Here we go again, with more proof, if anyone needed it, that the post-racial American society some hoped the election of an African American president signified is far from here.
Who would have thought that breakfast cereal would trigger the latest racial battle line? In this case, a Cheerios ad much like every other homespun Cheerios ad — with a heart healthy message and loving family – ran into trouble from some commenters because of the kind of family it featured. Mom is white, dad is black and their cute little daughter is a mix of the both of them.
Cheerios had to disable comments on YouTube – I’m not going to repeat them but you can imagine the general witless racism with stereotypes about minorities and warnings of race-mixing as the end of civilization. Late Friday night, after a day of widespread news coverage, the ad had more than 8,400 thumbs-up votes on YouTube, versus about 900 thumbs-down.
I didn’t take any of it personally, though my family’s morning breakfast ritual – black mom, white dad, son who is a mix of both of us – looks a lot like the ad if you subtract the general cheeriness before we get that first cup of coffee down.
The point is, it’s no big deal. Richard and Mildred Loving didn’t intend to start a legal case that made to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 struck down the bans against interracial marriage that still stood in 16 states. The white man and black woman from Virginia just wanted to get married and raise their family in their Virginia home.
The parents of Barack Obama married in one of the states where it was legal – that’s Hawaii, not Kenya – and his extended family portrait reflects the world.
The 2010 U.S. Census showed interracial or inter-ethnic opposite-sex married couple households grew by 28 percent over the decade, from 7 percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2010. But feelings don’t always follow the law or the reality of the lives people now live. When a no-longer-enforced state law was placed on the ballot in South Carolina in 1998, 30 percent still favored the ban while 62 percent voted to get rid of it.
The holdouts have to realize that the numbers are hardly going to start moving in the other direction in our increasingly diverse society.
For its part, Cheerios has said the ad stands. Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios, told Gawker, “Consumers have responded positively to our new Cheerios ad. At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families and we celebrate them all.”
In making this ad, Cheerios is just reflecting the new reality, and might be gaining themselves many more customers than those inclined to punish them – if those folks even ate the cereal to begin with. Just as young people today think living in an America with a black first family in the White House is simply the way it is, children who see a family like their own on TV will hardly give the ad a second glance.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3