Cheerios and the Case for a More Constructive Rhetoric
Let me begin with a bit of full disclosure. I’m black. My wife is white. And we’re going to have our first child this summer. This commercial obviously hits close to home. That being said, the following post about the Cheerios commercial is, surprisingly, not going to be about race or the ensuing “shitstorm” it’s causing online. If you haven’t already heard, the commercial shows a biracial child asking her white mother a question and then the scene cuts to her black father. It’s really cute and I say that with all sincerity. Now, rather then go off about how racist and insensitive people are, I’d like to use this cultural teaching moment to discuss the proliferation of certain rhetorics of hate and disenfranchisement in American society today.
I’ve had people ask me whether or not I approve of the LGBT movement comparing themselves to the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. Most ask expecting me to be incensed that this group would have the gall to compare their struggle for marriage and equality with African Americans struggle to not get lynched or mauled by police dogs. While there is a sense in which they have a point (the two situations are not exactly the same), I think that what they miss when they put this argument forward is all the similarities these two situations actually have in common.
Historically, identity politics issues (the abolitionist movement of the 1850s and 60s, women’s rights, Civil Rights, etc.) all used each other’s methods in their own separate fights for equal rights. Some of the same women fighting to end slavery in the 1800s did so because they believed that their fight for rights for blacks in America would lead to their own ability to own property and vote.
The question then becomes, are these two identity politics issues (i.e. race and gender) exactly the same? I would argue that no, they are not exactly the same. Gender and race are different slices of the identity politics pie. And yet, both movements were able to use similar rhetoric in their fight for rights in their own separate spheres. Why?
I would argue that the process of comparing movements occurs because of th the rhetoric used by conservatives to block progress for these different identity politic groups is virtually the same, with the only difference being the group that’s being blocked in the present moment.
Here’s my example. The comment is in response to the Cheerios YouTube commercial I was referring to earlier. I’ll post the comment in its original form first. After that, I’ll edit it a bit to show the similarities in the rhetoric.
“Throughout all of human history, race-mixing and multiracial/multicultural societies have never, not even once, occurred ‘naturally’. It has always been the result of conquest, group A being forced by group B. The systematic decline of western economies has lead to lower white birth rates. Massive non-white immigration leads to loss of land, resources and opportunities for whites. Encouraging whites to race-mix leads to loss of white genetics. It’s not about one Cheerios commercial.”
Terrible. Not much to say in its defense.
Next, the anti-women’s rights edition:
“Throughout all of human history, societies that encourage gender equality have never, not even once, occurred ‘naturally’. It has always been the result of conquest, group A being forced by group B. The systematic decline of western economies has lead to lower male birth rates. Massive female appropriation of power leads to loss of land, resources and opportunities for men. Encouraging women to see themselves as equal to men leads to loss of human genetics. It’s not about one Cheerios commercial.”
Sound familiar? Probably not. It sounds like something out of a transcript of a turn of the 20th Century secret Mason’s meeting. Not something you’d hear a lot of today. Though, you could point to this as possible proof to the contrary.
On to the LGBT rights edition:
“Throughout all of human history, societies that allow homosexuality have never, not even once, occurred ‘naturally’. It has always been the result of conquest, group A being forced by group B. The systematic decline of western economies has lead to lower heterosexual birth rates. Massive homosexual population rate increases leads to loss of land, resources and opportunities for heterosexuals. Encouraging people to engage in homosexual relationships leads to loss of human genetics. It’s not about one Cheerios commercial.”
Hitting a little closer to home?
With the exception of a few sentences (namely the conquest one), this could have been typed straight off of a Fox News pundit segment or a conservative right wing pulpit in a church somewhere in United States of America.
So what’s my point?
My point is that these ways of thinking and talking (aka rhetoric) are not relegated to crazy Neo-Nazis who spend all their waking hours on nationalist message boards, trolling corporate YouTube channels. Similar rhetoric is being used here in all three of these cases. Perhaps we should start calling this kind of rhetoric what it is in all three cases (hatred, bigotry, disenfranchisement, etc.) instead of reacting with disgust to the use of this rhetoric in one situation, while propagating the same kind of rhetoric in regards to another group in another situation.
Justin Campbell is a Graduate Teaching Fellow studying Creative Writing at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Ca. He is the recipient of the 2013 Hurston/Wright Foundation Award for his novella, Sitting on the Knees of Gods. His work has been published or is forthcoming in The Conium Review, The Faircloth Review, Margins, The Wide Net Literary Magazine, and Elephant Tree Literary Magazine. He lives with his wife in Whittier, CA.