Cheerios Ad Touches Racial Nerve

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Editor's Note: This is the second of two blogs discussing how an advertisement for Cheerios featuring an interracial family has sparked emotions and highlighted the need for deeper discussion about race in the United States.

General Mills and their recent Cheerios commercial reminded us that race still causes severe social and political upset in the United States. A 30-second YouTube commercial featuring a young biracial child interacting with her white mother and black father created a cyber firestorm of racially charged attacks including phrases like, “disgusting,” “racial genocide,” “anti-white,” and “want to vomit.” Such emotionally charged responses signal that despite (or perhaps even because of) the 1967 eradication of laws against interracial marriage and the two-time election of a biracial U.S. president, interracial couples and their children are still not universally accepted. What is it about this particular Cheerios ad that causes such anxiety?

The illusion of “racial purity” rests in the psyches of both black people and white people. The alleged strength of consensual racial segregation is alive and well all over the Internet and in many American neighborhoods. The children of interracial unions are visible reminders of how personal desires easily become political statements for others. Whether through adoption or blending, families now come in more sizes and colors than ever; FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly ominously lamented this reality on the night of Obama’s re-election: “Traditional America as we knew it is gone. Ward, June, Wally and the Beav—outta here.” 

The particular pairing of white women and black men, however, seems to create far greater waves of disruption than the pairing of white men and black women. During America’s antebellum history, white masters had ready and easy access to black female slaves and populated plantations for economic gain with the infamous and irrational “one-drop” rule; blackness was determined by the smallest amount of black blood. The post-slavery reality of consensual intimacies between black men and white women became, and remains, the most disruptive of the ongoing power battles between white and black men in which women become the playing field. Since biracial children challenge the illusion of “racial purity,” lynching and castrating black men and anti-miscegenation laws sought to punish black men and deny their access to white women. 

Even though definitions of “blackness” and “whiteness” based on visible characteristics are problematic at best, these definitions create visceral responses in those who see race mixing as socially wrong, politically bad and even “sinful.” Such racialized fears are also fueled by the recent statistics about the birthrates of brown babies versus white babies. In her commentary "Minority Birth Rate Now Surpasses Whites in US, Census Shows," Hope Yen reports:

For the first time, racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half the children born in the U.S., capping decades of heady immigration growth that is now slowing. New 2011 census estimates highlight a historic shift underway in the nation's racial makeup. They mark a transformation in a country once dominated by whites and bitterly divided over slavery and civil rights, even as it wrestles now over the question of restricting immigration….

While many embrace such intermingling as social enhancement and progress, others view the consensual browning of America as “unnatural” and threatening.

The Cheerios commercial ends with the word “love.” The depiction of an interracial family is not an attempt to force race mixing—or even multiculturalism—down anyone’s proverbial throat. Rather, the commercial seeks to show that America is a country inclusive of diverse, intimate pairings. Featuring these differences in an ad is not an attempt to threaten delusions about racial or ethnic purity, but to show that family, relationships, parenting, heart disease and cereal can potentially unite us. 

Neal A. Lester is professor of English and director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University. Jasmine Z. Lester is Neal Lester’s daughter. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a certificate in LGBTQ Studies from Arizona State University. 

Comments

Just saw this commercial on

Submitted by alyce fh kaufman on 4 June 2013 - 5:24pm.

Just saw this commercial on network TV in NYC. At first I thought the little girl was portraying an adopted or foster child and I was so touched I almost ate Cheerios! When I saw this was a depiction of an interracial family I was so impressed by the normalcy and rightness I was tempted to buy a box! Aren't we over these non issues!!!!!???

Why did you not purchase a

Submitted by RICHARD BAKER on 11 June 2013 - 11:48am.

Why did you not purchase a box?

I agree! Hard to believe that

Submitted by L. McCann on 11 June 2013 - 3:26pm.

I agree! Hard to believe that folks still remain so mentally stuck on stupid!

Thank you for your comment.

Submitted by Laurie Koppenaal on 29 June 2013 - 6:14pm.

Thank you for your comment. I am now 51 years old and come from a multi-racial background. I always felt lost and rejected. Neither side of my family ever "really" accepted me. Not white enough for one side, couldn't speak spanish to the other but was told I had "good" hair" from my Amerindian genes. then seeing race marked as black on my dad's birth certificate as an adult left me confused. Who was I? Today I am proud of all of me and can really appreciate when people such as yourself show your intelligence and grace. Again, thank You.

I saw the commercial and

Submitted by Connie Beil on 5 June 2013 - 4:41pm.

I saw the commercial and appreciate the reminder that this breakfast cereal is heart healthy. I loved the commercial and will continue to buy Cheerios. The challenge continues and it is my opinion that many individuals, even those with education, do not have a clear idea or accurate understanding of the post slavery Civil War humiliation and demoralization that most all people in the United States of color faced. I am reminded of an educated, retired friend, who said to me after she saw the movie and then read the book, The Help by K.Stockett said, "I thought I knew and understood but I didn't." "How could people of color be treated like that?" Her question resounds and reactions of this Cheerios commercial bring to mind that there are other issues here that need to be considered and resolved regarding race. I wonder what brought her to the place where she would consider these issues of color and discrimination and accept her attitude. This commercial shows a kind, loving family demonstrating care for each other and that you should buy Cheerios to help you do that. Isn't that the American Way?

I saw the commercial and

Submitted by Eric Simmons on 7 June 2013 - 11:08am.

I saw the commercial and never thought about the couple as being interracial. What I saw was a child that loves their parent so much to want them to be healthy and live long. I am the father of three children and it is my desire to be with them for as long as I can. My children have an open door to help me stay healthy as well. To look at this commercial in a way that contributes to racial separation is so wrong. I would hope that people would consider that "We are all Ice Cream. I'm just different flavor."

I loved the Cheerios

Submitted by mrhineha on 11 June 2013 - 11:48am.

I loved the Cheerios commercial...I thought the same thing others thought (a cute little girl wanting her parents to be healthy...race never entered my thought). Why do people have to nit pick over every little thing? ALL children are precious and should never have to be a pawn in the racist game that adults like play. We are all created the same in God's eyes. Bravo to Cheerios executives and the PR department for using a cute family no matter what the race. Quit finding fault in every commercial that comes on and help others instead. We have many needs in the tornado ravaged areas that need help.

Along that line, I saw a post

Submitted by Jane on 11 June 2013 - 12:01pm.

Along that line, I saw a post on Facebook with the little girl from the commercial saying something like, "With all the problems of the world, you're worried about my family?" That's not the exact wording, but the gist of it.

Proud of Cheerios!

Yeah, the wording..."All the

Submitted by Stephanie Thomas on 11 June 2013 - 2:21pm.

Yeah, the wording..."All the problems in the world, and you're worried that my parents don't match?" I love it.

I am beyond words over this

Submitted by Weeda on 28 June 2013 - 4:11pm.

I am beyond words over this ignorant and ridiculous non-controversy. when I America going to wake up, the third world is watching, they already hate us for our riches, opportunities and freedoms . We are freet olove whomever we love regardless or color or race. We need to put out priorities in place and become the real gratest country on earth.

The comment made on Fox had

Submitted by Brandy on 11 June 2013 - 12:58pm.

The comment made on Fox had nothing to do with race and everything to do with traditional families (meaning a two parent family). Please don't portray or misrepresent Fox as "haters". I did love the commercial too, let's not throw FOX under the bus though.

Brandy, here is the clip.

Submitted by George on 11 June 2013 - 10:23pm.

Brandy, here is the clip. Listen to O'Reilly talk about race, and NOT about "traditional" families. He overtly referenced changing demographics, mentioning Blacks and Hispanics, and said "The white establishment is now the minority." The comment had EVERYTHING to do with race, and NOTHING to do with two parent families.

Where is the clip? I'm

Submitted by LDC on 13 June 2013 - 12:36pm.

Where is the clip? I'm curious to see this too. Unfortunately, what some people don't realize or want to remember is that the 50's were a highly idealized time with plenty of false facades hiding opression and dysfunction. Someone needs to remind Bill that "Leave it to Beaver" was a TV show and "traditional" isn't always best.

I don't get the issue; He

Submitted by yea on 1 July 2013 - 11:47am.

I don't get the issue; He made a valid observation. Whites ARE now the minority.

Framing the issue about

Submitted by TPal on 21 June 2013 - 7:28am.

Framing the issue about "traditional families" doesn't really change much. It's discriminatory in a different (heteronormative) way, and it's still very much wedded to issues of race and gender. (Who is most likely to be a single parent?)

The response to the issue has been unbelievably disgusting.

Here is another video that parodies the first: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwReRl4Z7EQ

My observation was by no

Submitted by Neal Lester on 21 July 2013 - 9:42pm.

My observation was by no means throwing FOX news under the bus but rather pointing out the clear hysteria with which O'Reilly uttered as a lament these words. He was not mentioning this as a statement of fact but as something white America should be worried about--like GONE WITH THE WIND--heteronormativity and all. Technically though, if it was about the two-parent household, the Obamas (on the night of the re-election) still fit that mold so no need for hysteria on that particular front. Weren't the two-parent families in the Dick and Jane readers that mirror the Cleavers always normalized as white? Even Toni Morrison, in her novel THE BLUEST EYE, signifies on this historical fact.

First thing that comes to my

Submitted by L. McCann on 11 June 2013 - 3:25pm.

First thing that comes to my mind is that I must be hated on a high scale when I walk out of my home. Often I have wondered why some people frown towards me. Why doesn't anyone want to be Black? Yes, I have African blood. To be honest I felt that people who frown at multiracial people had mental issues.
I am a multiracial woman and I embrace my many blood lines. The thing is most so called "White" people in our country have African blood running through their vanes. "The Black Grandmother in the Closet."
The little girl in the commercial is my daughter, my sister and she is who I AM!
My "Mixed" beautiful self is LOVE!

L. McCann

As a teacher and Community

Submitted by Donna Saide on 14 June 2013 - 1:39pm.

As a teacher and Community Coordinator for Diversity in our Lower School, I wanted to celebrate after seeing the commercial! It's about time an interracial family is placed in a commercial. I don't watch much TV, but on the occasion I do see family advertisements, it's always of one race. This one race rule is so NOT a representation of all families. Kudos to Cheerios!

I have seen the Cheerios ad

Submitted by Pamela on 5 July 2013 - 8:08pm.

I have seen the Cheerios ad many times and find it well constructed and timely. The little girl is absolutely adorable and perfect for the part of the precocious little person she portrays. The last word of the commercial, it is interesting to note, is "Love," which I think can be understood on a number of levels.

The negative reactions to the ad clearly shows that we are still some ways from the "post-racial" society which was supposed to have been ushered in when Barack Obama became President. Therefore, the only way to silence the voices of hate towards this ad is to make more like them, with a variety of racial and ethnic combinations. I would also suggest moving the non-white parent to the breakfast table to fully show that they are a couple and the parents of their child.

After viewing this

Submitted by Stephanie Call on 25 November 2013 - 11:44am.

After viewing this commercial, I did something entirely foreign to me. I found Cheerios on Facebook and thanked them for running this advertisement. My son is biracial. His father is African-American. We are both college educated, intelligent, and strongly representative of our racial identities. However, we have never viewed differences as preclusive to building relationships and understanding. We do recognize that others do not feel this way. It was a breath of fresh air to see my family positively represented on television.

I discussed the commercial later with my 17 year old step daughter. She is African American. She shared with me some of her experiences. Her classroom teacher noted a photograph of her, her brother and sister (biracial--Hispanic/African-American), and her youngest brother, my son. She said the teacher (white male) refused to believe that these were her siblings. When she continued to impress upon him that they are indeed her family, he responded with, "Didn't that anger your family?"

Like my step-daughter, I do not believe our differences confine us. They may in some way define us but only to the extent that we allow them to do so. I also believe, like my step-daughter expressed to her teacher, that it is time to wake up and see it is a whole new world. Maybe Cheerios just intended to make a commercial, but I am glad that they placed it in that new world.

I cannot believe that this

Submitted by Lynda Denton on 6 February 2014 - 6:10pm.

I cannot believe that this continues to be an issue in 2014. Get over it and accept diversity for what it is. I congratulate Cheerios for moving forward.