retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Almost 50 years to the day from the evening when President John F. Kennedy gave a speech from the White House Oval Office in which he brought the issue of civil rights to the forefront of the American consciousness, calling it a "moral issue ... as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution," there is ugly evidence that at least some people in this country have not gotten the message.

And go figure - it is a cereal commercial that has exposed the strains of racism that still exist in a few shadowy corners of this country.

Last week, General Mills unveiled a new commercial for Cheerios on both network television and on the internet - it showed a child asking her mother if it is true that Cheerios are good for the heart, and the mother says yes. Cut to sometime later, when the child's father wakes up from a nap with what appears to be an entire box of Cheerios poured on top of his chest. (You can see the entire commercial - which is a lot cuter than this description - by clicking on the graphic at left.)

What made the commercial noteworthy to some was the fact that the mother in the ad is white, the father is black.

On sites like YouTube and Facebook, the ad brought out the worst in some people, as more than 700 comments that could generously be described as racist were posted. The good news - well over 6,000 positive comments were posted. But the ugliness of some of the comments led the company to remove them from its various feeds.

Officially, the General Mills position seems to be that it is surprised by the negative position, and that it is just trying to accurately portray in its ads the people to whom it is trying to communicate. And that includes interracial couples, the percentage of which has been growing steadily in the US.

Now, I'm willing to take General Mills at its word, but I find it a little hard to believe that when it worked with its ad agency - in this case, Saatchi & Saatchi - to cast and produce the commercial, nobody raised the question of whether the racial makeup of the couple would be an issue.

But I absolutely believe that the company wanted to market to America as it really is, as opposed to an America that no longer exists but that some people - intolerant bigots with a perverse belief in their own superiority - yearn for. And so, General Mills made a statement. Not the first company to use an interracial couple in a commercial, but obviously a noteworthy one.

Good for General Mills. This weekend, I made sure I bought a box of Cheerios. I like them anyway, but this time, I wasn't just buying breakfast. I was making a statement. Even if just to myself.

Sometimes we congratulate ourselves on how far the nation has come since 1963. But sometimes, we find out that we haven't come as far as thought. Or hoped. There remains a lot of intolerance out there. Sometimes it involves race, sometimes gender, sometimes sexual orientation ... but it remains intolerance. There is no way to rationalize any kind of bigotry.

I'm glad that General Mills, in its own way, helped to shine a spotlight on it.

It was an Eye-Opener. You can't make things better if your eyes are closed.

KC's View: