“Just Checking”: a Biracial Controversy

Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, General Mills is one of the world’s largest and most successful food companies. In the 1960s, they were marketing childrens toys such as Play-Doh, Monopoly, and Nerf balls, and were associated with fictional characters like Betty Crocker, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and the Pillsbury Doughboy. Today, their main focus is on food and “Making lives around the world healthier, easier and richer.”

One of General Mills’ cereal brands, Cheerios, has taken some criticism for a fictional family they created for their commercials. The commercial takes place in the home of a family with a white mother, an African-American father, and a “mixed” daughter. The commercial starts with the daughter and mother  sitting at a table talking about how Cheerios can keep your heart healthy. After the mother tells the daughter that Cheerios are “heart healthy”, the daughter grabs the box of cereal, gives the mom a small smile, and walks into the other room. In the next scene, the father wakes up with Cheerios all over the left side of his chest and the commercial ends. Even though Cheerios has received some negative comments on the commercial,the majority of feedback received was positive and commended Cheerios for embracing and portraying the diversity of our country.

Now as cute and funny as the commercial is, some individuals did not take a liking to it. Racist comments flooded social media sites and bombarded the YouTube video. Racist comments such as “A mixed family wtf that’s gross,” “I’m never buying cheerios again” or “Wait…I’m confused. Do they want us to buy cereal or sleep with monkeys? What a disturbing commercial.” One person’s comment went as far as saying “When are hard-working white Americans gonna wake up and realize that this commercial is promoting WHITE GENOCIDE!!!! INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE IS AN ABOMINATION AND SHOULD BE STOPPED BEFORE IT DESTROYS THIS ENTIRE NATION!!!” Comments such as these are among the thousands of comments you could find under one of the videos found on YouTube. Because the video received thousands of hateful racist comments, General Mills disabled the comments on their YouTube video section. While they disabled the ability to comment, General Mills refused to take down the video which of course upset many people. Not being able to comment under the video did not stop the racist remarks. While there were thousands of hateful slurs towards the video, there were thousands more positive comments about the video.

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Many people were very appreciative of the commercial because General Mills was one of, if not the first, major companies to have a multi-racial family as the token family. “I love Cheerios for this. They are not scared” and “I love this commercial! It is about time a company started using real dynamics” were among some of the comments who commended General Mills on taking that step in using a family that is not the “typical” white suburban family. Those who are multi-racial were especially grateful. One comment reads “I think it is cute. I’m biracial and it is nice to see an interracial family in ads for once.” Many people talked about how they did not even realize that the parents were of different races and they had a mixed child. For example, some said “Am I the only person that watched this video and did not even notice the color? I just saw a family” or “I did not notice that this is controversial and somehow ”racist” until i read the comment section. Thats youtube people!” Some people even went as far as making an actual video response such as YouTube sensation The Fine Bros, who are famous for their “kids react to” videos. They dedicated one of their videos to the response of children while they watch the commercial. They first had children, age ranged from 7 to 13, watch the commercial. They then asked them what they all thought about it. The children all overlooked the fact that the parents were of different races and that the child was mixed. When the directors told them about the controversy over the video, they all reacted the same way: confused. They wondered why someone could think that way about interracial relationships in this day and age. Dylan, age 11, talked about how people should not be upset because it is “their path” and spoke briefly on how people think their race is better. According to today.com, Camille Gibson, who is the VP marketing for General Mills stated, “Ultimately we were trying to portray an American family, and there are lots of multicultural families in America today.”

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Although our argument is trying to embrace the positivty received from this commercial we must first show ways in which colorblindness was used to racially slur this commercial or biracial families. Another idea we discussed in class regarding racism refers to the idea of systemic racism. Systemic racism is the way that racism is embedded in our societal systems such as school, churches, families, businesses, and governments. Systemic racism relates to this biracial cheerios commercial as well. For instance, some may wonder how certain individuals could write hateful or racists’ comments about an innocent cheerios commercial. However, depending how a person was raised this could influence their views regarding race and society. Unfortunately, we are not always able to control ways that racism is embedded into our society.For example, if someone is brought up with certain views and these views are implanted into them, then their whole life this is going to influence their ways of thinking. This could be the case for the backlash of the Cheerios commercial. Some people may have been brought up to believe that interracial marriage or creating interracial families is wrong therefore, they were offended by this commercial.  The idea of systemic racism could be a reason as to why certain Americans did not agree with the same idea that Cheerios had. Nevertheless, systemic racism should not be a justification for certain individuals to write racist comments on a public forum.

This cheerios commercial relates to some of the frames of colorblindness we discussed in class from the Bonilla-Silva reading. One frame included the minimization of racism which occurs when whites argue that racism is not an issue today. Presently, some individuals would believe that there are not cases of racism or it does not exist today like it did in the past. However this cheerios commercial, that showcases a biracial family, is an example of how racism still exists today. After the commercial aired, there were several racists’ comments written on YouTube and it received huge attention from the media. Some comments included criticism of a black man being married to a white woman and racial slurs. YouTube closed the comments sections so that these offensive comments could not be viewed. Clearly, there was backlash from some Americans who disagreed with the commercial. This commercial proves how minimization of racism is still prevalent in our society. We might not see it in our everyday lives but it could take a national commercial to spark controversy. As a society, we should use this example as a wake-up call that racism is still alive and continue to try and eliminate it.

As we discussed in class “Naturalization refers to the way that some whites will justify segregation using the idea that races are naturally drawn to one another, as if people want to live with their own”.  The concept of naturalization is of utmost importance when trying to analyze this commercial because General Mills does not buy this assumption.  It is important to realize that General Mills became such a high grossing company because they had a good product and even more importantly they had good advertisement.  Companies, like General Mills, pay big time dollars to make sure that there ads catch the attention of the individuals watching them. If naturalization was a huge problem in the United States today, advertisers would not have made a commercial using a biracial family. The fact of the matter is that most Americans do not believe the assumption that whites should only live with whites. In today’s day and age this assumption is held with the minority, not the majority.  If this commercial were to air 20 years ago this may have been a much bigger deal however we have shown that the support for General Mills is much higher than the criticism it received.  We live in the land of freedom and because of that every person entitled to their own opinion. To say that racism will one day be diminished is absurd.  There will always be someone out there who does not believe races should be mixed.  General Mills decided that America to them consisted of racially diverse people living in harmony and they expressed that view through this commercial.

Despite all the media attention and comments about this Cheerios commercial,General Mills decided to bring the family back for a second commercial. This commercial aired for the first time during the halftime of the 2014 Super Bowl, the largest viewed event ever. In this commercial, it shows the little girl Gracie sitting at the kitchen table with her father. He explains to her that he and her mother are expecting a baby and she is going to have a little brother soon. Since they are going to have a new member of the family, Gracie asks if she can have a dog to make it fair. Her father smiles and makes a deal that the family can get a dog as well. Even though the first commercial received negative comments and criticism, the ad gained 74,000 likes on YouTube as opposed to only 3,000 dislikes. The first commercial also increased General Mills sales because they received huge support from people for showing how American families are blending. General Mills recognized the positive feedback and decided it would be cute and clever to extend the commercial and the fictional family. Some people argued that General Mills was just using race and the commercial as a way to increase sales for their cereal brand. They also said that this was a way to use race as explotation. However, they explained that it was not true and that the second commercial represents moments that several American families experience during their life. Hence, getting a dog and expecting a baby. It is important to point out that General Mills created a second video. They were not going to let a few racists’ comments and criticism keep them from creating another commercial with the same family. This demonstrated that showing America as a melting pot is important to them and they stick to what they believe is right. Overall, the first and second commercial received positive feedback from Americans and allowed social media users to express their appreciation for the commercial.

This blogs sole purpose was to shine light on a topic that typically is very dark.  Racism is and will forever be a problem not only in this country but around the world.  Through the cheerios commercial we were able to see a community of Americans stand up to racist beliefs and racist comments.  Are goal was not to point out how this commercial sparked racial posts throughout social media but to embrace the people who responded with praise to General Mills for grasping the opportunity to be different.  In order for us to highlight the good that came from this commercial we had to highlight some major problems still affecting this country today including frames of color blindness; systemic racism and the minimization of racism.  By looking at the bads we were able to analyze how the concept of naturalization is declining. Most importantly we looked at General Mills’ decision to make a second commercial using the same biracial family that first sparked a controversy.  This decision allowed us to make the argument that this commercial received more positive feedback than negative.  We are faced with negativity towards racism daily and the goal of our blog is to show that sometimes positive messages can overcome negative responses.

References

Bonilla- Silva, Eduardo. “Racism without Racists.” The Central Frames of Colorblind- Racism

(2010): 3rd edition. PDF file.

Coleman, Ashley. “They’re Back! Biracial Cheerios Commercial Returns for Cereal’s First Super Bowl Ad in Six Years.” MailOnline. 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.

“Company History.” General Mills: HIstory. General Mills Inc., n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.

Nudd, Tim. “Cheerios Brings Back It’s Famous Interracial Family for the Super Bowl.”AdWeek.      29 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.

Stump, Scott. “Cheerios Ad with Mixed-race Family Draws Racist Responses .” TODAY. Today News, 3 June 2013. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

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