More on the Representation of White Perfection

by matttbastard

professor what if has posted the final two installments of the five-part series ‘Consuming Whiteness’, which sets out to explore the all-encompassing notion “that whiteness (in food, bodies, clothing, etc) is ideal”.

Samples:

Part 4:

In literature, food and issues relating to consumption often allows characters to metaphorically ‘consume’ or integrate their cultural heritage into hybrid identities. For example, in the works of Bharati Mukherjee, characters’ struggles to integrate themselves into the cultural landscape are accompanied by changing eating practices. While some critics suggest Mukherjee is overtly celebratory in relation to issues of assimilation, I would counter that her fiction presents the way in which dominant (white) American culture figuratively consumes ‘exotic’ cultural foods (and cultural Others) in order to destroy and/or “Americanize” them.

Part 5:

While ads have begun to acknowledge that not all bodies are white, the images in advertisements still do not reflect the diversity of the US populace. Ads are still dominated by images equating whiteness with beauty and perfection (as in fashion ads, makeup ads, holiday ads, mortgage ads) and non-whiteness with bodies that are either meant to serve others (as in cleaning product ads) or bodies that need help (as with ads for medicine, hair ‘cures,’ and drug treatment centers). The analysis offered by scholars such as Susan Bordo and Jean Kilbourne that lay bare the ways in which people of color are animalized, dehumanized, and brutalized in advertisements has not translated into substantial changes in the ads we view/watch.

My thanks to the good professor for the thought-provoking series of posts.

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More on the Representation of White Perfection

by matttbastard

professor what if has posted part two of the series Consuming Whiteness, which, as noted in the first installment, sets out to explore the all-encompassing notion “that whiteness (in food, bodies, clothing, etc) is ideal”:

Despite the fact that for the majority of people of color milk is a ‘health disaster,’ the Got Milk ads, (which, for the most part, feature famous white people) set up an erroneous equation between milk consumption and health (not to mention weight loss, athletic ability, beauty, success, fame, wealth, etc). The milk moustache ads, which feature supermodels, actors, musicians, famous athletes, and politicians, imply that drinking milk is the key to opportunity, fame, and fortune. Although the ads portrayed some diversity in terms of race, class, and social background, the people of color that do appear are, ironically, often lactose intolerant. Whoopi Goldberg, for example, appears in a milk print ad- although she has to take lactose intolerance medication to consume milk.

The ads, through their continued focus on milk as a white drink, also often refer to the superiority of whiteness. While some may argue that this is a merely a marketing tactic with no racial undertones, it is problematic to ally whiteness with perfection in a country with a long, ugly past (and present) of racism. Take, for example, the milk ad featuring a young white woman with copy reading “the milk white look.” Not only is the ad equating consuming milk with ‘consuming’ this white woman (and thus sexually objectifying her), it is also claiming that ‘the milk white look’ is desirable, sexy, beautiful, etc. This message that white is better is conveyed in a number of ads. For example, in a milk moustache ad that features country singer Clint Black, the copy reads: “My favorite color? White of course”. Or, as the ad suggests, even those who are named ‘Black,’ really prefer white.

Please, go read the whole thing.

h/t Kevin

Update: Part Three is also up.

A brief sample:

This usage of the term white as something that is good, something that is so powerful it can palliate flaws or conceal crimes, reveals the high esteem ‘white’ holds in the western cultural imagination. As a color it is seen as pure, clean, refreshing. When it refers to people, the same positive associations also apply. White people are seen as ‘purely human’ and not animalized or denigrated in the way people of color are. Or, as Chris Matthews would term it, white people are ‘regular people.’ These associations between whiteness and what is better/normal certainly are readily apparent in advertising.

Again, go.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers