actually symbolise inter-racial harmony. It is supposed to show that a person can be white and black, old and young at the same time."

Race: Poland's great issue

On the surface, race is a non-issue in Poland. The country is one of the most ethnically homogeneous in the world. Of its 38 million people, 97.6 per cent are of Polish origin. The largest single ethnic minority are the Germans (1.3 per cent).

Few dark-skinned people live in Poland and they are rarely seen outside the large towns. Looked at another way, race remains the great, largely unspoken issue in Polish history and therefore Polish politics. Before the 1939-45 war, one in three Poles were of non-Polish origin. One in 10 of them were Jewish. The Nazi Holocaust and Soviet post-war ethnic cleansing, shifting Germans, Ukrainians and Belarussians to their approved homelands, produced the homogenised Poland of today.

On the surface, the Microsoft decision to Photoshop away the black executive was a rational choice. There are no black – and very few non-Polish – executives in Poland. Looked at another way, it has touched a deeply sensitive, but mostly concealed, nerve in Polish society.

John Lichfield

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
news
Environment
environment
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
film
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
film
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Infrastructure Engineer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking to find a...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Engineer

    £21000 - £23600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing