The African American community is making it harder and harder for companies who continue to produce racially inappropriate products and televised content. The Internet has become the new medium in which blacks are voicing their opposition to these racially charged offenses, a movement that has proven to be somewhat effective.
A few short months ago, Burger King pulled a commercial that saw Mary J. Blige -- The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul -- standing on a table singing the ingredients of a chicken sandwich. The video went viral and was soon parodied.
Burger King was bombarded with complaints and the commercial was removed claiming "licensing issues". The fast food chain released a statement:
"We would like to apologize to Mary J. and all of her fans for airing an ad that was not final. We know how important Mary J. is to her fans, and we are currently in the process of finalizing the commercial. We hope to have the final ad on the air soon."
Mary J. Blige is just now speaking out on the backlash she received from her community, and took to the airwaves of New York to lovingly ask forgiveness:
"I want to apologize to everyone that was offended or thought that I would do something so disrespectful to our culture. I would never do anything like that purposefully. I thought I was doing something right. So forgive me."
The multi platinum star expressed concern about the negativity from the commercial, which seemed to take on a life of it's own online:
"But it just kept getting worse and worse and worse ... I went online to listen to the remix I did with Fat Joe, and all I can see is 'Burger King' and 'chicken' and 'buffoonery.' It just broke my heart...I would never just bust out singing about chicken and chicken wings."
And by now you've probably heard of the infamous "shackle shoe" almost release by Adidas, the shoe that had everyone asking, why wasn't anyone at Adidas paying attention? The JS Roundhouse Mid debuted on Adidas's Facebook page and was promptly removed when thousands expressed passionate opposition, saying the shoe resembled something an "inmate or a slave" would wear. Every major news outlet covered the story, and various civil right leaders and activists voiced their opposition through blog posts and open letters. The Reverend Jessie Jackson shared his disapproval on the Huffington Post:
"The attempt to commercialize and make popular more than 200 years of human degradation, where blacks were considered three-fifths human by our Constitution is offensive, appalling and insensitive. Removing the chains from our ankles and placing them on our shoes is no progress."
He added, "These slave shoes are odious and we as a people should be called to resent and resist them. If put into production and placed on the market, protests and pickets signs will follow. Adidas cannot make a profit at the expense of commercialized human degradation."
Post the online explosion and repeal of the show, Adidas defended the JS Roundhouse Mid as "nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott's outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery." Jeremy Scott said his inspiration was a My Pet Monster cartoon from the 90's, who wore a shoe similar to those he created. Lola Adesioye wrote in the Guardian that while Adidas was indeed at fault for lack of cultural sensitivity, the message was twofold:
"There's no doubt that Jeremy Scott, despite his assertions to the contrary, was making a statement about the enslavement of human beings. If he wasn't, he would not have used a shackle-like ankle cuff - with all of its implications. There's also no doubt that Adidas, which happily showed off the shoes online, had no issues with his idea. It seems odd that a group of presumably intelligent people would have green-lighted these trainers with no idea of the potential fallout...Beyond the immediate knee-jerk responses, though, Scott appears to have designed a pair of trainers that actually carry a deep social statement about the enslaving nature of consumerism. At the same time, Adidas has revealed a great deal about how it views its customers."
There's more. A few weeks back, a petition was filed and circulated via Change.org calling for the cancellation of VH1's Basket Ball Wives. The show is in its 5th season, but has just recently been petitioned due to the increasing violence and false stereotypes of African Americans - namely, women:
"The (Basket Ball Wives) reality series perpetuates the most vulgar stereotypes about women of color, particularly Black women...Young people across the nation tune into to the most grotesque illustrations of black femininity...cursing, fighting and destroying property. One would have to assume that the show's wild success presents a complicated problem for thoughtful, scripted and well-crafted television."
VH1 responded in kind:
"Our viewers opinions always matter a great deal to us at VH1. Lately, there has been a lot of conversation about Basketball Wives, a series featuring strong, intelligent women with very passionate viewpoints which can sometimes escalate...We at VH1 agree with ...the show producers' "no excessive physical confrontations" policy on the series moving forward...we, along with our producing partners at Shed Media, are all in agreement about moving forward with that goal."
Change.Org, also houses the petition filed for the boycott of VH1's Love & Hip Hop show , citing "hidden messages which...perpetuate dating violence, low self-esteem, mental illness, sex-trafficking, wealth disparities, classism and misogyny." The emails and mailing addresses of the show's advertisers are also included at the bottom of the petition.
So what does this all mean? Corporations and advertisers should pay close attention, not only to their target audience, but also to the history and diverse demographics of the country. While mass media exists for the purpose of enforcing stereotypes and keeping a power structure in place, it is certain that media behemoths will be continually challenged to operate with more cultural sensitivity and less imperialist nostalgia. The Internet has proven a useful tool for protesting offensive and sometimes painful imagery - quite possibly shifting the landscape of mass media and popular culture.