C. Vann Woodward explains Ferguson to white people

The President’s Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders concluded that while no riot was “typical” in all respects, most of them shared certain traits. While “racial in character; they were not interracial.” They took place within Negro districts and typically attacked not white persons so much as symbols of white authority — especially policemen, firemen and national guardsmen — and white property. The most common grievance was abusive police practices, and the recurrent complaint was discrimination and a sense of powerlessness. The typical rioter was somewhat better off than the typical black in his community. He had the support of a large percentage of his black neighbors, who felt the riot was a form of protest and might be beneficial, even though Negroes were the main victims.

— C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow 

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American Girl’s Hawaiian doll is a Caucasian

Hawaiian my assWhen last we checked in with American Girl™®© they were selling a doll which they described as homeless for a mere $95. But that’s so 2009. They are kicking off this year with their 2011 Girl Of The Year®, Kanani Akina™ who “loves welcoming visitors to her Hawaiian home.” No big deal if it weren’t for the fact that Kanani has dark blonde hair, brown eyes and a skin color that suggests a health-minded approach to tanning. In other words, she doesn’t look in the least bit like actual native Hawaiians who usually have black hair, black eyes and a darker skin color. It is especially odd that American Girl™®© decided to call American Surfer Girl Hawaiian at a time when The World’s Most Famous Hawaiian (and Leader of The Free World™®©) is known for his surfeit of melanin.

lilo2In Hawaiian Kanani means"the beautiful one." Apparently the beautiful one in Hawaii is Haole. While her last name, Akina, may sound Hawaiian it is actually Japanese (another group known primarily for black hair and eyes and a distinctly non-Caucasian skin tone). So American Girl™®© just decided to appropriate some ethnic sounding names, put a flower in the doll’s hair and call it Hawaiian. Aznuts, as the Hawaiians say. Hell, even Disney – which has a very long history of messing up on ethnic issues — was able to do this right.

wolf13This doll was brought to my attention by my wife, Jennifer — aka “Mrs. CollateralDamage” aka “Broke Hoedown” aka “One of Those Darn Cats” – who has spent quite a bit of time in Hawaii and so was totally flabbergasted when she came across it that her eyes did that Tex Avery thing. For that, at least, I can say, “Well done, American Girl™®©!”

BTW, Soong-Chan Rah has a wonderful tale of a parent and child dealing with American Girl’s issues around ethnicity. Highly recommended.

Duncan Hines figures out recipe for racist cupcakes

The problem with doing a Top 10 list of the year prior to the end of year is you run the risk of something else happening before you run out of calendar. Take this year, for example. No sooner had I posted the 10 Dumbest Marketing Moves then good friend Jim Forbes sends this to me:

Dark chocolate faces, big white eyes and huge pink lips, all happily singing. What could possibly be wrong about this? Please watch the whole thing to the end as the final image seems like something out of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. The name of the ad, BTW, is Hip Hop Cupcakes. Which is just … well … icing on the cake of all this idiocy.

220px-Bamboozled-2000-posterimgIt’s impossible for me to think that Duncan Hines did this intentionally. I cannot believe a major corporation would choose to damage themselves in the marketplace to no advantage. That does NOT excuse this: Action matters more than intent. The only reasonable explanation is that they are morons. Going out on a limb here but I’d bet actual money that most of the marketers at the corporation and the agency are Caucasian. This disaster was so easily foreseeable and avoided it’s pathetic it happened in the first place.Yet another reason why diversity in the workplace is a bottom-line issue.

Online anger has forced the company to do the right thing and pull the ads. Yowsa.

Thoughts on marketing & racism

TV programs get to do clip shows all the time, so why can’t I? This originally ran in Brandweek on April 16, 2007

ben

DON IMUS and Uncle Ben. Two icons emblematic of a very strange moment in how Americans and the people who market to them think about race. Call it cultural schizophrenia—we denounce racism but still find it commercially appealing.

If you’re one of those radicals that feels a person’s worth is not determined by skin color you’ve got to be happy about the feces storm that hit Don “idiot-headed ho” Imus. Not only was he denounced but he got bit in the wallet, too. While Procter & Gamble and GM dropping his show was more costly, in many ways the worst news for I-man was when Miralus Healthcare, a.k.a. “Head-On,” pulled its ads. Once they left, pretty much the only sponsors remaining were bail-bond shops and “Smiling Bob.” I mean, the only thing worse than that would be getting canned by MSNBC and CBS. Oh, wait a minute.

While the Imus incident may have been nothing more than gross stupidity followed by a media feeding frenzy, there’s a lot bigger proof of change in the land.

Thirty-five years ago, when New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm ran for the presidency, her dual status as a woman and an African American made her into the ultimate political novelty act. Now we have Obama-mania. On the other side of the aisle, more than a few in the GOP still see Colin Powell as the party’s great black hope. Then there’s Massachusetts. The Bay State, which has had so many racial problems that its motto could be “Some of our best friends are black,” has seen fit to elect a governor with more melanin than most of the people who voted for him. All this is reverberating with marketers. Even Disney—ever a following indicator of cultural standards—is releasing a movie starring a black princess.

And yet.

The past month has also seen the return of Uncle Ben, a brand mascot with deep roots in that time and place when African Americans were not paid for their lifetime of employment. Actually it’s no longer “Uncle” Ben—Masterfoods USA dropped his honorific when it promoted him to CEO of his eponymous rice company. Unfortunately this brand retrofit didn’t give him a last name. Try calling your CEO by his first name. Now try to imagine doing so before you quit your job. While Ben’s promotion is certainly a good thing, it didn’t quite cover up his relationship to another uncle, one named Tom.

AUNT-JEMIMA-tHENNOW

Now Disney, ever the lagging barometer of cultural cues, is considering re-releasing the movie, Song of the South.

At a recent shareholders’ meeting Disney chairman Bob Iger said, “The question of Song of the South comes up periodically; in fact it was raised at last year’s annual meeting. And since that time we’ve decided to take a look at it again because we’ve had numerous requests about bringing it out.” In case you’re not up on film history, the 1946 movie tells the story of a young white boy who goes to live on his grandparents’ Georgia plantation and is charmed by the stories of beloved black servant Uncle Remus. It’s never been released on video and hasn’t been shown commercially in the U.S. since 1986.

It’s easy to understand from a fiscal point-of-view why some marketers would want to bring these characters back. Racist or not, they have a strong nostalgic pull. Consumers described Uncle Ben as having “a timeless element to him, we didn’t want to significantly change him,” Vincent Howell, president of the food division at Masterfoods USA and an African American, told The New York Times.

cream_of_wheat_chef

The argument can be made that rebranding Ben or recalling Remus is a way to redeem them, but this is a bit of a stretch. Even our modern, deracinated Aunt Jemima—who’s now portrayed as Betty Crocker meets Oprah—still reeks of “de ol’ folks at home.” There are some roots that no amount of dye can cover up.

If marketers really insist on bringing these images back, they should begin with full disclosure and show where these characters came from, how they were used and why they’re being brought back. Barring that, then Ben, Jemima, Betty, Remus and that nameless guy on the Cream of Wheat box should follow Mr. Imus off the air.

Original Americans ask Supreme Court if “Redskins” is offensive

And I ask, “Are you kidding?”

whities The NFL is certainly the only major US business still successfully using a racist epithet in its marketing. For some reason people give a pass to the name of its Washington franchise usually on the grounds that it’s been is use for so long. (Only in America do we think several decades is a significant amount of history.) That argument is too specious to be believed so let us look for an explanation that at least makes sense.

  1. There are very few descendents of the original people who lived here. Those who remain are mostly living in ghettos – sorry, I mean shtetls. No? How about barrios? OK how about nearly restricted to areas with no intrinsic economic potential. They are out of sight and mind for the most part unless you gamble or watch old action movies.
  2. Their dehumanization predates even that of people imported to the nation from Africa or the Far East.
  3. The team’s owner and fan base are located in and around the nation’s capital giving the team unequalled access to our political leaders where they actually live most of the time.
  4. The team has made a lot of money with this brand and doesn’t want to endanger that.

While none of these would seem to me the basis for a legal defense, I doubt for whatever reason the court will find the team name defames. Defamation in law means communicating a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government or nation a negative image. The team boasts and boosts its name. Using an offensive name as a brand may be an insult to the group being named but it doesn’t seem to me (with my 0 years of legal education) to hit the defamation mark. Unfortunately.

Congrats to the NFL for coming down hard on dog fighting but not on insulting a group of humans. Any chance the ruling will be overturned on replay?

Would the last African-American to leave the GOP please turn out the lights?

Activists at a conservative political forum snapped up boxes of waffle mix depicting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a racial stereotype on its front and wearing Arab-like headdress on its top flap. Values Voter Summit organizers cut off sales of Obama Waffles boxes on Saturday, saying they had not realized the boxes displayed “offensive material.” The summit and the exhibit hall where the boxes were sold had been open since Thursday afternoon.

I actually like the idea of Obama Waffles as a satirical product (indeed, I quite like the image of John Kerry endorsing the waffles on the group’s web site). Had the group used a picture of the senator or at least a caricature that looked like him I would have said, “Good on you.” Using a drawing that makes him look like the child of Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima was just stupid.

Y’know, there are a number of African-American conservatives out there, might be a good idea to recruit a couple.

It is safe to say that the GOP has written off the Black vote for this election — and probably for the foreseeable future. However, for the last eight years George Bush has been doing his best to reach out to the rapidly growing Latino population. Well, the waffles also managed to insult them, as well. On the back of the box, Obama is portrayed wearing a sombrero and serape. There is also a recipe for “Open Border Fiesta Waffles” that can serve “4 or more illegal aliens.” A recipe tip: “While waiting for these zesty treats to invade your home, why not learn a foreign language?”

In this case the foriegn language seems to be courtesy.

(More cheap shots from the Liberal Media:The Army Times takes McCain to task for changing his position on the Army’s Future Combat System — which the paper describes as “over-budget, behind-schedule.” Seems the Senator — back when he was a fiscal conservative — was against it, and against it for quite a long time. His position changed sometime this summer. )

Disney changing It’s A Small World to “A Salute to All Nations, But Mostly America”

There is probably no one Disney ride/attraction I loathe more than “It’s A Small World.”

It brings together all the worst of Disney & theme parks into one package.

In design terms it has a banality and mediocrity that makes it possible to forget these are the same people that brought us Oswald the Rabbit, Pinocchio, the early Mickey Mouse cartoons and a host of other wonderful works of real art.

It also has the problematic racial issues that litter the Mouse’s history: Song of The South, Epcot’s bizarre and historically inaccurate Eurocentric history lessons, an animatronic Native American village — (personally I was hoping Euro Disney would have an animatronic shtetl). In Small World the racial problem becomes that all the people of the earth who are not already Caucasian appear to have undergone a severe loss in melanin. Small World’s many deficiencies are wrapped in a song I can only compare to the aural equivalent of mixing Twinkies & Spam.

Given all this you would think it impossible to make the attraction* any worse. But NOOOOOOOO. In what seems to be a complete violation of Small World’s saccharine “we’re all alike” will now include a nice cuddly display of nationalism.

Mrs. Collateral Damage — aka The Queen of All Disney Media — quotes the following:

And in one of the most egregious and downright disgusting decisions in Disney theme park history, the gorgeous New Guinea rainforest scene, replete with some of Mary Blair’s most whimsical character creations (a crocodile with an umbrella, colorful birds hatching from eggs) and her drummer children with Tiki Masks on the opposite shore will be replaced with a Hooray for U.S.A sequence.

Now don’t get me started on the whole tiki masks thing and the gross condescension towards indigenous peoples — anyone surprised that we don’t get cute caricatures of any Christian religious images?

I really think Disney should go the whole way with this redo and insert a display of gross nationalism for every nation. Then they could have a follow-up ride called “It’s A Small World War.”

BTW, the headline is a quote from one of my favorite Disney attractions: Muppet*vision 3D.

Kermit the Frog: We will also see a rousing finale from Sam the Eagle. What’s it called, Sam?
Sam the Eagle: It’s called “A Salute to All Nations, But Mostly America”.

*or is it a ride? that’s one of those distinctions that the Disney-centi are very particular about.

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