TD Bank apologizes following criticism for ‘racist’ advertisement mentioning Dorchester

People on social media pointed out the similarity to the coded language in the controversial Samsung ads that were removed from South Station in 2017.

An advertisement inside TD Bank's Back Bay branch.
An advertisement inside TD Bank's Back Bay branch. –Reilly Hay

TD Bank is apologizing after the company was called out on social media for an advertisement inside a Boston branch that was viewed as racist for the way it referenced Dorchester.

The company told Boston.com the advertisement, which read “When you’re Downtown, but your debit card’s somewhere in Dorchester,” was taken down Thursday and was the only such marketing poster. 

“We are sorry that an ad that appeared in one of our stores was insensitive to the Dorchester community,” TD Bank said in a statement. “The ad, which was removed today, does not reflect our core values around diversity and inclusion.”

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Reilly Hay shared a photo of the ad on Twitter Wednesday after he spotted it inside the bank’s Back Bay location.

If you know Boston stereotypes, you know that lost in Dorchester is code for stolen,” Hay wrote on Twitter. “Which sucks, because to get stolen from Dorchester you need to go through the concepts of low-income and, most importantly, black and brown. This works for the ad because they don’t say that explicitly, they just know that most people socialized in the US will make that leap without even knowing it.”

Hay, a Somerville resident, said he went to the location to close his account and saw the sign on his way out of the branch.

I just saw the dog whistle immediately,” he told Boston.com on Thursday before TD Bank released its statement. “I know what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to be really local and really specific — and I just got pissed. I just got mad because I think that when you work in a place of cultural production like an ad company or a marketing shop you have a responsibility to understand the cultural impact [of] what you put out into the world does.”

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Hay said he was immediately reminded of the 2017 Samsung advertisements at South Station, which had a similar message referencing Mattapan, and were taken down after a public outcry.

Others on social media also noted the similarity and coded language, calling on TD Bank to “be better.”

Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell, whose district includes Dorchester, said in a statement she was glad to see that the company quickly took down the “offensive ad.”

“I’m glad ⁦TD Bank⁩ responded swiftly to remove this offensive ad, which plays into negative stereotypes about Dorchester,” she said. “This is sadly not the first time we’ve seen ads like this appear in Boston, and it makes me wonder how diverse their leadership is and what they’re going to do to change that? This is why I think racial equity training is so important, especially for public servants, but also for corporations, so that we deepen our understanding of the history of racism and how it is perpetuated, address unconscious biases, and learn how to use an equity lens in our work.”

When asked about the advertisement by reporters on Thursday morning, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called the poster “really insulting.”

“I have a problem with that,” he said. “I am a Dorchester resident, I grew up and lived there. There are many people in Dorchester — I’m not sure what the mindset behind that is, but TD Bank has some questions they need to answer, to me and to the city of Boston.”

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“It’s an insult,” the mayor went on. “A third of the city are Dorchester residents. They just insulted a third of the city. There’s nothing funny to that, and there’s nothing that I take any humor in that at all. And I think it’s disrespectful to Dorchester and Boston quite honestly and all the people there.”

Walsh was not aware of the statement from TD Bank when he spoke with reporters, according to his office.

According to its website, TD Bank does not have a branch location in Dorchester, which Hay and others on social media pointed out added insult to injury with the advertisement.

Overall, Hay said most people who responded to his post appeared to agree with his concern.

“There’s of course some people who wonder how is this racist, who miss the dog whistle, and that’s fine,” he said. “They need to know — it’s just a few people — but they need to know that just not seeing race, not interacting with race, not actively discriminating against someone isn’t what makes you not a racist. It’s working actively to dismantle structural racism is what makes you not a racist. And so that means seeing the subtle forms of racism that permeate our society.”

“So I hope they look a little deeper,” he added. “And I hope that whoever is in charge of approving ads at TD Bank starts to try to think from those perspectives, maybe has someone who might be able to.”