Beyond Black and White: Another Take on the 'Biracial' Cheerios Ad

Even As We Make Progress, Let's Not Reduce This to a Binary Argument

By Published on .

In the interest of full disclosure, I have done project work for General Mills. So I'm biased. I like Cheerios. So I'm biased. And my in-laws, nieces, nephews, step-daughter and her kid cover a spectrum of interracial and multiracial realities. So, I'm doubly biased. Just as the hate mongers, who are a small but vocal minority, are biased against Cheerios' bold biracial move into the 21st century.

It's a good thing the General Mills folks have proud and healthy hearts, because bigotry can break even the strongest of them. But bravo to the company for standing firm, and bravo to most Americans for celebrating the upside of reflecting American families as they look and live today. As already shared in Ad Age, research confirms that the Cheerios spot is scoring high on all sorts of positive impact measures.

It's important to add that being a naysayer, insofar as inter-racial or biracial casting is concerned, does not automatically equate to hate mongering. There are those, for example, who sincerely and lovingly debate the pros and cons of interracial child adoption. In fact, some states give preference to prospective adoptive parents of the same race or ethnic background of the child. Adoptions of Native American children are governed by a federal law -- the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is at the heart of the Baby Veronica case.

Could interracial casting be sweeping the nation? Hardly, but if you thought Cheerios was in a class by itself, Blockbuster (who I didn't even realize was still in business) has jumped on the inter-racial bandwagon. Interestingly, the Blockbuster ad shows us how little we know about commercial couples. The child seems more white than biracial. But so what? Even those with the fairest skin tones can in fact be African-American. Are these parents, step-parents, friends with benefits, adoptive parents? And the list of possibilities goes on. We can certainly make some assumptions, based upon body language and some scripting, but do we really know who's who and what's what for sure?

In 2010, Lexus was ahead of the curve, when they featured an interracial couple in one of their December to Remember sales ads. Lexus was greeted with some vile and violent reactions from supremacist sites that shall go nameless, as they don't deserve the publicity. At the same time, there were also more nuanced perspectives shared by in-culture consumers, who were sensitive about what the biracial casting choice might imply about both African-American males and females. They were simply a good looking couple and it was simply the right thing to do. (Or, since Lexus is a client, I could be biased.) And quite frankly, the actors could have both been Latino.

When it comes to race, there is most definitely a knee jerk reaction to categorize people of color, or people-sans-color, as either Black or White (as in African American or Anglo). The fact is that in any of the above spots, either the male or the female actor, or both, could quite easily have been Latino. Yes Virginia, there are Black and White Hispanics. There are even Asian Hispanics, who almost never get recognized, so they certainly merit a shout out too. Joana Wong, this is for you. Joana, an advertising student at Florida State University's Hispanic Center for Marketing Communications, is Panamanian. I mentor her, so I'm biased.

Multicultural to the max
Speaking of Panama, one can't help but speak of diversity. In fact, not just racial and ethnic, but fish and fowl as well. The country is set to open a Museum of Biodiversity this year. It's designed by Frank Gehry. He is married to a Panamanian. Like me, he lives in a multicultural household. Like me it's a Jewish and Panamanian-Catholic household, making it interfaith, intercultural and inter-esting. Gehry's son Alejandro recently married and can be seen here with his blushing bride and her amazing wedding dress.

Two millennials, as our industry insists on calling them, who are color-comfortable, color-confident, or color-aware.

Just please don't call them color-blind.

It's not a compliment. Removing one of our most important senses, the sense of sight, and calling that progress, is potentially as destructive as negative racial or interracial bias. Darker skin colors, regardless of whether the wearer is African, African American, West Indian, Indian, Panamanian, Brazilian or from one of hundreds of other countries, need not be ignored in the mind's eye or in real-time interactions.

Embedded in that color is culture. Embraced not erased. Isn't that really the goal? And that's heart healthy.

So thank you again Cheerios, for contributing to the dialogue one round oat-based "loop" at a time.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco is chief Hispanic marketing strategist, for Walton-Isaacson, Los Angeles, Calif. She has also served on several boards of directors including the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors, The Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies and the Los Angeles Association of Advertising Agencies.
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