The following ad for KFC in Australia has sparked controversy here in the US because it appears to promote a racist trope about black people’s reputed love of fried chicken:
Naturally, KFC Australia is denying any racist meaning behind the ad, and their official response is that
“The ad was reproduced online in the U.S. without KFC’s permission, where we are told a culturally-based stereotype exists, leading to the incorrect assertion of racism.”
On the one hand, I think the statement has a point in that stereotypes are culturally-based, and it could very well be that Australians are unfamiliar with the fried chicken stereotype. It’s certainly the case that (what seem to be mostly white) Australian commenters on a number of sites are largely claiming that the response to the ad is a case of American projection of our own racial hangups on another culture, and an example of our insularity and self-centeredness as a nation. I’ve been searching for responses to this ad from Australian POC, but haven’t had any luck so far.
It’s important for us to remember that race – which includes racial stereotypes – is socially constructed and means different things in different contexts. I could buy that the general Australian public may be ignorant of this particular stereotype. I have a harder time, however, believing that KFC Australia’s ad people didn’t know any better. Even apart from the problematic images of black people being assuaged by the offer of fried chicken, there’s disturbing racial subtext of having a blond white dude surrounded by black West Indians and describing the situation as “awkward.” From comments online it appears that the ad is one of a series where the same actor appeases a variety of people, including white folks, with KFC, which if true might cast the ad in a better light. Nevertheless the image of a lone white person in a crowd of black people is one that has a long and troubling history; it should be used with care if at all, and this doesn’t seem to be a case in which that happened. The company’s comments that the ad was not authorized for reproduction in the US when used as a defense also do not fill me with confidence that they were genuinely unaware that these images were potentially offensive.
It doesn’t help their case any that they apparently have no problem with invoking the very same racist trope (and a few others for good measure) in other ads produced outside the US:
Yea. Um, ok then.