Mary J. Blige and Why Stereotypes Persist

April 4, 2012  |  

A while ago, I heard a story (I forgot who told me or in what context it was told) about a parent, whose child was preparing to be in some sort of play, through one of those art-related summer camp programs.  The play was one of those tales with talking animals and the likes. Anyway, the listed characters included a sun, a tree, some other boring animals and a monkey.

Naturally, all the kids, including this parent’s child, wanted to play the monkey. Not only did the monkey have more lines but it also meant that these young children could jump around, acts crazy and makes funny noises. But to the bewilderment of the child, the mother adamantly refused her son the opportunity to play a monkey. Instead, he played the motionless sun, which only had a couple of lines.

It broke the mother’s heart to see her child reduce to tears. I mean what good mother would intentionally deprive her child of the experience to something that he really wanted to do?  However in the mother’s mind, she had very good reason, one that ranked higher than the wants and desires of her child. You see her child was black. And the play was being conducted through a summer camp, where the primary attendees were white children. The mother’s contention was that as much as she would have loved to see her child twirl around on stage, there was no way in Hell she was going to allow her child to be ridiculed because he was a black child in a monkey suit.

As trivial as it is, this is the perfect example of the psychological effects that racism has had on us a people. Without ever having to face direct racism at that moment, perceived or the anticipation of racism creates enough fear, stress and anxiety for many Black folks to constantly question if a particular action might result in being judged – at worse – not by the merit of your deeds but the color of your skin. For many Black folks, this can be debilitating and may increase the potential for one to adopt negative coping strategies including internalized racism and disassociation with anything remotely stereotypical.

I thought of that story yesterday as I began to read through all outrage over Mary J. Blige’s Burger King commercial. In the spot, which premiered this week, Blige sings soulfully about a new “crispy” chicken sandwich, which is smothered in cheese and ranch dressing and wrapped in a flour tortilla wrap. Many in the Black community called fowl (pun intended) over the commercial for depicting stereotypical images, including Renay Alize of Madame Noire, who penned an open letter to the Queen of Hip Hop Soul denouncing the commercial as buffoonery. Yesterday, the company pulled the ad, contending that music licensing issues were the source of their decision and not the criticism of the ad. Yet that hasn’t stopped folks from being outraged over the ad for what they consider to be offensive advertising.  But why is the commercial offensive?

The first time I saw the commercial I failed to see what exactly I was supposed to be mad at. This is unusual for me considering that, if you couldn’t tell by now by a number of my posts, I’m always cued into racial subtleties and nuances. I reluctantly watched the spot several more times and thought well her hairstyle kind of resembles Chanticleer the rooster from Rock A Doodle so maybe there is a correlation there. But admittedly, I’m stretching and trying to find something to be offended about.

For me, it lacked the racial overtones and references you would expect from usual lot of racist images. There were no shuffling of feet, teethy grins and or even references to Blackness in the ad.  In fact, Mary wasn’t even holding a piece of chicken. Instead, we have Mary, standing in front of a microphone, singing a stupid jingle about the ingredients in a fake soft taco. And last I checked, I don’t remember tacos being the stereotypical staple of the Black American diet. If anything, if we should be offended by anything, it is about the fact that she is singing about processed junk food and not fruits and vegetables.  But again, we weren’t mad when tons of rappers appeared in Sprite commercials or Lebron James took a big bite out of that heart attack on a bun, so why are we outraged now?

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
  • Charing, as usual, your writing is extremely spot on and takes on the issue with an informed (even historical) perspective on a cultural issue. I think it’d be interesting to see how the ad would be perceived if it were a celebrity or musician that isn’t black. I wrote on my blog – – about how this took me back to the Obama Fried Chicken business launched in China. Their ad parodied the iconic KFC logo, with Obama’s image replacing the Colonel. It puzzles me how something as simple as food can be racialized and even used to denigrate people, but it’s up to us to recognize and check it at the door when we see it. Mary did this to herself, though. 

  • Pingback: Mary J. Blige and Burger King Take Down Ad: Was It Really Racist? | Daily News Live()

  • Jbergman

    Are we really going to make an issue over this ad when it clearly shows no signs of racial offense, Here is something we should be offended about. The fact that black males are killing black males, and the NAACP along with other grandstanders remain silent . Really???????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • TekM

    Chicken is a universal food, in fact, they love fried chicken in Japan.

    Look, it’s stupid to allow people of any race to dictate what types of food you should like – Black people need to stop being so peoccupied with silly stereotypes and more concerned with serious social ills that are destroying black communities.

  • Barbadien

    can you tel me who really cares when black men talk about exterminating white people on you tube freely.
    you feel this means anything .
    listen whites were slaves long before blacks and you all are rely overdoing this junk .
    i live in a mostly black country 80 % black and we don’t care.
    big deal.who likes fried chicken .i do.

    • F3ral Anarchy

       barbadien…sorry to destroy your white were slaves before blacks.   but ummmm blacks roamed the earth and were living in civilized societies before whites even came about. 

  • F3ral Anarchy

    so black people does this mean no more chicken, watermelon, tyler perry,  jordans, moscato, cadillacs, hoodies,  bootleg movies, 50 cent chips and soda, bbqs, and oodles of noodles for the rest of our lives?

  • JewelThompson

    GUESS WHAT FOLKS…. Mary just wanted to have fun and the project didn’t turn out the way she expected it to – which happens all of the time. Please see the link below. 

  • JewelThompson

    Let’s not label Mary with the buffoon/coon references – please. Those are not words to gingerly toss around.

    • JillianXO

      I agree 10000%

  • Nitty

    I just want her to stop with the blond wigs.

  • Pingback: The Reason Behind the Reason Mary J. Blige’s Ad Was Pulled Down()

  • Advertising is tricky. Just because something isn’t overtly in your face, does not mean it is not in our subconscious. When that commercial goes off, the second after, our minds already have stored info. This means, that people ARE going to think these stereotypical things about blacks and black women. Why? Combined with deceptive advertising and societal stereotypes, we have a monster. Deny it if you choose, but I won’t. White media is built on exploitation. 

    • JillianXO

      ALL media is, not just “white” media.  Have you watched a rap video lately?

  • i didnt get a chance to see the commercial.  i do know that i too with and deal with the stereo types, real or perceived as i go through life.  many yrs ago, i had a boss that his subordinates call ‘slave driver’ long before i came on the scene…somehow, at somepoint it began to offend me and i refused to call him that.  another time, he and i were trying to play a practical joke on someone else in our dept.  we used my photo id work badge to make a copy and we were going to put someone else’s name on it.  the picture came out so damn dark that i refused to let him use it…practically only my eyes were light enough to see, all the rest…not so much lol

    fast forward til now and i work with many different cultures of people and i have noticed that they all spend time teasing eachother about their respective races.  some of it is pretty rough.  they laugh, but i know that if it was stuff said about blacks i would not like it.  it made me realize that we are more affected by racial stereotypes or issues than alot of other cultures are.

  • No Disrespect

    To me, there wasn’t anything per se racist about the ad. My problem with the ad can be summed up with a question: why did MJB have to be singing? Yes, she is a singer, but David Beckham is a soccer player and Jay Leno is a comedian. Why couldn’t she just order the chicken wrap at the counter like everyone else? Nope, she had to sing. Not only that, she had to rudely interrupt the guy ordering because she is a loud black woman and that is what we do. Oh, and she, of course, needed a cue from the manager. For me, the ad stood out more than all the others. Why do black people always have to stand-out or do more than their non-black counter-parts? Watch her ad and compare it with all the others. It is just so extra. I had a problem with the ad b/c it was corny (lol, shout-out to the 90’s) and it was a bit degrading for MJB to be singing about the ingredients in a damn chicken wrap. Really?! She is better than that. 

    • treefalls

      ” she had to rudely interrupt the guy ordering because she is a loud black woman and that is what we do.” That to me was the funniest part… LOL

    • JewelThompson

      Actually, the “manager” cued her by saying “Mary” before she started singing….

  • Jackie

    The commercial really wasn’t that serious to me. Besides, people act like just because something is a stereotype that means it’s wrong. Fried chicken is good & I’ve never met another black person who doesn’t think so…who cares? Know & be comfortable with who you are and don’t get riled up over people’s opinions, perceptions, or comments–stereotypical or not. 

  • JillianXO

    What if this said:  “In other words, it should be us, we White folks, who define and dictate our standards of White culture.”  Then what would the reaction be?

    • sweettea

      There would be no reaction since white people already do that. The white standard of beauty is apparent in mass media and white the standard of decorum is evident in all aspects of american life for instance the rules at work and how you must act in a courtroom. It’s so established that the statement doesn’t even need to be made

      • JillianXO

        I asked IF.  People would be up in arms, admit it.  If that statement was posted on a website and linked by the front page of Yahoo (as this article is), there would be hell to pay.  Plus, I don’t agree with you.  Most entertainment and lifestyle websites portray many diverse cultures/skin colors/races/nationalities, and those who read them don’t even blink an eye when Beyonce or Halle Berry is featured.  In other words, OTHER websites celebrate ALL types of beauty.  Pay attention to the world, for goodness sake.  Mass media is a diverse place, it is not white as snow, and those of us who pay attention to the world see that.   Since when has Madame Noire featured someone like Charlize Theron or Natalie Portman or Lucy Liu?  Madame Noire does NOT celebrate diversity. How dare you keep your blinders on and NOT realize that the rest of America is perfectly fine with diversity and accepting differing cultural standards of beauty.  Rules at work and in court?  What does that have to do with race?  Do your job and abide by the laws of this land.

  • Real Talk

    As a people, we need to be more aware of our image and not fall for the “get mine at any cost mentality.” There are some things you don’t do. You don’t pimp out the race for a few coins. When I was growing up I had family members and teachers (black) who instilled in me the need to be “a credit to the race.” I’m ashamed of Mary. She knows better. At least I thought she did. 

    • Carriedevil89

      To Real Talk: 
      I too grew up with the same teaching, “A credit to the race” as i’m sure other black folks did as well. I just think  why is it that black people always have to be a token, a representation, the voice for an ENTIRE community?! That’s a lot of pressure to have on one’s shoulder. I didn’ t find this commercial to be offensive. I agree with the statements above. Why must we always check what we do to assimilate? Face it, we’re here and we’re black! In black communities there’s ebonics, love of dance, we happen to like watermelon and chicken, we’re not the only ones. I’m so tired of black people feeling like they have to diminish every single thing that is culturally black just so the white folks can feel comfortable. If you wanna smack on that chicken bone and sip that kool-aid then do so. Don’t feel ashamed. They damn sure don’ t about the buffonery they constantly indulge in. i.e. Jackass.
      all i’m saying is stop trying to “spell check” black culture.

      • Liyah W

        Here’s the thing tho, other races have a specific culture like being puerto rican, indian, greek, jamaican. These are the things that create solidarity, so when s**t hits the fan, they can all protect another. That whole what really is Black stuff was just promoted to dismantle unity so we can be distracted and fight amongst ourselves. 

        I agree we shouldn’t give Whites the power to judge our worth or culture. I LOVE CHICKEN AND KOOL- AID. Im dying to move to Atlanta to be around proud Blacks, BUT as a whole we don’t have a unified front anymore. So we need to be careful about how we represent our community because we are just not there yet where we are even valued at all.

        It takes a village to raise a child, and the whole village would have smacked Mary for disgracing her momma and ignoring those painful misrepresentations of “Chicken eating C**ns”. Burger King is an international product. ON TOP OF THAT, Black women are super stereotyped for being obese and unhealthy. Come on now.

        BTW, I made healthy fried chicken for an office potluck as the only Black person. I didn’t flinch with shame not once because those people knew me personally and knew to respect me. 

        • Carriedevil89

          I agree with Liyah W and On the Fence. I definitely see and acknowledge the validity of your arguments. I understand the stereotypes and the ingrained notion of always representing the race the correct way. In a sense it does unites us. I just think that if we’re constantly taking away from us, what’s going to be left?. My question is why are we still trying to assimilate? Why is the white people’s validation so damn important to us? We don’t give ourselves enough credit. Blacks being blacks is what gave this country swag! If you don’t believe me, read Tanning of America. Truth of the matter is, we’ve been in this country as long as white folks have, toiled for them and beside them, fought for rights and etc. If they don’t accept us for who we are as a people by now then it’s just not gonna happen. My questions is: why do we still care? 

        • JewelThompson

          And why should you feel ashamed about bringing fried chicken to the office. People of all races eat it. On top of that, our ancestors fried it for their slave owners and they ate it gleefully. Nothing has changed.

      • ON THE FENCE

        I understand both sides of this argument. I think Carriedevil89’s ideas are what we WANT to do, but RealTalk’s words are our reality. They don’t feel ashamed about Jackass because they can easily not identify with it. White people gave themselves that freedom to be different; Mitt Romney, Steve-O, and a NASCAR fan don’t roll in the same circles. We, well some of us, don’t diminish for their comfort, but for ours. They see one of us, and somehow they see all of us, and it’s not fair. As someone who is proudly black but doesn’t embrace a hood lifestyle, it’s annoying beyond reason to have assumptions on sight of who I should be based on what I eat, so sometimes it’s easier to eat fried chicken in peace. 

  • Charlene Martin

    I wanted to say thank you. Stereotypes and what we perceive to be real can sometimes to more damage than what was actually intended. 

  • FromUR2UB

    “When does the boycott of KFC start?  Those grocery stores should be boycotted too for selling chicken and watermelons. What were they thinking?”  (I said, with chicken on my breath and watermelon slices in each hand).

  • Treefalls315

    I Think its funny. I didn’t like because I think MJB shouldn’t do jingles, but the commercial is funny. Can she live. she like chicken lol… Stereotype, really we will never get over that mountain if we focus on MJB liking chicken. Would it be batter if it was Grilled chicken? And That Chicken Wrap is good LOL


  • There are so many more important topics and issues that demand our outrage! This is not one.  I think the song is catchy and they keep playing it on the radio. I find this entire situation funny.  Let MJB do her.  If you’re that offended, don’t buy BK, change the channel.  Is it really this serious?  

  • BC

    Thank you for this post.  Quite frankly…..I wasn’t bothered by the commercial either.  I just hope Mary’s check cleared before they pulled plug on the commercial.  

  • I found nothing wrong either. Oh no the white man might think bad about us, because we like chicken SO lets pretend we don’t….. Give me a break

    • Guest

      I know right?. What race doesn’t like chicken though?lol

  • Don’t agree but I know why I do not agree. I just feel appalled at some who’d say there is no problem with someone of MJB’s stature…speaking all ebonically “What’s in the chicken wrap”…while the white manager says “Mary”…Like she’s the spokeswoman for CHICKEN. Ya’ll stupid as hell. Goodbye.

    • Smacks_hoes

      Quit whining…it’s not that serious

    •  Exactly. I don’t understand why so many black people on this page are so passive. Maybe it’s the media getting to them and truly succeeding in most of us no longer caring.

      • But they’re OUTRAGED over a young man being murdered due to black men being stereotyped? #Unconscious

  • seek2027

    It docent matter if its 2012 or 2068 people of other races are still going to see us a stereotypes no matter what and it’s up to black people to prove them wrong on the spot not ignoring the issue and take it as a joke I like Mary J. but this commercial just fed more into the stereotype of black people. Right is right and wrong is wrong and at the end of the day this was a bad move for her to make she could have had a different part in the commercial. So what now more and more people of other races are going to expect for the sales of chicken wraps to go up because Mary did this commercial. Under any reason should black artist play into the role of degrading our race no matter how big the check is.
    And also we need to stop giving these celebs passes all the time when they do stuff like this.

    • seek2027

      sorry typo lol hould of type it does not matter.

    • If they are ready to point the finger at us for liking chicken, then there is something wrong with them not us. Every culture for the most part eats chicken. If they use this as a scapegoat to make fun, then they probably already had racst tendencies to begin with.

      • mochaaa

        exactly. why get offended? Chicken is actual food its not like they’re saying ‘black people love their pig tails,’ its like who doesn’t like chicken. i never understood this stereotype.

        • seek2027

          See and its people like you twokayla  and Mochaa when a black person is called the N word I bet the first response that would come out of your mouth is its 2012 why get offended. It’s clear that neither one of you two have  experience racism or more than likely profiled its clearly that both of you two don’t know that back on 20,30 and 40 black people were clowned like this by white folks. Its obvious that the both of you two don’t understand that still to this day that most corporations still think that all black people gravitate to fried chicken grape soda and watermelon the both of you two need to wake up and do the research and understand the history of black people and how during all these years many corporation will try to degrade us whenever they get the chance.
          But my bad its 2012 its just a commercial what type of message could this possibly send? Both of yall grow up and read a book.  I have nothing else to say after this bye


    Very well said!!!

  • Chrys85

    You said it perfectly. No other race gives as much power to the stereotypes as we do. It’s 2012 I think it about time we change that… While publicly eatting our 2-pieces with no shame… (Lol)