When I first saw the Duncan Hines Hip Hop Cup Cake ad last month, I first wondered why advertisers would make food geared to kids so creepy (a la the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cannibal ads); and that the icing would never work…the microwave would make it too gooey or too hot to be practical.
As Ken Wheaton over at Adage points out in his great article last month entitled “Duncan Hines ‘Hip-Hop Cupcakes’ Shows Necessity of Diverse Work Force (you can view the ad embedded in the article):
“Some folks will look at that and simply see harmless cupcakes. Others will look at it and wonder, “How is that hip-hop?” And many others, including Source.com and many, many other sites, will look at it and see cupcakes in black face.
It is amazing that with such a strong reaction, no-one, from conception to execution to release, ever stopped and said “do you think anyone might think this is offensive?” And that’s why it’s critical
- To have diverse teams and multiple perspectives in the workforce,
- There’s an environment where people feel comfortable opening conversations involving race (Was there not even a “Do you think they look black?” with the last word whispered and furtive glances all around) and
- People work on their own comfort level and vocabulary about talking about race.
As I took five weeks from the time of seeing the ad to actually “fess-up” to not seeing the initial racial images (people would think me racist if I admitted that, right?), I’m reminded of a post I ran almost at the outset of Intercultural Talk.
Almost three years later, looks like my love of lifelong learning is rewarded…there’s still lots to learn! (the original post is below)
Family Values: Identifying Racial Stereotypes in the Media
ScienceDaily.com reported on April 2 that “Fear of Messing Up May Undermine Interracial Contact.” The report was about “a provocative new study from Northwestern University,” which “suggests that whites who are particularly worried about appearing racist seem to suffer from anxiety that instinctively may cause them to avoid interaction with blacks in the first place. Study participants indicated that they worry about inadvertently getting in trouble for somehow seeming biased.”
But I would argue that we all invariably are influenced by biases that are created by images we receive in the media everyday, and that confronting, defining and overcoming those stereotypes is essential in moving toward being more bias-free.
For example, unrealistic images of women in media have been discussed and challenged so often that intellectually we know all women are not that skinny and blemish-free. Some advertisers, such as Dove, have used that to their advantage by using ‘real’ women to promote their products.
How does this relate to representations in the media of race, ethnicity and culture? Let’s take a look at this monumental event:
One day I got out of my car and walked into a building, passing a man and a woman holding hands with a small child between them on the way.
As my little sister would say “that was a really good story.” But it was.
Because in that flash of a moment, as I defined and categorized what I saw, as we all do to unconsciously absorb and understand our world, my mind said “mom, child…who’s he?” Boyfriend? Uncle? Friend? Not “I see a mom and a dad with their child.” And I knew in that moment that if that couple had been white, I would have assumed that they were the married parents of that child, but because they were black I didn’t.
Am I afraid to tell that story because I might seem prejudiced? Maybe, but more because of the reaction to the story, not because I believe it makes me prejudiced. In fact, in that moment’s epiphany I realized that something that I had unconsciously been taught by the media and perhaps even my own upbringing to be universally true, was indeed stereotype and prejudice. It was only in that realization and the telling of it, that I grow.