Considering Cheerios

I had the lucky experience of seeing the much-discussed Cheerios ad without the firestorm of negativity that now surrounds it.  A blogger-friend of mine, Ellie, shared the ad and simply commented on how nice it was to see a mixed family in this way.  That was it.  And when I watched the ad?  I teared up just a little, realizing how rare it still is to see a full interracial family—one that looks like mine- represented in this way.  I also thought it was a nice and subtle way to address the fact that heart disease is so prevalent among Black men, like my own husband.  And the overall message, well that was universal.  Little girl loves dad, and wants his heart to be healthy.

I like to think that the people writing hateful comments on YouTube are actually a small and loud minority…very small.  And very loud.  I wish the comments would have been blocked from the start, so that we could truly appreciate the overarching message.

In the commercial, this family’s make-up is entirely incidental.  That’s what is so special about it for me.  The little girl in it just happens to be mixed, and the commercial itself is not centered around that fact.  Maybe that casualness is exactly what people find so upsetting about it. 

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Over a year ago, I read this article on CNN, which spoke to a related issue.  In particular, this portion resonated with me:

Growing up in a house filled with books, I turned to children’s literature to explore and learn about worlds beyond my experience. Now, I turn to the classics of children’s literature for assistance in parenting my way through the basic struggles in our lives, such as feelings, friendships, sharing, courtesy, differences and loss, among others.

We look to media, and especially children’s literature, to help us explain the world to our children.  First as an educator, then as a parent, when I started to read so many of the books out there with main characters that were multiracial, or Asian, Latino, or otherwise, I noticed that many of them were about the character’s race, or an historical event.  But what about those stories in which characters just happen to be mixed?  And I don’t mean the one kid in the classroom scene!  Or happen to have two dads, or be bilingual?  Those books were and still are hard to find.  I felt compelled to help shift the paradigm and today I’m the Chief Mom for a startup called Zoobean, where we have tags like “incidental ethnicity” and the ability to search books by a main character’s background, like “multiracial,” among hundreds of other tags and filters.  

In going through this exercise of painstakingly cataloging almost 1,600 children’s books, we have found that there are more books than we thought that incidentally feature interracial kids— but not many.  And certainly this dearth of relatable books is not a reflection of the population, especially the younger generations, of this country.  

It’s for this reason that I was so excited to see the Cheerios commercial.  There are not enough incidental images like these in media.  And even though it feels silly to be saying this in 2013, it’s just the reality.  With the amount of opportunity that still exists to depict the composition of modern-day families as they actually exist, it would be a big step if we could stop talking about the hate imbued through the comments on that ad and start talking about why its important to embrace these types of universal messages in the world and media around us.