Friday, June 28, 2013

Cheerios, Paula Deen, Trayvon Martin

  If I wrote about the racist incidents I experienced just yesterday, which are pretty much like any number of events I experience every day (I haven't left the house yet today) black folks would be nodding their heads in shared understanding. My white friends would do what they always do and busily offer explanations that include anything and everything but the obvious racist truth.

 I want to stop blogging about racism but honestly, white people give me plenty of cannon fodder on a daily basis. Particularly people like Paula Dean who don't understand how the idiocy and evil of their casual racism makes it easy for people like Trayvon Martin to wind up dead.

 The death of Trayvon Martin begins with the punchline of racist jokes that go unchallenged. Of stereotypes that are constantly repeated. Of media coverage of Cheerios commericals that never manages to point out that white people are posting racist comments.

Most articles point out that "racists" or "some people" have a problem with the commercial holding fast to the fiction that those racists and people are white people. Racism can no longer be labeled white because we've been told so often that "everyone is racist" and "we all have prejudice" so often that we miss the obvious truth:

There are oppressors and the oppressed. There is a dominant group and there is a group that is being subjugated. The issues that black people have with whites are not the exact and polar opposite of the prejudice white people hold towards black.

These issues are separate but they are not equal.

White people want to believe that black people hate and fear them just as much as they hate and fear blacks. They want to believe that black prejudice, if nothing else, is equal to theirs.

To believe this is to believe a lie. Black reticence to embrace white people is strictly born of the hatred, fear and racist born discrimination and ostracism directed towards black people by whites.

They say it's the same, but it's not the same.

One is a survival instinct of a deadly attack. The other is merely the relentless attack.

The media refuses to co-relate these issues. To them the issues of the Cheerios Commercial and Paula Deen's Racism and Trayvon Martin's death have nothing to do with each other let alone have anything to do with the Supreme Court weakening black voter rights or "stop and frisk" style racial profiling or the constant racial attacks on our current President.

The media doesn't see these issues as related. With racism, as with much else, they are so busy looking for the next scandal to feed the 24 hour news cycle they cannot be bothered to connect the dots and follow the bread crumb trail right back to the YouTube commenters and Paula Deen's of the world who aren't even sure that white people using the n-word is racist.

I will save you some trouble: yes, it is racist for white people to use the n-word.

Yes, the people who deny the existence or rightness of people of different "races" to be portrayed in a Cheerios commercial are wrong.

And yes, the logical conclusion of all these sentiments is the death and erasure from existence of young men and all people who look like Trayvon Martin.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cheerios Blows the Box Top Off Color Blind Racism (Part Two)

(Part Two)

So many white folks are shocked! SHOCKED I tell you! They are patently surprised that white people still make racist comments in 2013.

Social media response has been "fierce, nasty and unusually racist," according to USA Today.
Meanwhile, back in my world, the word American is synonymous with white when it comes to the media. To me this response is not unusual at all. In my world, the majority of white people are just as racist as they ever have been. Many make an attempt to hide it, but most don't.

When I hear terms like, "Americans think, Americans feel, Americans love, Americans don't like..."it always gives me pause because whatever they're talking about doesn't usually jibe with my experience at all. Even the most liberal of publications do this and they rarely realize it. I am definitely an American. I'm not white I am black. But I am definitely an American. Just not the kind of American the media is referring to. Or politicians. Or most people when they use the word "American".

It's only when I translate "American" to "white American" that whatever they're talking about actually makes sense. Try this exercise sometime.

Regardless, whatever you're watching or reading, you have to remember that white is the default audience. Most white folks have grudgingly accepted that black people will be in a commercial or two. Tide and Applebees come to mind as two commercials that blew my mind with multiculturalism.

Take these headlines on the subject of the Cheerios commercial.

Mixed-race Cheerios ad causes controversy
(uh, no, it really didn't)
Why Is This Cheerios Cereal Ad So Controversial?
 (really, they have to ask?
 Hate talk won't derail mixed-race Cheerios ad
 (well I would hope not)
Cheerios Won't Give In to Bigotry 
 (did anyone think they would actually take the commercial off the air? was this ever a possibility?)
Interracial Cheerios Commercial Generates Debate
(amongs whom? again what is there to debate?!)
 The Uproar Over the Biracial Cheerios Ad Is Actually Progress
(that it brought the issue out into the open, yes. but this guy seems to think it was all a "publicity" stunt)
 Consumers love the interracial Cheerios commercial that YouTube trolls hated
(well that's a relief)

Turns Out Americans Love ‘Controversial’ Cheerios Ad
(Kumbayah! All "Americans" are back on track now")

So, just like the my Part One of my Cheerios two part series, the media defines the issue. But they define it as a controversy. Then they go on to say that this commercial has sparked "debate." Needless to say, I have a big problem with this.

Controversy: Disagreement, typically when prolonged, public, and heated.

Seriously. These people are not having any type of disagreement. They're just being outright unreasonable bigots. There is no "other side" to this so-called disagreement. Black people aren't up at arms about the commercial or say, merely committing the crime of existing, let alone loving who they choose to love. But these white people surely are. Many of them are, quite literally, making the argument for slavery.

This may be a controversial stance but it's not a controversy. The racists are just flat out wrong. Instead of making this an argument with two sides, the media could just say flat out: Bigots Are Wrong About the Cheerios Commercial, instead of making it seem as if they may have a valid point to "debate" about.

They don't.

When I hear white people express their surprise that "Americans" still feel this way, even in the advanced modern age of 2013, it does not reassure me. It makes me feel horrible. It hurts me every bit as much as the outright racists.

Because my question becomes, HOW could they be so blind?

Blind beyond all moral consciousness. Blind beyond any and all reality. Blind to their complicity and worst of all, blind to their own prejudice and lack of caring.

To not know that this type of racism not only still exists but is still the reason that black people are hideously oppressed in this country is a willful blindness. It's not the "Accidental Racist" in the imagination of Brad Paisley and LL Cool J. It's not the work of mere "trolls" on You Tube.

It is the whole-hearted sanction of racism to be "color blind".

You can go to just about any video on YouTube featuring black people and find racial slurs. ANY VIDEO. The comments will not be flagged, disabled or moderated. YouTube, and by default Google, is too large for such a thing. I suppose they feel it's a free speech thing to allow people of color to be insulted on a daily basis. Much like banks and bankers that are to big to fail or jail, Google is too big to care about the mere feelings of black people.

And now that I give it some thought, there is no day in my life that I go online and don't encounter racism of some sort. It's actually worse now that when the Internet first became widespread in the 1990's. Back Then people were just amazed at actually being online. Now that people have got the hang of it, they have brought their ideologies along with them and racism is as prevalent as ever.

It's my theory that the Internet is actually entrenching racist attitudes more firmly in those who refuse to give up racist thought and practice.

People go to the internet to find like minded people. And when they do find people who think like this they also think, "Well, it must be true. Someone else said it. Someone else posted it. Black people must be inferior to white people. Black people deserve my hatred."

Seems a bit much? Seems a bit too harsh? If you're white, probably but I don't know why. I have never entered in a discussion online where people did not defend racist attitudes. Eventually I give up but I always close with this line:

"Arguing on the Internet is like being in the Special Olympics. You may win but you're still retarded."

Of course the outrage I get about comment is legendary. How dare you say such a thing. How could I  possibly be so politically incorrect as to use the word "retarded".

It never fails that I get these responses especially after an argument on why racials slurs, particularly the "n-word", is perfectly acceptable for use by white people. Black people are just being too sensitive.

The irony is always lost.

So excuse me if I find white folk's "shock" just a tad hypocritical. I know what white people say and think when they think no one is looking. Being a light skinned black woman with straight hair made white people just a bit too comfortable around me. It's one reason, among many, that I started wearing an afro. They don't make that mistake anymore.

This article does a good job of dismantling the "I'm so shocked" syndrome. The article is so very good I can only take the mildest of disagreements with the conclusion:
... stop giving these trolls the attention they crave.
I must politely beg to differ. The reason these people make comments like this is because they think they are doing so anonymously. The realize that there are no repercussions.

But if nothing else this mild media push has put the on notice: You can be seen. You are not invisible. Considering what has been done under cover of secrecy in this country, I think that's a message we can't broadcast enough.

Two other articles that I really thought did a good job on this topic:

READY: Cheerios from a confessed closet bigot

Cheerios ad gets to heart of problem

You can read Part One here.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Cheerios Blows the Box Top Off Color Blind Racism (Part One)

 As much as I consider myself tuned in to racial issues, my realization that the "first" Cheerios commercial featuring a black family could be construed as racist dawned on me quite slowly. Over a period of months in fact.

Cheerios calls the "first" commercial "Big Brother". I know that instinctively I felt something was out of place, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Some of these realizations are just dawning on me now. I never realized how many stereotypes Cheerios is shattering in the first commercial.
  • It's a commercial with a man feeding his children. There is not a woman present or even mentioned. For all we know, the three males in the family are the entire household.
  • It's a commercial with all males and all males of color. That in itself makes this commercial rare in a world where there are usually a group of white people with one black person or a group of black people with several white people. Rarely just black people alone. 
    • The only commercial I can think of that has done this in recent memory was Kraft with their Kraft Singles commercials. I'm not going to count that commercial with the dad piloting a toy helicopter into his wife's china cabinet and flinging spaghetti sauce everywhere for reasons you'll see in a moment.
  • To me, a portrayal of black males in an every day family setting is priceless.
  • It's a black man caring for and providing a morning snack for his children. Black men are nearly always portrayed in the media or stereotypical thought as not caring about their children.
  • It shows a man competently caring for children. I cannot emphasize enough that ALL men get the short end of the stick on this on TV. Men are nearly always portrayed as inept and bumbling when it comes to household or child rearing matters.
So the commercial is an every day scene. And none of that really seemed odd to me. But then the older child comes and takes some Cheerios off the younger brother's high chair.  I watched this commercial for about six months before it dawned on me that a lot of white people wouldn't see the cuteness. What they would see is black people teaching their children that it's ok to steal; and that the "natural inclination" of black people to steal is born in them and can be proven by an every day family setting. Even the youngest Black people steal dontcha know.

Well, by the time it dawned on me, I figured other people were already talking about it and so I typed the following into Google: Is the Cheerios commercial racist. (If you type that same into Google now, you'll only get info on the "Just Checking" commercial. You'd have to specifically reference the "Big Brother" commercial to get results on that one now.)

At the time, I didn't have to type which commercial. People were already talking about it. A few black blogs were raising the alarm, but tenuously.  The commercial seemed well intentioned but a lot of people were questioning: "Is Cheerios unintentionally perpetuating the stereotype that Black people steal?" "Is Cheerios practicing color blindness which amounts to burying their heads in the sand about stereotypes?"  Black people are more attuned to the intentions behind a message than most white people would believe. And before we actually say, "damn that's racist" you would be surprised how many comments or incidents we haven't called out or just let slide. We don't sound the racism alarm as quickly and as easily as white people claim we do. The concensus among black bloggers and commenters seemed to be, as we mostly do in these matters, "wait and see."

As it turned out the answer to the first question was "No" and the answer to the second question was both "Yes and No."

As a result of the newer "Just Checking" commercial and also because of the just plain adorableness of the "Big Brother" commercial, I now know that Cheerios had no intention of implying black people steal or train their children to steal. That is a bigger relief than you can possibly imagine.

As to the second question: "Is Cheerios practicing color blindness?" I'd have to say yes, but I don't think they're burying their heads in the sand. I don't think they thought through the part about stealing either. I think they thought it was enough to show a black family in ways that most white people don't think about. I think that was a conscious choice. The part about stealing has some subliminal undertones of the kind of unconscious or "accidental racist" nature that most white people don't even know they exhibit and actually think they hide pretty well on the whole. (They really don't hide it well. It's almost kind of funny sometimes actually, but that's a whole another post.)

What I think is that if Cheerios had known they were perpetuating a stereotype, they may have scripted an entirely different commercial, let alone use the word "bandit". They seem to want to make these commercials as benign and loving as possible. That their most recent ones using black people are bringing white resentment to the surface seems to have shocked them. Or maybe the reaction to the first commercial led them to make the second. That I can believe. I see a "get it all out in the open" attitude to the second commercial that is missing from the first. After all, the black man and the white woman aren't even in the same room and the  reveal of the black father is saved until the very last.

Or maybe they're just jumping on the multicultural bandwagon and letting the chips fall where they may. After all, it's not like they haven't used black people and black families in commercials before.

So they're guilty of not understanding that old stereotypes die hard. That's not hard for me to grasp. Most well-intentioned white people have this same blindness. It's a forgivable mistake for the most part. It's just time that white people stopped trying to forget this stuff and pretending it doesn't exist or never did. Good white people have to recognize it for what it is and call it out when they see it. That's the only way to to begin to root out racism.

Cheerios has done several commercials featuring black people. I've seen them all, noted them but they just washed over me until the "Big Brother" commercial.

Odd Couple 2009

Dad & Son Go Shopping 2011

Big Brother 2012

Just Checking 2013

Mama 2012 (not about black people, but I love this one because I remember the first time my daughter picked up a Cheerio and fed one to herself and then to me.)

The One and Only Cheerios (seems they've been planning this Love thing along )