It’s a question, which has been bothering me all week: Is this KFC fried chicken commercial racist?
You can check it out below or at WorldStarHipHop. In the one-minute commercial, a black woman is leading a small black girl through the streets of Bangkok, Thailand. She drops her off at the WATBEN International School, where she is the only black girl in a school full of native Thai-speaking children. She doesn’t understand the language, nor the food, and has a hard time explaining to her classmates her own native origins of South Africa (which she points to on a map). Clearly the girl is lonely and feeling like an outcast.
Taking pity on the little black girl, one of her little Asian classmates approaches her and begins to lick her fingers, which someone pointed out to me was the KFC motto of “finger lickin’ good.” I missed it on the first viewing, however in the commercial, the little black girl’s face perks up like she knew exactly what that meant. And in the very next scene she is sitting in the middle of her new Asian friends, smiling and happily chowing down on a basket of the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices.
According to the description section of the YouTube channel, the advert, which is called “Tastes Like Home,” was created by Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg and shot for post-apartheid South African viewers. It was the first time that KFC filmed an advert for their South African market abroad (in Thailand) and it had hoped to capitalize on the emotional turmoil of home-sickness and how the “simplest things connect us and make us feel at home-like mealtimes and the universally loved taste of KFC.”
However, some folks don’t see it that way. And in certain respects, I can understand. While chicken is consumed in Africa (and so is KFC, which has been making a mark as of late on the continent thanks to Bill Gates and the continent’s surging middle class), it is not usually thought of by locals in different countries as a part of the national and cultural identities. Had she taken her to get some mieliepap, then okay, that would make sense. However, fried chicken has been used historically to stereotype black people. And this South Korean-based fried chicken restaurant commercial with a Korean man being chased by some black cannibals with bones in their noses is evidence that the “black people love fried chicken” stereotype is universally understood. So it does beg the question: Is KFC using racial stereotypes of black people’s supposed close-attachment to the bird as a way to sell fried chicken?
It should also be noted that while KFC, which is part of Yum! Brands, is a multi-national corporation, it is based in Kentucky. So it is not like this is a matter of them not knowing the cultural implications of haphazardly tying black folks to fried chicken. Likewise, this is not the first time the chain has been accused of using black folks to sell chicken in very stereotypical ways. Back in 2010, the Colonel had to remove one of its Australian annex adverts from the airwaves (or just the Internet) after it was accused of racism for showing an uncomfortable-looking white man, sitting at a cricket match, handing out pieces of fried chicken to appease a rowdy bunch of black West Indian supporters.
As many people have mentioned in my own social media network, the ad might be insensitive, however, its offense barely registers on the outrage meter. IN fact, my little brother stated that he is much more offended by the ever-popular Popeye’s Aunt Annie commercials. I somewhat agree and I suspect that more Western black audiences, particularly in the United States, might find this more offensive than continental black folks. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention those times while traveling internationally when even I longed for the fine American cuisine of a burger, fries and strawberry milkshake.
However, I’m not quite ready to give KFC, or the advertising company, a full pass. Thanks to the power of the Internet, we get to see how many of these brands have been getting away with exporting stereotypes all around this world for many years now. As a brand, KFC should be very conscious of the images and messages it puts out publicly, especially in regards to certain ethnic and racial groups, regardless if that particular audience they are catering to, at that particular moment, might find it offensive or not.
So what do folks think? Is this commercial a harmless and somewhat heartwarming testimony to the power of KFC in curing homesickness and loneliness? Or is the Colonel totally playing up long-held racial stereotypes for economic gain?