Friday, January 8, 2010

"Racist" KFC cricket ad

Ok, now let me say that on this blog I cover racism a lot, and take it very seriously. Therefore, I hate to be the one saying, "You guys are just imagining racism when it's not there, you lot are too sensitive, yada yada."

But I'm gonna say it now because frankly this latest furore over an allegedly racist ad is just some bullsh*t.

KFC have pulled a commercial out of circulation after it went on Youtube and some Americans saw it and decided it was racist.
Here is the ad. Spot the racism if you can.

Ok, apparently it's racist because the white guy offered black people fried chicken, and it was an effective peace offering, because there is a stereotype that black people all love fried chicken.

Sorry, you didn't know about that stereotype?

See, in the USA, stereotypically speaking, black people just can't get enough of fried chicken. Apparently white Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans are quite partial to it as well, but that's not the focus of a stereotype.

So therefore to show that fried chicken is a great way to make friends with a crowd of opposing fans who are all black, is racist.

Except for a few problems. Firstly, the crowd of black people shown are not American. They are West Indian. Honestly I'm not sure about West Indians' views toward fried chicken, but I'm taking a wild guess and going to assume that they also find it quite appealing. However, there is no dominant stereotype in the West Indies about Afro-Caribbean people being crazy for the stuff. I don't have any West Indian people on hand right now to ask, but I'll hazard a guess that they won't feel offended by this ad.

Secondly, this ad is made by KFC in Australia. Most Australians have no idea about the stereotype of African Americans liking fried chicken. However, most Australian do like fried chicken. So it would be reasonable for a company that sells fried chicken to promote its product as a good one for making friends, since everyone likes fried chicken. (I don't, because I'm vegetarian, but I suspect that if I wasn't, I'd probably like it too.)

This is about something that is perfectly acceptable in one context, being taken out of context by people in another culture (ie. American) who have no idea what is being portrayed, and being judged as offensive on that basis. A similar thing also happened recently when Australian Jamie Durie, now on TV in the USA, received complaints when he referred to a group of decorated African American pilots (the Tuskegee airmen) as "boys". Now, I'm aware that the term "boy" has an unpleasant history in the States when applied to black men, but this is virtually unknown in Australia. And besides, doubtlessly Durie was referring to it in the same way I would say "I'm going to hang out with the boys tonight," or "My boys aren't doing too well right now, beaten by Manchester United last week."

The blackface controversy over Hey Hey It's Saturday's Jackson Jive sketch was frequently labelled as another example of this, but I see that a bit differently - any fool should be able to see the offensiveness in that. (You can read about that here.)

Lastly, let me add that I don't think KFC have made a particularly good ad at all. And I'm not defending it because it's Australian and I'm Australian. It just annoys me when the "racist" label is thrown around too quickly. It's like the story of the boy who cried wolf. Complain about racism too often when it is quite clearly not there, and pretty soon no one will bother to care or listen when real racism rears its ugly head.


  1. I defer to the wisdom of Dave Chappelle on this-
    "You just got to relax, you know, that racism thing is bugging you to much....
    come on buddy, its not secret here that Blacks...and chickens...are quite fond of each other..."

    On ads- it went to do some netbanking on the Commonwealth Bank site and it greeted me with the slogan "To play cricket is to dream while you're awake"...and I couldn't work out whether it was an ad for or against cricket...

    Maintain the rage...against the machine! Fight the power! Go bonobo!

  2. That's what I thought when I saw things about this too (only I didn't bother expressing it, and you've done better than I would anyway)

    It could be argued, if you listened to all those perfectly salient points and still wanted to be offended, that there is just a *touch* of the "Oh shit I'm surrounded by black people", but given that the ad would make exactly as much sense if the surrounding fans were British whiteys, I think it's probably okay.

  3. Also, fried chicken is effing delicious, and I will be the friend of anyone who shares it with me. Not KFC though, that stuff is vile.

  4. Agreed. I didn't see that ad as being racist - more like just another lame KFC ad. It was taken out of context and blown up too much. btw, your post has made me hungry for some fried chicken!

  5. One of the most frustrating things for me about blogging about racism online is that ultimately, even though I'm writing through my lens as an Asian Australian, everything seems to get filtered through a USA lens (and the assumption that everyone knows the same amount about US history). I'm actually in the middle of a comment exchange with someone from the US about this ad right now, and it's changed course as I lay out exactly what we learn about US racial politics in Australia (that is, minimal). And I'm finding it hard to believe that she is so surprised at how little we know about US racial politics, but seriously, how much do people from other countries know about Australia's racial politics?

    It's incredibly frustrating, this US lens, and I think it decreases the ability to have a dialogue about the different ways in which racism manifests itself, through different countries.

    I know there's a 'omg foreigners' reading that can be made of the ad, but I agree that it could also have been made with a white Aussie dude sitting in a crowd of white English people, to the same impact.

  6. "...everything seems to get filtered through a USA lens... It's incredibly frustrating, this US lens..."

    It's called cultural imperialism, steph. The well known French sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant have criticised this phenomenon in their work, "On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason". (Link below.)

  7. Props, Chris. Exactly what I was thinking on this topic when I heard about it. It IS different from the Hey Hey debacle, Harry Connick comment and all (the parochial braying against Connick as an American telling Aussies what to do, etc...). It's less about Australian vs US conceptions of 'blackface' (which, let's admit it, is a problematic starting point overall), and more about assuming that US cultural sensitivities are 'universal'. Am in agreement with both Peter and Steph about the narrow sociopolitical terrain of some American commentators.