Friday, August 04, 2006

Overweight, sassy black woman thrives in advertisements

The following article is from the Mixed Media Watch:

Overweight, sassy black woman thrives in advertisements
CVK- Mixed Media Watch

I gotta give props to The New York Times for tackling a subject we discuss a lot on this blog and on our podcast, Addicted to Race. Check out, for example, the rant I did in episode 8 where I counted down the top 8 most racist stereotypes of black men and women perpetuated by the media.

The article discusses the fact that the archetype of the loud, sassy, overweight black woman continues to pop up time after time, especially in advertising. The latest example is a Dairy Queen commercial (I haven’t seen this yet - anyone want to weigh in?) in which one of these black women freaks out after someone accidentally drops luggage on her head.

I’m shocked — shocked! — that Dairy Queen, inventor of the oh-so-cleverly-titled MooLatte (coffee + milk = brown + white, get it?) would be capable of racial insensitivity. Their ad agency, Grey Worldwide, of course claims that the writing and casting process was colorblind:

…the script was not written with a black actress in mind.

“We basically cast the funniest person,” he said. “We didn’t specifically cast for a black woman. We said, ‘Wow, she’s really funny.’ And she happened to be black.”

Uh huh. If the “I can’t be racist, I’m in an interracial relationship!” excuse was the top trend of 2005, then the emerging top trend of 2006 must be using “colorblind” casting as a way to sidestep accusations of racism. We’ve already seen David Crane, producer of the new CBS show “The Class” defend his all-white cast by claiming that they used a colorblind casting process and that the final cast just happened to be the best actors, regardless of color. As I told MacLean’s magazine, I don’t think there is such a thing as “colorblind casting.” All these casting decisions are very, very deliberate. More after the jump…

The NYT article lists other recent commercials that rely on the big, sassy black woman archetype: Pine Sol, Captain Morgan, Twix, Universal Studios, etc. It also does a good job of pointing out that these images are particularly disturbing because for the most part, they are created for white people by white people:

The lack of diversity on Madison Avenue has been a long-standing issue. In fact, the New York City Commission on Human Rights is investigating the hiring practices of advertising agencies in the city and is looking at how they have approached employing blacks…

Ms. Gumbinner and Mr. Cusato of Grey Advertising, however, said no black writers were involved in either of their campaigns.

And because that’s the case, it’s important to look at why people are laughing. Are they laughing with the image or at the image?

Some whites, Ms. Dates said, may laugh thinking, “Wow, she’s so ridiculous. My people aren’t like that.” She added: “They wouldn’t consciously feel that way. But there is something going on subconsciously because that’s what advertising is all about. They’re trying to tap into some feeling, some emotion, some psychological hang-up.”

Blacks, meanwhile, might laugh because they can identify with the character, Ms. Dates said. “It’s for both the people who want to snicker and say, ‘See, that’s how they are.’ And for people to say, ‘There’s one of us.’ ”

As I discussed in episode 21 of Addicted to Race, this issue — who is laughing at racial humor/satire and why are they laughing — is exactly why shows like The Boondocks and The Chappelle Show make me uncomfortable. Of course, Chappelle himself became uncomfortable with this as well and it’s one of the reasons he was driven to walk away from the show. Don’t these types of representations simply give people permission to laugh at and enjoy racist stereotypes?

Check out what other bloggers are saying about this story.

TheThink makes an interesting point about the vague headline NYT chose for the article:

I find it odd that the Times, a U.S. based company, wouldn’t use the word ‘black’ in this title, but an international newspaper, with publishing partnerships in Israel, Greece, South Korea, Japan, Lebanon, Thailand, and Spain (to name a few), would have no problem using the phrase ‘big black women’. Interesting, to say the least.

Shavar Jeffries, writing for, says:

Media is the principal contemporary means through which society transmits cultural norms. Mass media is especially salient on racial matters: because of continued residential segregation, the country comes to know itself, cross-racially, through media. One’s values; one’s political beliefs; one’s family structure: media signals provide cues for us all, cues that concretize into caricatures the longer we live with them.

Ann sums it up in her post:

“What do you think about the white man who is repeatedly stealing the guys frosty oh so good drink ? (the white man is sneaky and steals, and has not self control?)

I would think that all white men are thieves by nature.

For all my life I thought that white men were natural-born rapist because of the racist treatment they dealt out to black women by singling out and targeting black women for rape.

Not white women.

Not Native American women.

Not Latino women.

Not Asian women.

Black women.

I thought this way about white men up to only a few years ago, but, then can you blame me?

America popular culture is rife with stereotypes of black women. Either we are fat, sassy women or the oversexed jezebels. Examples: Bringing Down the House, Monster's Ball, Soul Plane, and the more recent movie, Prairie Home Companion. Remember Maxim's use of caption in describing Persia White? When do we ever get any kind of relief from the haterades in pop culture? Ever? Never? Now? When?

Thanks Carmen V.K. of Mixed Media Watch for being aware and tackling vicious stereotyping black women go through day in and day out.


clarafiedwords said...

Some time ago I remember reading an article about the importance of surrounding black children with black characters on consumer goods--everything from diapers to toys; but this also made me think of that woman that does the Pinesol commercial. Often the dilema is if we're not cast in stereotypical roles, we're not used at all.

LavaLady said...

I believe they looked at a variety of women, but when it comes down to it, it would strike them (and the majority of people watching it, I'd bet) as *wrong* if a smaller (or whiter) woman got hit on the head, repeatedly (by a man no less).

The big black sassy woman stereotype reflects the idea that [big sassy] black women are tough-as-nails. That big sassy black woman can 'take it' when that luggage falls on her head time and again.

I can't get the words out right, but I'm reminded of Sojourner Truth - "Ain't I a woman?", the black woman is female, but not seen as quite the woman a white woman is.

The sister to that big sassy black woman is the (usually little) fiesty hispanic woman with the big mouth (think Rosie Perez "Do the Right Thing").

LavaLady said...
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