By guest blogger P. Hemphill
Like most, I boast a certain critical, literate eye for advertising—or, at the very least, it’s hard to surprise me. It’s rare that I find myself shocked at the depths corporations will go to appeal to our lowest common denominators and our collective fears, and to co-opt our cultural aspirations. McDonald’s recently unveiled a promotional project, much more targeted and explicit than your run-of-the mill ad campaign. 365Black is McDonald’s push to further embed itself in the Black community (as if multiple franchises in every ’hood were not enough). With the trademarked phrase, “deeply rooted in the community,” McDonald’s has partnered with so-called Black cultural institutions, such as Essence, BET, and Vibe to create “job and scholarship opportunities” in exchange, one can assume, for deeper access to our demographic and a concerted effort to shift its image in our community. 365Black’s promotional pieces are peppered with several Black upper-level McDonald’s execs touting the corporation’s “diversity goals” and community initiatives. Targeted commercials have been designed especially for 365Black—one of which features young black professional types opting for McDonald’s McSkillet burritos over a home-cooked meal (though as of this posting, that ad isn’t up anymore).
Perhaps it should be noted here that heart disease remains the number-one killer of Black people. Or that Black communities disproportionately suffer from diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, and the rest. Recent and emerging scholarship is beginning to connect the dots between fast food consumption in Black communities, the lack of healthy food options, and these discouraging health statistics. Community leaders and food activists emerging from social justice sectors are making strong inroads in addressing these conditions: from developing innovative mobile groceries and cultivating community gardens, to reinventing cultural foods with an eye for health and cost. A hopeful push out of this health mess is happening and no doubt has Mickey D’s feeling a slip on their hold over the Black community, a community they’ve likely taken somewhat for granted.
Racial and culturally focused advertising is not a new phenomenon. Proctor and Gamble launched their “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign in 2007 to, in their words, “celebrate the beauty of every African-American woman” and in my words, to promote cosmetics. And though McDonald’s isn’t doing anything unheard of in a marketing sense, the health implications to the Black community are dangerous. Cultural and corporate lines are being intentionally blurred for deeper entrenchment, the least of the concerns the actual health of Black communities. Knowing that some will hype the funneling of funds into job and scholarship programs, it invites the question: Is it enough for our communities to receive a proverbial piece of the McDonald’s philanthropic pie at the expense of our collective and individual health? I think not.
P. Hemphill currently works as the Development Strategist at the Center For Media Justice and is a board member of the Freedom Archives. He writes also for The Abolitionist, a project of Critical Resistance, on issues of political imprisonment in the U.S. He is a self-described gentle gym head who thinks often about the relationship between alienation and health.