By Arturo R. García
Film critic Kartina Richardson sent us a link to the picture above, taken at a McDonald’s restaurant during a recent visit.
“We’re not as race conscious as we think,” she wrote. In fact, it demonstrates that neither Barbie nor McDonald’s has learned much in the wake of other race-related rows.
To be fair, McDonald’s wasn’t responsible for its most recent imbroglio: Last summer, a fake sign asking African-American customers to pay extra fees because of “a recent string of robberies” went viral, spawning the #seriouslymcdonalds hashtag and putting the company on the defensive before the hoax was discovered.
But, for a company that maintains a site called 365Black, McD’s has made other missteps. Like the infamous “Southern Style” sandwich commercials, which touched off such a furor that not only were they pulled from the air, but they’re nigh-impossible to find online. Even on YouTube. But, as AdSavvy recalled in calling it one of its “25 Most Racist Advertisements,” the commercial showed two black women waxing rhapsodic over “Grandma’s fried chicken.” Apparently it got worse from there. Also problematic: the unusually high number of commercials showing black people dancing, jumping, singing, etc.
As for Barbie, longtime readers will recall its S.I.S. black doll line of 2009, which didn’t pass muster with guest contributor Seattle Slim:
The message is clear to little girls, and it’s saddening because they will go on to feel this more acutely as they get older. The message is unless you are “exotic” or multi-racial, you are simply and utterly unremarkable, unworthy and unimportant. They may make a doll with more Afrocentric features, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Little girls will then inevitably draw conclusions that they are not good enough, because they are not pretty enough. You must be multi-racial (or have some indication that you have some “white” or “Cherokee” in your family), with light eyes and long flowing, loose-curly (3A) hair as a minimum.
And most pointedly, the image itself–a black girl dreaming she could be not just Barbie, but the white Barbie specifically–revisits some uncomfortable territory, as Tami Winfrey Harris wrote:
Do black children even want dolls that look like them? That is really the rub. You can give a girl Barbie’s best, urban, black friend, Grace, but even little black girls will recognize that Grace isn’t the star of this show. The coveted one, the truly beautiful one, the worthy one is blonde, blue-eyed, narrow-featured, skinny Barbie. If the black version of Barbie was so damned great, then the little white girls on the commercial would be playing with her, too.
Those of us who are familiar with the heart-breaking “doll test” know that even when given a doll that obstensibly looks more like them, black children are inclined to want and favor the white doll. Black children who are still young enough to play with dolls have already absorbed the larger society’s notions about what is good and what is beautiful–and they know people (and dolls) who look like them are not part of those notions. Mattel’s new Barbie’s won’t fix this problem–the real problem–I think.
And neither will this new campaign. Has anybody else seen this sign at their local McDonald’s?