Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Nobody does racist like KFC

KFC claims that its ad showing a white Australian 'calming' a crowd of apparently scary West Indies cricket team fans by timidly offering them a bucket of chicken is certainly not racist, and that the criticism it has attracted is just the result of a cultural misunderstanding and misinterpretation by "a segment of people in the US".

Here's the ad:

And here's what KFC had to say:

"It is a light-hearted reference to the West Indian cricket team," the statement read.

"The ad was reproduced online in the US without KFC's permission, where we are told a culturally-based stereotype exists, leading to the incorrect assertion of racism.

"We unequivocally condemn discrimination of any type and have a proud history as one of the world's leading employers for diversity."

So the ad was not supposed to be viewed by Americans, but presumably only by racist Australians? Here's a question: was it supposed to be viewed by West Indians? Because I'm one, and I'm a cricket fan. And I'm pissed off. Hope that helps.

True, there isn't the same stereotype in the Caribbean - as there is in the US - that black people like fried chicken. But 1) the entire world and parts of Saturn are aware of the "black people like fried chicken" stereotype. You create an ad featuring groups of Black people that you're portraying as unruly and perhaps threatening (hence the white guy cowering in the middle); it doesn't matter that the people aren't wearing red, white and blue. They are Black people. That is going to offend Black Americans, and quite possibly Black people elsewhere.

2) Even in the absence of the fried chicken stereotype, that ad is offensive. Black people (Caribbean or otherwise) can apparently not be identified with, or spoken to with actual words (most of the West Indies team and their fans speak English as a first language, by the way). So they must be offered food. Cheap, unhealthy food offered by a White man in order to achieve some self-serving ends. That does not sound familiar at all.

3)Alright, so non-cricket-watching Americans don't get it. There's a rivalry, see, that has existed for decades, between the Australian and West Indies cricket teams. And here's an Aussie fan stuck in the middle of the West Indies section. However will he escape? Well, for starters, he could be shot eating some of the chicken himself. Two extra seconds of filming that may have saved KFC a lot of embarrassment. That way, the message could have been "See? Crappy fried food brings us together!" Rather than "Want to calm the natives? Offer them some heart disease chicken!" He actually utters the words "too easy" after the chicken has presumably worked its voodoo.

The overwhelming argument in support of the ad and attacking the stoopid Americans who dare to get offended is as follows: it was aired at a cricket match between Australia and the West Indies, so you won't get it because you don't get the Australian cricket culture. Well, there's another culture to consider here, which is kind of the point. And had I been at that cricket match when that ad was aired, I would have had some issues.


  1. too furious/offended to comment; will post to my blog as a way of support instead!

  2. As you say, even without the chicken, the ad is problematic, but Australians are perceived as being irreverent about most things, so maybe they can blame that. Ironically, the crowd could have had some 'white' west indians in there, after all, Australia has been the destination of choice for many...

  3. I guess I agree, but I'm not 100% sure.

    Yes, KFC being a US company must be perfectly aware of the problematic aspect of associating black people with fried chicken, but I don't agree with your assertion that the whole world must be aware of it. Why? Because its an American thing and the whole world _must_ be knowledgable of all things American? I only know it because of seeing it referred to in US movies once or twice. Granted, I'm white but back when I was at school with plenty of African-Carribbean classmates I'd never heard of that stereotype and, I suspect, neither had they.

    It bothers me that because US culture is so dominant on the globe that it somehow follows that the rest of the world then has a further obligation to learn about every detail of US domestic political issues. It's cultural imperialism on top of cultural imperialism.

    Still, the fact that it's KFC in this case makes it different because if anyone ought to be aware of this issue its them. I don't see they have any excuse for ignorance.

    Also I don't see that the crowd are depicted as 'threatening'. They appear to be all smiling and having a good time. I can't imagine it looks remotely 'threatening; to anyone familiar with certain English football crowds, say. Which to me makes the advert incomprehensible - what is the white guy in the middle worried about in the first place? What problem is he solving by handing out chicken? I guess that's what I'd find racist - the implication that he's right to feel threatened merely by the fact of being surrounded by black people, even if those people are about as non-threatening as any sports crowd I've ever seen.

    I wonder if they'd have made the advert the other way round? I wonder why they didn't? Would that be bad also?

  4. It's not the first time KFC has been racist:

    So I'm not surprised at all. Doesn't mean I'm not gritting my teeth into nubs.

  5. I'm sure the whole world and parts of Saturn knows that "Rooting" in Australia means "Having Sexual Intercourse". Thus any US Advert meant for a US audience saying "we're rooting for you" is deliberately obscene.

    And of course, an advert for "Australia's Tastiest Cheese" would not cause a stir in the US, as US residents would have no problem with a product called "COON", knowing that the word has no associations with race in Australia.

    What we have here is a cultural divide. While a minority of Australians might be aware of some cultural associations between African-Americans, Watermelons, Fried Chicken, and Okra (do I have that right? Or is it Grits, whatever they are?), it would never occur to them to associate African-Americans with people from the West Indies. Americans don't play cricket, they play rounders, or some such. Base Ball?

  6. @ Zoe Brain: You missed the most important point: that even were he offering dinner rolls or marshmallows, it would be offensive. And when the people you're referring to, i.e West Indians, tell you they're offended (no, not all of us will be as such experiences are never universal), instead of getting defensive, maybe you should just shut up and listen.


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