A Little Girl, A Bowl of Cheerios, and A Whole Lot of Hate

It’s somewhat ironic that a 30 second Cheerios commercial could show just how far America has to go when it comes to race and media.

The Cheerios commercial that has ignited a racist backlash is rather simple in its premise. A young girl – who happens to be biracial – asks her mother if Cheerios are good for your heart. Her mother responds that they are indeed healthy for your heart. The commercial then cuts to her sleeping father on the couch who awakens to see an avalanche of Cheerios on his chest. Here’s how it all plays out:

As you can see, the mother is white and the father is black. More than a few people apparently couldn’t stand to see an interracial couple being featured in a commercial in 2013 America. What followed were some pretty nasty and hateful comments left on the commercial’s Youtube page. The vitriol was so bad that General Mills (the brand that makes Cheerios) disabled comments on the page.

Now what does this commercial say about race relations in 2013 America? That there is still much work to be done. Many people want to believe that race is not as big of an issue as it was say in the 50s and 60s, however I tend to believe that race isn’t as public a topic as it used to be.

Photo by MixedNation

What these hateful comments and this backlash shows is that unfortunately there are still many who harbor racist views of not just blacks, but a multitude of people within our society. This was true in the 60s as well. The key difference? Today, people (by and large) aren’t that stupid to express their racist attitudes in public. It’s a lot easier to spew hatred anomalously via the the black box that is the internet. And these racist comments aren’t limited to commercials either. This has been a problem in the gaming community for years and the issue was addressed at this year’s SXSW festival.

Ultimately, despite the racist attitudes of many, it’s worth noting that there were a number of people who supported the Cheerios commercial for its diversity. At a time when American families are integrating more than ever, this commercial is a reflection of the changing makeup of society, if not changing thoughts. Perhaps Camille Gibson, who is the vice president of marketing for Cheerios, said it best when she stated, “We felt like we were reflecting the American family.”

Reed Between The Lines

Last Tuesday I caught two episodes of the new orignial BET series Reed Between The Lines. It looks pretty promising from what I’ve seen so far.

First, I like the emphasis on black love and the fact that Alex and Carla Reed (portrayed by Malcolm Jamal-Warner and Tracee Ellis Ross), are a married couple with a blended family. Sadly, there really aren’t too many images of African-American family life on television and I definitely applaud BET for giving us something other than mindless rap videos and sitcoms from 2002.

This show does have some remnants of The Cosbys in it, even beyond the fact that Malcolm Jamal-Warner is linked to both. The fact that Alex and Carla Reed represent a well educated black middle class couple (both hold jobs that would require a Master’s degree) is powerful indeed. He is a stay at home NYU professor and she a therapist who somehow manage to make time for each other while juggling three kids and everything else that comes between. Too often we rarely see successful black married couples on television, but this show at least attempts to portray something sorely lacking in today’s television landscape.

In the show’s second episode that premiered last week, it threw me for a bit of a loop, and I’m sure it did many viewers as well. The episode entitled, “Let’s Talk About Daddy’s Little Girl,” started with Carla and Alex’s daughter Alexis, being dropped home by a white camp counselor who said she didn’t get along well with the other kids. He even went so far to use the term ‘scary’ to describe their daughter. Naturally, I thought, “this dude just messed up bigtime.” As one would expect, Alex and Carla looked visibly upset and the familiar story pattern would be the white counselor showing some insensitivity toward their daughter based solely on her race. Only in this case, it was Alex and Carla who proved to be wrong with their own daughter. As they and the viewers would find out, Alexis’ bad behavior toward the other kids was not so much a result of her being unfairly picked out, as it was her being spoiled by her family and expecting people to wait on her hand and foot. In essence, the episode teaches that just because something may appear insensitive or mildly racist at first, that isn’t always the case and we have to be sure to look at all angles of a situation before jumping to conclusions.

Reed Between The Lines looks promising and I look forward to seeing how the shows and series progresses. The fact that Malcolm Jamal-Warner and Tracee Ross are both wearing their producer hats on this project shows that they have a vested interest in the types of characters, themes and story-lines that play out through the season. I’m definitely looking forward to this show.