When something, let’s say a commercial, prompts you to mull over whether it’s racist, or not, you can safely settle on the verdict that it is. The new Snapple half-half commercial has drawn a lot of criticism and has left people debating whether it’s downright racist, or merely racially insensitive. That’s a nonessential distinction, by the bye, if ever I heard one.
The racial implications of the narrative coupled with the use of racial colour coding place the Snapple commercial firmly in the long tradition of racist discourse. As it stands, the use of colour coding to label the peoples of the world remains a prominent objectifying metaphor in the visual rhetoric of commercials – especially those that feature comestibles. In 2010 Whittaker’s made this monstrosity,
Magnum also raised a few eyebrows with this advertisement, which features Spanish actor Paz Vega in what appears to be “chocolate Blackface.” Apparently, eating “chocolate” – as a White person – makes one strike a sensual pose – among other things.
The extension of racial meaning to particular comestibles, like chocolate, mint, tea and lemon, is always a deliberate ideological process – that is culturally and historically specific. Race becomes through this ideological process a tangible/edible object that serves to enrich the epicurean experience of White people. The assertion that people (of colour) can be reduced to a superficial aesthetic and be made to represent nothing but a colour, or a flavour, perpetuates the racist ideology that informed the racial taxonomy that termed Asians yellow, the native peoples of America red, and the peoples of Africa black. It is willfully thoughtless and disrespectful to reduce a wide range of people, who happen to share an insignificant trait, to a single homogenous colour – particularly if that colour is historically linked with negative, social and cultural connotations and associations and personal traits.
What the racializing process at play in the Snapple commercial exactly means in the contemporary cultural context in the U.S. is anybody’s guess. What is abundantly clear, though, is that the narrative of the Snapple commercial highlights the ways in which race acts as an organizing principle of social relations. Whilst the two men of colour are duking it out to prove “which one of them adds the oomph to the beverage” two White dudes look down upon them; one of them states drily in answer to the question “when they’re blended so perfectly, who cares?”