Fried Chicken, Globalization, and Good Old American Racism

So, it’s pretty easy, when you’re a Company Selling Fried Chicken (KFC) in a Racist Country (USA) to hit the racism mark when exporting that unique slice of American industrial food culture abroad.

A friend via Facebook provides some interesting context to the Aussie ad:

There’s no cultural explanation for the Korean ad, it looks pretty racist. But the Australian one requires a cultural perspective to fully understand. This is how some Aussies explained the ad to me:

A uniformed fan of a well known Aussie sports team sits in the midst of the west indies fans who’ve had a long rivalry with the Aussies -and from what I hear the appearance of the west indies fans is pretty accurate for the stands at their games (drums and everything). The uniforms are easily recognizable to Aussies and to the West Indians.

So, imagine a Ducks fan in full regalia sitting in the midst of Beavers fans at a ‘civil war’ game. Sounds like a pretty ‘awkward situation.’ Now imagine that the Beavers fans come from an area where just about everyone has dark skin…

I still wonder about that argument, “Australians, Koreans and West Indians have never subscribed to the stereotype, dismissing it as an American social phenomenon.” That smacks of BS. The only thing I’ve seen from white int’ls being removed from American brand of racist experience is more casual use of the “N” word and thoughtless subscription to really atrocious racial stereotypes.

Just because something is racially decontextualized and sent abroad where race relations differ doesn’t mean it doesn’t reinforce racism. To the contrary, it’s pretty easy to make new racists when you’re dealing with a blank slate. Programming people for racial sensitivity may be difficult, but a lot easier than deprogramming internalized racism, wrapped in so many defense mechanisms around racial privilege, etc. In other words, at least for the Koreans, by letting that ad air, they HAVE subscribed to the stereotype.

The ads seem to be an attempt to be culturally clever or sensitive. But in globalized world where KFC is based in — and trying to export another (horrible) slice of — American culture (industrial fast “food”), I’d argue that it’s KFC that is exporting US racism, which is just interpreted differently in different parts of the world. The people who see no problem with it are racially privileged people with no direct experience on the issue. These defenders of ignorance exist everywhere — at home and abroad.

This is how white washing works, after all: disembed and decontextualize the stereotype from its atrocious historical and cultural context, revise it a little, then rebrand and export as an innocuous concept. When it comes back around to the original context, you’ve now got an army of insensitive pawns of racism innocently brimming with racial stereotypes.

Another point is that racism exists EVERYWHERE. Sure, it has its unique brands (and apologists), but I would honestly be surprised if the aformentioned “team rivalry” my friend spoke of didn’t include some pretty nasty racial baggage with it. What with the global triangular trade — I mean slave trade — and all.

In other words, we got the white Aussie explanation. What do the people of West Indies think about it? Esp. given their history as slaves for white Europeans and their American descendants.

And about that, what if their opinion is, “naa, we’re cool?” Isn’t it still white responsibility to have a little racial sensitivity?


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