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?

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