We Have to Ease Up On The ‘R’ Word

April 9, 2012  |  

Scrolling the MSN homepage this weekend, I came across a teaser that read something like “racist BK ad pulled.” I stopped and thought, I know they are not referring to Mary J. Blige’s chicken commercial controversy, and sure enough they were. I can think of several “r” words to describe Mary’s chicken wrap advertisement, like ratchet or ridiculous, but racist would not be one of them. And since we know white folks only use the “r” word when someone else puts it in their head, we have to take responsibility for the monster we’ve created when it comes to this ad spot and all the other non-mothereffin’ racial factors we’ve made a fuss over.

I first realized we had an issue with being too quick to deem things racist sometime last year when that silly planking craze reached it’s peak. From somewhere beneath the ashes of a pimped out ride, Xzibit resurrected himself to say the Internet photo craze was racist because it reminded him of how slaves were transported in ships across the middle passage. Reading quotes from that man on the topic, all I could think was, no this negro didn’t. He was so past the point of no return with that comment that all I could do was pray it would die as quickly as his career, and for the most part it did.

That hasn’t stopped black people from highlighting a slew of other incidents that, though they may raise brows, cause a few side-eyes, and make you think twice because they deal with black people and are a bit touchy, are not actually racist. Controversial and racist are not interchangeable words, no more than stereotypical and racist are. I believe the Mary J. Blige situation is the latest glaring example of that. I don’t doubt that Burger King execs were intentional in their use of a black hip-hop soul singer like Mary to sing in their advertisement because, like McDonald’s, they think you can only get through to black people by singing an R&B jingle about chicken. Is it stereotypical? Yes. Racist? No.

The thing is, there are enough examples of actual racism that we don’t have to exaggerate examples that aren’t. Burger King’s commercial was a fail for a zillion reasons—most of which reflect on Mary’s career as a singer, not necessarily the black community as a whole. She signed up for that foolishness, if you want answers from anybody it should be her. She wasn’t sleep when they filmed that dream sequence, no one snuck a racist agenda in on her. She said the words, she sang the song, she thought it was OK, she was irresponsible. If we wouldn’t consider her a racist, the ad execs aren’t either.

The major problem with throwing the “r” word around so causally is when there is an actual incident of racism, we won’t be taken seriously. Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? That’s essentially what we’re dealing with now. When we point out obvious and indisputable examples of racism, the understanding response it should warrant is usually replaced with an attitude of “there they go crying racism again,” because it’s happening too often. Not that racist things don’t happen everyday, but it’s almost like you some people wake up waiting to make something a racial issue that isn’t. And then we look at situations like the one involving Trayvon Martin where the racism involved should be obvious, people still have their doubts. Then we go and put a chicken commercial on that same level? We have to know the difference and put our energy into efforts that count.

Instances of racism should never be swept under the rug but everything controversial that involves black people is not racist. If we don’t figure out how to distinguish between the two our concerns are just going to keep getting overlooked and dismissed as bogus and outlandish rather than inciting people to corrective action. Remember being taught to choose your battles? That’s something we have to do when it comes to non-racist, stereotypical behaviors or else it will all get thrown in the junk pile and no one will hear the real cries.

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • Tapelo Ankhamen

    In a world controlled by Racist White Supremist… how would you know what is Racist and what is not? What discipline do you have in place to discern Racism, what it is, and how it works?  Racism is in Economics, Entertainment, Education, Labor, law, Politics, Religion, Sex, and War. Can U really say without a doubt what racism is?

  • I have so many issues with this article. 1. The idea that we have to play “the race card” sparingly and have a collective meeting to discuss whether a particular action is racist is absurd and counterproductive. 2. Our individual and collective experiences have determined whether (or not) we perceive actions as racist, and one person’s claim of racism shouldn’t be invalidated or discounted because you (or I) don’t necessarily agree. 3. Black people have internalized racism because we live in a racist society, so you’re effectively saying that Black people can’t act in ways that stand in solidarity with racism. It’s patently false. Mary J Blige shucking and jiving for chicken is racist because it is historically linked with caricaturized imagery. Much like the Popeye’s chicken lady, Annie, is racist because she references the Mammie caricature/trope.

    I think instead of trying to determine if something is racist through some some collective process, we should try to understand why certain acts are perceived as racist to members of our community, and stand in solidarity with them. My philosophy is that if one person thinks it’s racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist/classist, then it is. I shouldn’t try to disprove them because their lens has been colored by experiences that validate their feelings.

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  • This idea of separating “racism” from “stereotyping” is worth a think.  The same could be applied to sexism, homophobia, ageism, vs stereotyping, no?  I enjoyed the article.

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  • Smacks_hoes

    Thank gosh someone said

  • MixedUpInVegas

    :::sigh!::: I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks we overplay this hand.  The least thing seems to get people all fired up and who comes riding in on their high horse to make a bad situation worse?  Rev. Jesse and Rev. Al, who really don’t even know the details half the time.  They use any situation to elevate their own media profiles and do little to solve anything ever.

    Saving our outrage for the most egregious offenses only makes sense.  It is by raising our fellow citizens consciousness to true racism that we make future demonstrations thereof unseemly and less likely.

  • Tajy

    Um… Does ne1 remember that this is the same sight that also said Mary was acting coonish and other racial slurs, and wanted the ad pulled? Mmm y the change of heart now? Just makes u think

    • Landie

      Different people write the articles. That’s why there’s different opinions. And the word is “site” not “sight”.

  • guest510

    I thought the same thing when Tyler Perry said being pulled over after making an illegal turn was racially motivated. Um sir, you made an ILLEGAL turn! What did you expect? You have no defense and trying to convince people it was a racist move is not working.

  • HunnyBunches

    COSIGN to the ABSOLUTE FULLEST!!!! Not everything is about race…  That MJB commercial was out of control because its not for someone of her caliber to be doing… That’s more of a D-list celebrities’ job

  • Am i the only 1 who thought of re***d when i read the r-word?

    • Kenedy

      Probably, cause I have no clue what goes in between the “e” & “d”. Lol

      • Rachael

        LOL. I with you. I have no idea what goes between the e and d either. 

    • LiliMae

      Nope, I thought the same thing until I read the article.

  • Could have sworn you had a similar article. But anyways, the race card should only be pulled out when actually needed. Pulling it out too often will have other races giving us the side eye, 

  • Ladybug94

    Thank you for this article.  This is what I have been thinking for a while.  Everything is not racial.

  • Sabrina