I'm usually skeptical of advertising. I know companies spend millions of dollars hoping that their body lotion or paper towels or lunch meat will bring me to tears.
But ads are powerful. They're a form of media where we see representations of ourselves and our society, just like on TV shows they interrupt. And it's rare to see people like me—with a black father and a white mother—represented in ads.
Earlier this year, like many other people, I heard about a Cheerios ad, "Just Checking," that featured an interracial family—a white mother, black father and their daughter—before I saw it. I was excited about it, sure, but why I was excited didn't really register until I finally did see it for myself.
Which one is uglier: Halle Berry's custody battle or the public's reaction to it? The more comments I read on the web about Berry's fight for custody of daughter, Nahla, the more I'm convinced of the latter.
Make no mistake. I'm not saying that the battle between Berry and her ex Gabriel Aubry over Nahla isn't a nasty one. After all, Berry's camp insinuated that Aubry was an unfit father. The French Canadian model has also been accused of hurling the N-word at Berry. These racial allegations have resulted in all sorts of mudslinging—with commenters on mainstream (or non-black owned websites) calling Berry vicious names, and commenters on black sites using the allegation that Aubry hurled slurs at Berry to justify why interracial relationships should be avoided.
Last year a Latina friend of mine who's unhappily single outlined what she's looking for in a mate. She wants a man who's college-educated, socially conscious, speaks Spanish and is Latino. "It's not that I'm against interracial dating or anything," she explained self-consciously. You see, I'm in an interracial relationship, and she didn't want to offend me.
Few would debate the fact that before the civil rights and women’s liberation movements percolated into mass culture, representations of black/white relationships in popular media, particularly Hollywood, were thoroughly unbalanced. Viewed in retrospect, seemingly amicable duos like Uncle Tom and Eva, Scarlett O’Hara and Mammy, and Shirley Temple and Bill Bojangles make us cringe with the obviousness of the black character’s one-way caregiving role. The minstrelization of African-Americans—alternately portrayed as countrified nurturers or urban entertainers—reveals the extent of their oppression in Hollywood. But a look at contemporary film exposes the perhaps more troubling fact that little has changed, and nowhere does this become clearer than in narratives that take on the societal ramifications of interracial romance.