I showed my children the Cheerios commercial just to see their reaction.
My daughter tends to narrate what she sees on the screen—“Aww! There’s a cute little girl. She’s eating cereal with her dad. Her mom has a baby in her belly. The little girl is getting a baby brother. She wants a puppy. Her dad says she can have a puppy. Her mom is mad at her dad for saying that.”
My son watched the entire commercial in silence. Once it was over, he said, “Yay! They are getting a puppy!” As someone actively lobbying for a cat, he is rooting for the pro-pet faction of the family—of course.
Note that neither of them mentioned that the mom and dad aren’t the same race. Did they even notice? I’m sure they did. Not noticing a person’s skin color is like not noticing they are wearing jeans, not khakis. People who claim that they don’t notice race are lying.
For children watching the Cheerios commercial, however, race just isn’t worth mentioning. For them, this commercial lacks the shock factor because they know interracial couples with biracial children.
I was born in the late 1960s. I’m a part of the post-Civil Rights Movement generation. Institutionalized segregation, sit-ins, marches, race riots, and boycotts were things of the past by the time I started school—or at least they weren’t a part of my awareness. I never heard anyone use the n-word with any regularity until I was in college. “Classy people don’t use that kind of language,” and “God loves everyone.” These are the things I was told.
Still, had that Cheerios commercial aired during the 1970s, I would have been shocked. I imagine a young me thinking, “How can that be? Her dad is black and her mom is white? How can they be a real family?” If nothing else, it would have lacked believability—for me. Because I know biracial adults now, I’m sure biracial families existed back then. I just didn’t know any.
Into my early adulthood, I didn’t have to look far to find people who were comfortable expressing views that most of us today would condemn as racist. My first post-college boss said she hated the TV show Diff’rent Strokes because “white people and black people living together under the same roof is just wrong.”
On the topic of interracial marriage, she took what she thought was a logical approach. “If a white person marries a black person, it’s like they will cease to exist because their children and grandchildren and so on will be black.” Hmmm…so if a person doesn’t have children who look just like them, they “cease to exist?” That’s a peculiar thought, isn’t it?
Despite these comments and along with her belief that it was always better to hire an unqualified white person over a qualified minority candidate, she made a point to include children of various races whenever the agency did a photo-shoot. “It looks good for us to show some diversity,” she would say. Publicity is more important than reality—I guess. Eye-roll.
She was white and from up-state New York. I only mention that she was a northerner because as a southerner, I am aware that a lot of people assume that only southerners are racist. That’s simply not true. Ignorance and intolerance are not confined to any one region of this country.
My second post-college boss was a black woman. When her only son dropped out of college and joined the Army, she was angry. When she learned that he was to be stationed in Germany, she was downright pissed—and probably frightened. Now that I’m a little older, I see that it would be scary to have your baby sent half-way around the world. I didn’t get that back then, but I was only 24. What did I know?
“It’ll give you a reason to travel,” I said trying to cheer her up.
“I’m not going over there.”
“If he meets a girl and gets married over there, you aren’t going to the wedding? You would miss your son’s wedding?” I asked this because I was only a couple of years older than her son and as with most 20-somethings, weddings were quickly becoming the center of my social life. Besides, every single American serviceman I knew came home from an overseas post with a foreign wife.
The mere suggestion that her son might get married while in Germany set her off. “He better not be bringing some blonde-haired, blue-eyed frau-line into my house and thinking I am going to accept her as his wife! Not when there are plenty of home-grown black girls, right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A!” And then, she didn’t speak to me for the next three weeks.
Her silence was awkward for me and for the other staffers whom she used to speak to me. “Mrs. ______, please tell Ms. ___________ that I said we need to resubmit our training materials in order to keep our funding.” Um, yeah, I was standing right there next to Mrs. _______. Awkward. Odd. Unprofessional.
Shortly thereafter, I left that job.
A year later, I ran into her at the mall. To my surprise, she spoke to me. Also to my surprise, I had the guts to ask her how her son was doing. She told me he was still in the Army, still in Germany. Oh, and he had gotten married. A German girl. And they had had a baby. Then, she pulled out her wallet and showed me pictures of her son, his very white wife, and their little boy. She beamed with a very obvious love. Clearly, she had gotten past her extreme objections to her son’s marriage to a white woman.
I didn’t say, “I told you so.” I’m sure that none of this was easy for her, but you put prejudice aside and love the person your son or daughter chooses because you want them to be happy. That’s the power of love.
To be fair, love is what the Cheerio commercial is selling—love, not cereal—and despite reading blogs and hearing commentary about the negative reaction consumers have had to the commercial, I haven’t seen or heard any first hand. Even when I went to YouTube and read the comments made in anonymity, I didn’t see many haters. I’m sure they are out there, but I think they are few and seemingly quiet. Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe the firestorm of bigotry is something people are looking for and hoping to see so that it can confirm all they believe to be wrong in the world.
I’m not saying that prejudice doesn’t exist. It does, but when I think about my own experiences in the 70s, 80s, and 90s versus my own children’s reaction—or really, their non-reaction to race, I do think things are getting better. I hope that is the case, anyway.
I wonder what wine goes with cereal. I am overcome with the urge to eat Cheerios for supper tonight. Seriously. I bet I can get the rest of the family to go along with that. My only hesitation is that my son will use the Os to negotiate the adoption of a cat.