‘Biracial is Bad’: How KRAFT’s MilkBites Campaign Perpetuates Stereotypes & White Supremacy

kraft milkbite mel Biracial is Bad: How KRAFTs MilkBites Campaign Perpetuates Stereotypes & White Supremacy society multiracial parenting  multiracial / mixed Kraft Milkbite

‘Biracial is Bad’: How KRAFT’s MilkBites Campaign Perpetuates Stereotypes & White Supremacy

I truly can’t believe that I have to write what I’m about to write. Via a Sociological Images post by Bradley Koch, I found out about a KRAFT campaign for their new MilkBites, a snack that is “part milk, part granola.”

The campaign uses an anthropomorphized version of the MilkBite, a little male MilkBite named Mel. The series of commercials, which appear to be both TV spots and online-only “diary” entries to better introduce Mel, set him up as a confused character who “has issues.” Here’s his introduction.

His very first line, as he looks in the mirror is, “Who are you? What am I?” It’s followed by an introspective, “Maybe you’re nothing,” as he sits alone on a park bench. He tries to convince himself that’s not true: “I’m valuable.” But that positive assertion is immediately undercut when he is ignored by a waitress as he tries to get a refill. “Mel has issues” pops up on the screen, and then he’s back in front of the mirror. “Are you milk? Are you granola? What are you?” he asks himself. There’s a shot of him sitting on a couch and looking at a bowl of granola and a glass of milk (his parents, we’ll find out in a future commercial), then he’s back at the mirror. “I don’t know.”

The campaign is clearly setting Mel up as a biracial character, and its using that biracialism as a source of anxiety and confusion. As Koch writes:

“The problem with a marketing campaign like this is that it trivializes the experience of people with multiple racial/ethnic identities who are still often met with derision and confusion. The first ad above perpetuates the self-fulfilling prophecy about “confused” identities. As a child, I remember family members telling me that they didn’t have a problem with interracial couples but worried about how others might react to their children.”

I completely agree that those are problematic aspects that are blatantly present in this campaign, but I’m also going to go one further. Not only does KRAFT use the construction of a biracial identity (of which there aren’t really a lot of pop culture displays to begin with) in a way that perpetuates stereotypes about “confused” identities and the tragic mulatto myth, but–upon a closer examination of the commercials–I also think they’re using that trope to perpetuate a narrative of white supremacy.

I know that sounds extreme. I know I sound like one of those people who overanalyzes things with my own agenda firmly in place and then stretches them to my will. But I truly didn’t seek this out. Really. Take a look at these.

EXCERPTS FROM KRAFT’S MILKBITES CAMPAIGN

Mel Confronts His Parents for What They’ve Done to Him

Mel is upset with his parents. “You didn’t think, did you? You didn’t think what life was going to be like for me. Mom? Dad? For your son.” Deep sigh. Disappointment. Frustration. Anger. How could Mel’s parents do this to him? Mix races and create a conflicted, identity-less monstrosity?

Even more frustrating is what comes after the voiceover about the product–”a snack like nothing else.” Mel appears again, forlorn and lonely. “Find me in the dairy aisle.” Pause. “Please,” a weak and desperate plea.

First, the announcer’s claim that Mel is “like nothing else” negates any similarity that he has to either of his parents, a parallel that suggests individuals of multiple races have no connection to any of the cultural pieces that make up their heritage–a preposterous and insulting claim, in my opinion.

Then, Mel’s plea to “find him in the dairy aisle” can be read as a plea to identify him as white. After all, the “dairy” part of his heritage is the “milk,” the white parent. In this way, Mel could be asking for people to allow him to “pass” in a way that suggests he sees the white part of his identity as superior.

Think I’m reading too much into that? Well then you clearly haven’t seen this next commercial.

Mel Erases His “Granola” Heritage to Get Dates

Here, Mel’s on a blind date with a conventionally attractive white woman. She cuts him off mid-sentence to say “I just have a question. Your profile said you were milk?” He affirms. Then she says, “You just look like granola.” Mel says, “I get that a lot.” He doesn’t admit that he actually is part granola, and he immediately decides “this was a mistake.” The woman tries to stop him as he walks off. “No wait. Please don’t go. I’m . . . I’m kind of into it!”

Her assertion that she’s “kind of into it” is exoticism. She’s shocked to find herself sitting in front of someone who doesn’t read as “milk” (white), but now that he’s in front of her, she sees him as an opportunity to explore an “exotic” date. This is a problem that many people of color face when they’re dating, and a problem that Suheir Hammad captures beautifully in this poem, “Not Your Erotic, Not Your Exotic“:

Mel’s Dating Reveals More White Preferences

This video in the “diary” series–which begins with the tagline, “I’m milk, I’m granola, but mostly I’m confused”–and Mel introduces himself to potential dates. Eventually he lays out his preferences. His “one big thing” is “blonde hair.” He then corrects himself with “or brunette.” The he lays out a hierarchy of hair color, “blonde, brunette, strawberry blonde, redhead.” By privileging “blonde” above all else, Mel once again demonstrates his preference for white.

Mel’s self loathing turns outward in one of the “diary” videos (probably the most bizarre of the series), Mel uses a spork to go on a rant about miscegenation that echoes a lot of disturbing themes about race purity.

Mel introduces us to his friend Spork and shares that they’re similar because they’re both “two things.” He starts by listing Spork’s positive attributes, including his uniqueness. But then he says, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this.” He then goes on a long rant about how the Spork is totally unnecessary and a recent “invention.” He says there were two “perfectly good utensils” a “fork and a spoon” and that there’s no need for a Spork who’s “only in fast food restaurants.” He sadly says “I don’t get you” and then says “I don’t get me.” Though he eventually apologizes for putting his own insecurities off on Spork, his rant is pretty revealing.

First Mel rejects calls for diversity appreciation by saying that he “can’t do this” after giving lip service to Spork’s “individuality.” By talking about how there were two “perfectly good utensils,” Mel calls up “separate but equal” ideology that maintains that it’s not racist to insist that the bloodlines stay “pure” (a ridiculous narrative that’s actually meaningless as race is a cultural–not biological–construction). He then falls back into the now familiar trope of the tragic mulatto, claiming that his biracialism has left him unable to fit into any group. “They’re gonna say you’re not a fork, you’re not a spoon,” he warns Spork. He’s trying to convince himself that he has an identity, but the commercial ends with little hope.

BOTTOM LINE

These commercials outrage me. As the mother of a biracial daughter and a white woman married to a black man, I am frustrated with narratives that suggest people who “mix” are irresponsible and unconcerned with their children’s well-being. But even more than that, I am absolutely sick and tired of white supremacy narratives cropping up everywhere. This is a commercial for a breakfast snack, for crying out loud! Do we really have to racialize that?!

This is not to say that I don’t think race should be portrayed in pop culture. I am not of the “colorblind” camp. Of course race is an issue, and it would be ridiculous to pretend that it’s not. But part of the reason race is an issue is because of campaigns like this one, campaigns that perpetuate stereotypes and marginalize people who don’t neatly fit into preconceived categories.

I think it is immensely important that we call this type of narrative out when we see it. I know that people are going to say it’s “just” a commercial, but that’s how stereotypes work. There’s no one, big, overarching thing that we can destroy to fix racism. Racism is an insidious presence that entangles us through multiple avenues, many of which are subtle and easy to overlook. This KRAFT campaign is an example of that, and I think we have a responsibility as ethical consumers to be conscious of that.

Boycott KRAFT

I find this campaign unacceptable. It perpetuates damaging stereotypes about multiracial people and a narrative of white supremacy. I will not be buying any KRAFT products as long as this campaign continues. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

READ MY FOLLOW UP POST ABOUT THE KRAFT MILKBITES CAMPAIGN »

This article was originally published on Balancing Jane.

 

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Michelle Parrinello-Cason

Michelle is a blogger at Balancing Jane who writes about balancing different parts of life. She is a part-time PhD student, full-time educator, mother to a biracial daughter, and a feminist navigating the intersections of marriage, motherhood, education, and career. She blogs about pop culture through an equality-minded lens, equally shared parenting, and identity.
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Comments

  1. says

    Wow. This is such a bizarre… and disturbing… series of advertisements. Thanks for sharing about them. I would have seen it on TV and wondered if I was the only one who thought this campaign was off-base. I hope Kraft hears the response from viewers.

  2. MK says

    I must say I was all set to "disagree" with the author.  I am pretty laid back and not one to take offense unless overt.  Well, this IS overt.  I cannot believe how awful these commercials are!  The first one was cute but after that it went waaaaay too far.  Who knew milk and granola could turn into such a disgusting show of racism and white supremecy.  Wow.

  3. BellaVidaLetty says

    I had not seen this offensive campaign from Kraft.  I'm happy you are bringing attention to this issue and educating the public on how VERY wrong it is.  I appalled and offended by these commercials.
     

  4. CMKS says

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention.  This is really offensive.  I want to make a point too that, when Mel hopes that you will find him in the dairy aisle, with his forlorn "please", it really can't be conceived without its racial implications, as no one would find a snack such as this–a dry good–in the dairy section of a supermarket.  I find this ad campaign especially outrageous because bi-racial identity is so rarely addressed on television, so to have such blatant insensitivity and outright offensiveness in one of the few examples where biracial identity is spoken of (semi-covertly) is really disappointing.

  5. soniavdiaz1 says

    Well, when I was growing up, there weren't a lot of Dominicans or Venezuelans in Houston, so people often wondered about my background an "what i was," but my parents taught me not to concern myself with what other people thought, so if I was discriminated against, I didn't know it because I didn't walk around thinking that people were looking at me as anything but a person. Fast forward to my teenage years when I started to date a black guy. All of the sudden, my own family started to give me a lot of grief. Unfortunately for them, they taught me not to concern myself with what other people thought and their BS did very little to stop me from dating my black boyfriend. Not him and not any other afterwards. My point being that people need to worry more about the message THEY are sending their kids and less about what Kraft or anyone else is doing. At the end of the day, it starts and ends at home. They should also teach their children to not let others define them and that there is always going to be discrimination and ugliness in this world, so get over it. Teach them tolerance and to be better people, not to think that everyone is out to get them. Is the commercial racist? I don't know. Maybe. I have better things to worry about than what a bunch of white people in a board room happen to think is culturally relevant. And if you want to change this type of thinking, the make sure your kids get an education, so that they can sit in the boardroom too.

    • says

       @soniavdiaz1 Sonia, I really, really appreciate your comment and you're definitely right…education is paramount…in fact it's the most important thing we can do to 1) instill confidence in our children and 2) ensure that they land in positions where they can truly create change.  But I also want to point out, that it is essential for discussions like this to take place because this type of activism can spur a more immediate change that can prevent further damage to the social fabric of our communities.  While this post may not have the same impact as the works of César Chávez or MLK Jr., actions like theirs are still needed.  Racism runs deep in this country, so deep that many aren't even aware that they are participants, as may have happened with this campaign.  Likely, Kraft didn't mean to offend and probably didn't realize that the majority of their messages in the videos are negative.  Maybe they'll change those messages now, and prevent children from being affected by the subliminal thoughts that they are somehow inferior or "broken".  It may also make future advertisers stop to think about what they put in their commercials or perhaps even hire more diverse board members who can help them become more objective and fair in their portrayals (the ultimate goal).  I do agree with you though on the importance of us making and impact at home, and I hope for my daughter, that she will be able to separate messages like this from herself and realize that it is a problem with them and not her.  I want her to feel sure in herself regardless of what others are doing and I love that you make that point, because as parents, it's the most important thing we want for our children…to be proud and assured no matter what the world thinks. ♥

    • BalancingJane says

       @soniavdiaz1 Sonia, I completely agree with you that equipping our children with the tools to navigate discrimination (of all kinds) is an important part of our parenting responsibilities, and I think you are right to point out that education is a key to inclusivity in the future. I still think that fighting these kinds of discriminatory media messages is an important part of that process. Parents are not a child's sole influence, especially when it comes to finding our places in society at large. For example, body image issues in teen girls come to mind. No matter how many times parents tell their young girls that they are beautiful just the way they are, the plethora of media depictions that show unrealistic beauty expectations send a different message, and that's a message many young girls are internalizing whether they realize it or not. 
       
      I think that messages about race work the same way. These are subtle, and I certainly hope that Kraft didn't intend for these commercials to send this message, but they do. They are part of the fabric of messages about race and racial equality, and that's a message that is going to be internalized by many who see it. 

  6. darla_der says

    Oops – my comment got posted too quickly. I will use this in the classroom to talk about race. Your perspective will be really helpful to students because it very quickly illustrates (a) the problems with thinking about race as categories;  (b) what it means to START a conversation about multiracial people from a negative place; and (c) that whites (as the "Norm" compared to a non-white "Other") have a privilege not to have to think about "race" most of the time – i.e., a white identity is seen as non-racial. 
     
    I love your tone – super constructive and insightful. Thanks again!

  7. says

    Wow.  I'm really surprised that anyone wouldn't think these as propaganda over commercials.  I grew up in a "what are you" environment and thought I had seen the last of these says until we moved out to the burbs. For those of you that had any doubt, racism is alive and well!  So why even bring this type of negative conversation into the fold? How ignorant.

  8. MandyIsemann says

    GET REAL!! It's not two differnt colors ~ it is a GRANOLA BAR & A GLASS of MILK!!! Not everything or everybody is trying to bring you down! Appreciate the humor & get something real to piss you off!

  9. EllieC says

    This is such a great piece, especially how it lays out the pattern by showing all of the commercials. I have to admit that when I first heard about this ad campaign and saw the spork commercial several weeks ago, I wasn't too riled up about it and sort of thought perhaps too much was being read into it. But seeing all of the commercials together really highlights how the multiracial angle is being played.
     
    I love the point "There’s no one, big, overarching thing that we can destroy to fix racism. Racism is an insidious presence that entangles us through multiple avenues, many of which are subtle and easy to overlook." So true! And because racism is so insidious, it is that much more critical to notice the small ways it happens and to speak up!
     
    As the mom of two biracial children, I've been very bothered lately by the ways I keep seeing stereotypes about black people showing up in the media (not just the news, but movies & television).

  10. brrryce says

    It's the Mad Men strategy (and I hate Mad Men). Trivialize reality and use it to sell your clients' wares. And, if people complain, say, "It's just advertising." I love your take on this and I don't consider it extreme or "reaching" at all. Thank you.

  11. OverIt says

    While I thought the commercials were weird, as a african american/hispanic women, married to a white man Idid not find the commercials offensive.
     
    A bit Creepy… yes.
     
    What I do fine offensive is when white people in biracial relationships feel the need to overcompensate and dramatize "race issues" for black people.

    • BalancingJane says

      Fair enough. I don't expect everyone to interpret things exactly as I do. But if you feel that I am trying to "overcompensate and dramatize 'race issues' for black people," I'm sorry.
       
      To me, this isn't about "black people," but all people. I don't feel the need to speak "for" anyone but myself, and I was offended by these commercials, so I spoke from that space.
       
      If other people are not offended, then that's their reaction based out of their interpretations, but my reaction is based on my own thoughts, not any belief that I'm a spokesperson for racism. 

  12. says

    I usually don't post comments, but I thought I would add my .2. I can totally get behind you with the biracial comparison, and issues of incompleteness and worry. But the privileging/supporting white supremacy since Mel can be found w/ the milk…not so much. As you state "In this way, Mel could be asking for people to allow him to “pass” in a way that suggests he sees the white part of his identity as superior," OR this new food product just needs to be refrigerated, like the milk it supposedly contains.

  13. MariTereMolinet says

    Wow. I read the post first and thought perhaps it had gone a little overboard. But after watching the spots, all I can say is WOW!WOW! I can't believe they did that! It is blatantly obvious. What makes it worse is the last line the girl has "I'm kind of into it", like if it were some sort of bizarre, weird, sexual thing. YUCK!!!

  14. crmycoco43 says

    Since when do milk and granola represent races?  The problem is your own insecurities, Ms. Blogger, and the choices you have made for yourself.  

  15. LiviaSewell says

    ….anyone who complains about this has no life. I myself am mixed [comolbian, mexican and native american]…and i am not offended at all…i actually found the commercials quite funny :]

  16. Dwight says

    At first I thought you were crazy; I don't think the first one is that bad at all. The second one with the "parents" is a little worse. However the dating one goes WAY too far. Anyone with modern sensibilities would object to that.

  17. says

    I agree with you. This campaign is inappropriate on many levels. Some people can't read between the lines and get conditioned without even realizing it. I see clearly the message that is put forth and disagree with it completely. I am shocked that a brand would even go there. One commercial was too much, but the series really took this topic to a whole new level. A confused child of two different parents (one brown and one white) is what I saw and I know exactly what they're trying to do. It's mean spirited, and couldn't be more wrong.

  18. ZT says

    I have a really hard time seeing these commercials as anything even remotely racist. There is real racism out that there needs to be addressed and dealt with. A few commercials about a snack who doesn't know what food group he belongs in are not worth the concern/attention. Just because you can relate one thing to another, that doesn't mean you should. This is about as valid as saying that Power Rangers and Spy Vs. Spy are racist and Winnie The Pooh is a psychological nightmare. Stuff like this isn't a problem until you make it one.

  19. ZT says

    And for what it's worth, Mel HAS to be in the dairy aisle because he'll spoil if not kept at a cool temperature. I found that out the hard way because I didn't realize they were serious about these actually having milk in them.

  20. says

    Why don't we help the granola/milk b.s. bar thing find out who he really is – a cannibal. You see this is about him trying to figure out how to tell his parents that he wants to eat them, together, slowly. For the bar, like all of us, enjoy a milky-granola flavored snack from time-to-time.

    Stop trying to diagnose "the bar's" issues. Hes perfect, you morons.

  21. LR says

    Mixed and biracial people must really be the worst targets of racism by society and the media saying that being mixed is bad and monoracial is better.

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