More than an Angry Black Woman: Examining the Interracial Cheerios Commercial through Black Feminist Thought
I need to offer some much needed insight into the progressive, super awesome Cheerios commercial. For those who haven’t seen it, check out the link below.
It features a child that is concerned with her dad’s heart health and puts the Cheerios as close to his heart as possible. Super cute! Now the backlash against this commercial was appalling. As a person who has grown up with a diverse family, I was disgusted at the response. My brother and cousins have dated Black women, White women, Latino women, Asian/Pacific Islander women. I think we’re only missing Native American women (Granny gives us just enough Cherokee still to cover that one). I have White cousins, biracial cousins, Asian cousins, Latino cousins, etc. They are my family. And this negative response was an attack on my family and I took it personally.
However, the negativity stemmed from a small portion of the population and we gave them power by responding to their reactions. So who was mad you ask? The negative response stemmed mostly from Black women and White men. Let’s be clear, the problem with this commercial was not because there was an interracial couple/family featured. The problem was with the type of interracial pairing and the only one that really gets people upset: the Black man with the White woman. And this is all rooted in history which is missing from the discussion.
To briefly address the issue that White men had (they are not the current focus of this blog post) – they have had to continually protect White womanhood from the Black beast. From slave days, White men thought that Black men needed to be controlled from their own impulsive desires to perform sexual acts on White women. Early drug laws stemmed from the thinking that Marijuana so excited Black men that they couldn’t help themselves and would rape White women. Black men were severely punished for desiring White women (lynching, castration, etc – think back to Emmitt Till). So much of the racist response from White men stem from this history.
Black women’s disdain (as outlined in the negative response and reactions to their response) for the Black male/White female pairing fell within these three frameworks: 1) White women have taken all the good Black men; 2) White women perform sexual functions that Black women won’t; and 3) Black women are just so angry they can’t keep a man. These are common statements that I hear even from Black women so I can’t refute that some Black women are/feel this way. But I need to add the historical component that may have led to these assumptions.
There are five historical eras that may have helped create this resentment: 1) Seneca Falls women’s movement (late 1800’s; 2) the abolitionist period (freeing the slaves); 3) women’s suffrage (voting); 4) Black civil rights movement; and 5) the women’s movement. From what I learned from Black women’s history and Black feminist thought, Black women have never been fully acknowledged as contributing members of society.
I don’t want to bore you with a history lesson, but hang with me a couple paragraphs.
Seneca Falls witnessed the earliest women’s rights movement (1848) with the construction of the Declaration of Sentiments declaring men and women equal (that didn’t go over so well). But Black women’s issues were ignored – white women suggested that gender issues were more significant than racial issues (think they forgot about slavery for a bit). But Sojourner Truth, among other women, made sure their point got across – Ain’t I a Woman? Early during the suffrage movement, Black and White women supported one another’s issues. However, they soon parted ideological ways with the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments in that they realized that Negro males were going to be afforded legal suffrage before them.
Black women began to develop their own political thought with the passage of the 15th amendment as they worked to dismantle the institution of slavery, resist sexism from Black men, and resist racially gendered sexism at the hands of their White master’s. But at the Equal rights convention, Frederick Douglas set the tone that would continue for decades and never be address. He argued that issues pertaining to race were more important than gender. Black men adopted this same approach during the civil rights movement. Douglas felt that incorporating Black women into the ‘negro’ debate would reduce chances of securing the ballot for Black men (which they still didn’t really get until 1964). But his argument was compelling giving the conditions that Black men had to endure during this time. But Black women had to endure rape, forced pregnancy, separation from their children, neglect for their own children to raise White children, etc.
The women’s movement (in the 70’s) was to be a movement for middle-class, educated, White women. Women wanted to be free from the constraints of patriarchy and wanted re-entry into the workplace. Remember, women worked during WW2 (rosie the riveter image?) but gave up those positions when men returned from the war. But again, White women were not able to articulate the racialized identities of women of color and once again ignored their issues.
This is a lot of history in a nutshell but I’m just trying to show that Black women (and other women of color) have taken a backseat to the racism from the women’s movement and sexism from their own men. I’m not excusing their behavior, but just showing that is too simple and dismissive to just chalk up Black women as angry. Their issues are more complex than any of us know.
Manifest...My Reality: Seeing the World through the eyes of the 'other'