For some time now, I’ve been wanting to start a series called “Wait, How’s That Racist?” With all the ads popping up online and some of the crazy attacks aimed at our president and other public figures, I feel it’s something that we can’t help but talk about. I guess I also feel a knee-jerk reaction to explain since I’ve been asked over and over again, “Wait, how’s that racist?” Anyone who’s had to explain this topic knows what I’m talking about.
A recent ad released from Cadburry has been called out as racist, and while Cadburry may not have had that intent, here’s why the ad could be considered racist or at the very least, offensive.
- Point 1 ~ This is the more obvious distinction that many of us notice right away. Here is an ad for a chocolate bar and of course, they use a beautiful black woman to promote it. How could this be construed as racist? It’s common knowledge (for most) that attractive black women (and more recently, men) are referred to as “Chocolate”. The term is charged with all kinds of sexual stereotypes and objectification. At times, the term has been used affectionately, but even so, making reference to the “temptation” of black women in an advertisement is extremely offensive. In this ad by Cadburry, it’s not clear if this is their intent…but one has to question the connection between Cambell, a beautiful black woman, and Bliss chocolate.
- Point 2 ~ Cadburry refers to Naomi as a “Diva”. To many readers this might not mean much, it’s becoming a more inclusive term, but historically, it has been attributed to successful black women. Is this another attempt by Cadburry to drive the message home that Naomi is black? The use of this term suggests that Cadburry finds it important for their audience to acknowledge miss Cambell’s blackness. Why is it important to acknowledge her blackness? One has to wonder if they are trying to create a mental connection between Cambell’s image and the image of Bliss chocolate. This would be a connection worth our concern, since most individuals tie chocolate in with sexual pleasure and since we’re already aware of the exotic “chocolate” stereotype surrounding black women. The term “bliss” is already obviously connected to thoughts of euphoria and pleasure, so the connection made by critics of the ad is understandable.
- Point 3 ~ Bliss refers to their chocolate as “pampered” and uses a strong, affluent black woman for comparison. Why is this a problem? Here’s another common stereotype that portrays strong black women as demanding, angry and hard to please. This stereotype is not a mystery and probably shouldn’t have gone unnoticed when marketeers were dreaming up this ad, especially since it’s one that’s talked about often in the media in recent years. It’s upsetting because the stereotype breeds this idea in our minds that black women shouldn’t be outspoken, that it’s not important to address their concerns and that they definitely shouldn’t expect more than what others feel they deserve. This is a hurtful accusation in a world that already seeks to silence the voices of black women.
If you take all three of these parts together, it shouldn’t be difficult to see why this ad could be construed as racist and at the very least, offensive. Even if Cadburry’s intent wasn’t to offend or showcase stereotypes, the fact is that in many ways….they did. It’s a common mistake that is linked to our privilege and lack of understanding about the history of racism in this country, but even so, it seems that it’s a mistake we should be able to avoid in the year 2011…almost 150 years since the abolition of slavery. Yet, the stereotypes live on, sometimes in such ways that many aren’t entirely aware that they are in play. Was this an instance of racism? Maybe…it’s not clear what the intent is here, but there could very well be some underground stereotypes and prejudices at work here. The more important question though, is “Why are stereotypes still being perpetuated in today’s modern media?”