Over at Clutch Magazine, they are asking their readers whether they are offended by a recent State Farm commercial featuring Selita Ebanks and Mehcad Brooks. Over at Racialicious, they are outraged over a Duncan Hines cupcake glaze commercial featuring "cupcake black face." Other general audience sites have joined in the online debate, many readers not seeing the pink-lipped beat-boxing treats or black female stereotypes in these commercials as racist at all.
But moving beyond the question of whether these images are offensive, I would like to ask folks to look deeper and question why black people are so angry, when we as a community don't get so mad when these images come from within.
The case of the recent debacle of a Duncan Hines commercial featuring cupcakes singing in black face, was likely the result of Duncan Hines failing to hire a creative team with a diverse knowledge of historical context. A black person (or white for that matter) from the south would likely have quickly pointed out that these black faced, white eyed, pink-lipped cupcakes looked eerily similar to the controversial characters in early Disney movies or any number of offensive racist caricatures of black people from the past. But it seems that there was no single vision that guided the production of this controversial cooking mess:
"The thing is, an agency -- not in the traditional sense at any rate -- didn't create that one. Pinnacle Foods' AOR [,or agency of record,] is BBDO, but the Amazing Glazes efforts for Duncan Hines resulted from a partnership with digital studio Filmaka and four independent directors. According to the press release, "Each director offers their own interpretation of the passion, creativity and fun behind baking that the Amazing Glazes toppings inspire." (Ad Age)
Is that any excuse? The uproar over these sambo sweets was so huge, it would have paid to have some informed people guiding the project. It was pulled by Duncan Hines almost as fast as it was released. But, it's pretty clear that there were no black people involved. You will soon read why that might not even be relevant.
The recent controversy over a State Farm commercial featuring Selita Ebanks and Mehcad Brooks is another matter. The State Farm commercial features a "sassy," angry black woman who is henpecking her significant other about running into another car. It is complete with lip-smacking, ubiquitous "umm hmms" and I swear I saw a finger snap and a head roll up in there too. I could be wrong, but I would be shocked if State Farm didn't engage with some "multicultural" firm when coming up with this concept and executing it. In other words, black folks probably produced this ad.
Having had my own run in with State Farm's marketing staff, I am fairly certain that it was not their intention to offend black women. The presence of Mehcad Brooks would indicate that they had us in mind. If this State Farm ad was created by a black creative team, would that change the tone and tenor of the outrage? Experience tells us YES!
Black people love to get offended if they think white people are dabbling in racist stereotypes, but we turn a blind eye when we tap dance into these stereotypes ourselves. Anybody remember the "Black Marriage Negotiations" video? We did that all by ourselves! Do we have room to criticize a company for reproducing an image we ourselves create?
Almost four years ago, the nation exploded in outrage when white radio talk show host Don Imus referred to black college athletes as "nappy headed hos." In the aftermath, Oprah Winfrey hosted a show called "After Imus, Now What." I remember it clearly because after that show I was so ticked off that I started my blog, "What About Our Daughters."
During her show, Oprah invited an all-black lineup of guests -- Al Sharpton, Common, Diane Weathers, Kevin Lyles and a group of young women from Spelman -- to talk about the impact of black people systematically engaging in the same exact behavior that lead to rage at Don Imus. Nobody on stage wanted to take responsibility for the systematic dehumanization of black women in black pop culture, or the plethora of negative images some hip hop recreates.
Although the enslavement of mankind in general has been recorded as early as 1200 BC; the first African slaves were reportedly transported to the 'New World' in 1517. This is 76 years after the first black slaves were captured and taken to Portugal.
Topsy was a stereotypical pickaninny character in the book, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' Uncle Tom was a slave in the book. The term 'Uncle Tom' is recognized to be offensive and a derogatory name for a black man who is abjectly servile and deferential to whites.
Early definition of minstrel: a medieval poet and musician who sang or recited while accompanying himself on a stringed instrument, either as a member of a noble household or as an itinerant troubadour.
The black-face minstrel act was a very popular form of entertainment in 19th-century America. White audiences were receptive to the portrayals of Blacks as singing, dancing, grinning fools. T.D. 'Daddy' Rice, the original Jim Crow, became rich and famous because of his skills as a minstrel. Interestingly though, when he died in New York on September 19, 1860, he was broke.
Advertisement for Clarence Brooks and Co.'s Fine Coach Varnishes uses racist stereotypes to depict a group of African-American adults and children as they cheer and watch two shirtless boxers, one of whom appears unconscious, accompanied by the text "the Championship Fight, Sullivan Wins," late 1800s. The Sullivan in the text is a reference to boxer John L. Sullivan, who fought bare-knuckled in several famous bouts.
Advertisement for the St. Louis Beef Canning Company features an illustration of a stereotyped African-American character sitting on a can of beef, accompanied by phonetically rendered, stereotypical dialect-style text that reads: 'No Sah! dont jine no Exodus so as dis Beef lasts,' late 1800s.
Showing blacks to massacre the English language, further perpetuated the false idea that African Americans were somehow ineducable.
On many "urban" radio stations and in music videos seen around the world, black artists say much worse than what Imus said. Not only that, but corporate America is incredibly comfortable with associating with black artists who degrade and dehumanize black women as a matter of course, giving them millions in endorsements. You can't get a hit record as a hip hop artist without throwing in ubiquitous references to bitches, hos and various other insulting euphemisms for black women. People like Flavor Flav engage in Sambo-like minstrelsy continually. We make and support these images all the time.
Yet we don't rage. We don't protest. We don't demand that this be stopped. We don't insist that corporations refuse to hand over our dollars to these "artists." But the first time someone outside of the black community appears to engage in the same behavior, we cry foul. Why? How were they to know this wasn't acceptable, when every single day we reward black people who engage in promoting the same imagery?
Am I saying that it's okay? No. But after four years of calling black people out on their own crap, their misogyny and their anti-black woman bigotry, it is hard for me to muster up outrage when corporate America takes our lead. In other words, we need to sweep around our own front door.
As long as we turn a blind eye to the minstrelsy and misogyny that the black community directs at black women and men on a daily and UNRELENTING basis, we have no moral authority to call out anybody for mimicking us in an unfavorable fashion.
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