This is Racist, Right? KFC Commercial Edition
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This is Racist, Right? KFC Commercial Edition

By Courtney Enlow | Videos | February 28, 2014 | Comments ()


So, this is racist, right?

Like…I feel like…yeah. Is racism treacle a thing? Can we call it “treacle-down racism?” I’m just spitballing here.

Also, I’m hungry now. Because fried chicken is delicious. For everyone! That’s why using any other race would have worked.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • ashlec

    This is the kind of thing my Australian husband is always bitching about re: Americans. Namely, that we're so self-absorbed and sure of our place in the world that we just assume everything is about us.

    It shouldn't have just been assumed this commercial was aimed at a US audience and was therefore racist. KFC is very present throughout much of the world and, at least in the case of Australia, is arguably more popular than it is even in the US. I seriously doubt that the black people love chicken stereotype is something that exists in South African culture, so using fried chicken as a friendly reminder of home for this child is probably quite innocent. South Africa obviously has its own fraught racial history and its own set of hateful racist stereotypes, but I don't think this is one of them. The difference, though, is that if an American commercial unwittingly featured one of those racists stereotypes, I would venture to guess most South Africans would realize the context and not get up in arms. We as Americans (and I'm totally including myself in this) need to realize that we're not the center of the planet and stop trying to view everything anyone else does through our own contexts and biases.

    I liked the commercial. It made me cry, though I am five months pregnant, so it might be less the cute kids and more my raging hormones.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I'm not pregnant and I got a little weepy too. I think the commercial is lovely.

  • Eric Davidson

    Give me a freaking break all you freaking sensitive nambie pambies. How the hell is this racist. Would it be racist if it was a white kid going to subway or pizza hut. Its advertisement focused at a demographic and everyone needs to settle their "I'm so offended ass" down. Both whites and blacks. If you don't like it then don't eat there and if the commercial comes on the television then change the channel. I am so sick of everything being seen as racist. This over sensitivity to shit like this is sickening. Hell, the mother of the kid let her take part in the commercial. Oh yea, she was getting a paycheck. Oh yea, blacks people love fried chicken but so do whites, brown, red whatever. You offended? Have a nice hot cup of shut the fuck up.

  • Dumily

    I'm going to have to disagree with you. Not about the commercial being racist, I agree that it's not. But about not having a conversation about if it's racist. Racism is a much bigger problem in the US than being overly sensitive is. Taking a few minutes to make sure it isn't racist isn't that big of a deal.

  • LwoodPDowd

    But being overly sensitive about racism can actually lead to racism. What if the makers of this commercial ridiculously hypersensitive about race. They may have gone out of their way to not select a black mother and daughter.

  • nomongoose

    This is a South African advertisement. Leave your American context at the door.

    I fucking love Pajiba, but goddamn, do a little research first.

  • meh

    Man, I thought black people ate at Popeyes.

  • Some Guy

    Nope, Churches.

  • Kenny G.

    Churches eat at Popeye's?

  • googergieger

    Not even close to racist. Asking if the commercial is racist, is more racist than the actual commercial itself, you bunch of gringos.

  • Kenny G.

    Thank you...well said!

  • kinoumenthe

    I think Chatty Penguin pretty much explained what the problem is (or rather isn't) here.
    I'm not American, so the fried-chicken reference isn't something that automatically registers as racist in that context, even though I fairly recently learned about it (probably through reading Pajiba or another US site). Nevertheless, reading the title of the post, I was all ready to be upset, until I saw the girl pointing to South-Africa on the map in the classroom.
    A lot of commenters seem to have missed that very salient detail. A slur needs the proper cultural context to be a slur. Unless South-African culture shares that particular one with the US (it could be possible…), I'm not sure pointing the finger is warranted here.
    (Edit) Also KFC is HUGE in Asia. Taking a new student there is the same thing as introducing her to the cool place everybody is going after class.

  • Yeah, this post is gonna go well.

  • Coolg82

    I think context is everything. I think it was less, "The black girl likes chicken, lets take her to KFC" and more "The American is uncomfortable, lets take her to KFC". Also, I think it is only truly racist if it was made under racist pretenses. it could just be accident that they got black actors for the KFC commercial. Unfortunate implications? Maybe, but I don't think there was any malice behind the commercial.

  • disqus_dIn5QsXhrL

    I agree - I was honestly horrified when the one little girl started miming licking her fingers at the black girl. Like, wtf? Why would she assume that she would want fried chicken, unless for a misguided stereotyped understanding she had about black people? And I'm supposed to find that cute?! UGH.

  • Pajiba_Pragmatist

    KFC is a big hit in Asia. People take dates to KFC - could be fought out of "demolition man".

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Well, I must be an insensitive racist because I thought the commercial was rather beautiful and sweet.

  • Chatty Penguin

    I think that context matters. As a non-American I've read enough about the US to understand that fried chicken + African Americans = racist stereotype there, but the thing is stereotypes like that emerge from a specific history and apply only within that context. To insist that anything which evokes that stereotype for you is racist, regardless of where it was made, completely ignores the fact that that association is only racist because of the specific history and cultural context of the US. It also seems like a form of further US cultural imperialism to me to try and consider race relations everywhere else in the world through a US-centric lens - sure plenty (most?) countries have problems with racism (my own included, for sure) but we also have our own history, culture, etc and you can't try to understand our problems without understanding their context, you can't just blindly apply US norms developed in America's very specific cultural and historical context to other countries.

    TL;DR: This ad was made for South Africa and shot in Thailand, not the US. It's not racist because the racist stereotype you believe it invokes is a very specifically American one which doesn't apply to either South Africa or Thailand.

  • foolsage

    I was right there agreeing with you until this:

    "It also seems like a form of further US cultural imperialism to me to try and consider race relations everywhere else in the world through a US-centric lens"

    Let me stop you right there. I don't disagree that this is a problem in general, but let's be clear: this is an American restaurant chain we're talking about. It's not "Gauteng Province Fried Chicken", is it? For fuck's sake, there's an American state name right there in the restaurant name.

    For Americans to think that a restaurant that is VERY American (and that has marketed itself to Americans for decades, and that is named after one of our states) is marketing to Americans again here has nothing to do with cultural imperialism, but rather with expectations based on experience.

    I don't disagree that cultural imperialism is a problem. I don't disagree that America is (and Americans are) often guilty of cultural imperialism either, to be clear. But for Americans to think that an American restaurant is marketing to them via a wordless commercial is hardly cultural imperialism.

  • Chatty Penguin

    Just to clarify: I'm not trying to accuse anyone of "American cultural imperialism" on grounds of thinking the ad was American and considering it racist on those terms. If you mistook it for an American ad, that's understandable. My point was simply that as it's not an ad made by an ad agency in the US, nor was it made for the US market, it's inappropriate to interpret it through the lens of US race relations.

    In terms of "expectations based on experience" I think this thread has shown that an American's experience of KFC is one where it's very closely associated with your own country - it's an American company after all and as you point out it's even named after an American state. The thing is those of us outside the US have clearly had a different experience - we're used to marketing which tries to identify the brand with our own country in some way, and there are plenty of people who wouldn't be able to tell you what the "K" stands for.

  • foolsage

    Fair enough. I agree. I think it might have been more clear had you suggested, "If you realize that this commercial is not American and is not marketed to Americans, but still choose to view it through the lens of American race relations, that's a form of cultural imperialism."

    I don't think that was the case here for many, if any, posters. I certainly thought the commercial was American at first, for reasons already stated. Once I was shown evidence to the contrary though, I revised my assessment. I think that'll be the most common reaction, which argues against cultural imperialism here.

  • pissants_doppelganger

    This ad was made for South Africa and shot in Thailand

    So, why do they take her to KFC? I'm being sincere. I don't understand why children in Thailand would take a South African classmate to KFC to cheer her up. At the end of the commercial the text says something about sharing a "taste of home". How is KFC a taste of home to someone from South Africa?

  • kinoumenthe

    Well, the girl is pointing to South-Africa on the map in the classroom.

  • Chatty Penguin

    First - because it's a KFC ad for South Africa, of course it's going to feature KFC.

    Second - It's a pretty common marketing strategy for companies like KFC, McDonald's, etc to find a way to try and "localise" themselves for different markets through different menu items and branding themselves in a way which identifies them with the country they're operating in. Sure we all know that they're giant American corporations - that doesn't stop them from trying this tactic.

  • pissants_doppelganger

    I guess what I should have asked is: is there any association of "home" that KFC has with South Africans?

    Because I don't often see companies try to "localize" themselves that aggressively. You don't just come in and tell people, "Hey, we're a taste of home...ya know, even though we're clearly from another culture." That would be like PF Changs (Americanized Chinese food chain in the US) making a commercial like this for the states. I would laugh if a bunch of Thai children took an American to PF Changs for a "taste of home".

    Sorry, my analogy doesn't match up one-to-one since it would be an American being taken to an American chain instead of a non-American being taken to an American chain. I can't think of any fast food chains from other countries in the US at the moment.

  • Green_Eggs_and_Hamster

    According to Wikipedia, there are over 700 KFC restaurants in South Africa. I don't see it as unreasonable to see them trying to brand themselves as local if they have been there a long time, and people think of them as a fast food restaurant in SA. I don't know what people in South Africa think as home food. OTOH, I don't think that an ad produced in South Africa can be called racist for featuring a black actor who likes Fried Chicken. If it was produced for an American Audience, then yes it is definitely skirting the edge.

    If you are producing an ad in South Africa for consumption by South Africans though, then of course you feature black people in your ad. Suggesting that it was racist just means you didn't know the context and you were leaping to conclusions,

  • pissants_doppelganger

    Suggesting that it was racist just means you didn't know the context and you were leaping to conclusions

    In none of my comments have I mentioned race or even insinuated if I thought this ad is or isn't racist. I was only wondering how KFC could be a "taste of home" to South Africans. I understand it now in a "when everything if different, anything familiar feels like home" sort of way. I blame my initial inability to understand this on being born and living in the Southern US my whole life and knowing several people from other parts of the US who would never think of KFC as a "taste of home".

  • Green_Eggs_and_Hamster

    I apologize I started out replying to you and then continued on with my thoughts that were directed more to the author of the article as well as several of the comments preceding yours. I failed entirely to make the distinction in my reply to you though. Sorry.

  • Chatty Penguin

    As mentioned in the first link I posted above KFC has been operating for
    at least 40 years in South Africa, the advertising agency responsible
    went on to say that they chose Thailand to shoot the add because it's so
    different from South Africa. I'd imagine the idea behind the ad was
    that KFC is something familiar for South Africans in the midst of a
    country which is very different - hence "a taste of home".

    I can
    see how this would seem really incongruous to someone from the US. All I
    can say is that from outside the US it doesn't seem *that* strange.

  • disqus_dIn5QsXhrL

    Maybe like an American being taken to Tim Hortons (big Canadian coffee shop chain that exists in some areas of the US) for a "taste of home"? Exceeeept that doesn't have all the problematic racial undertones that this commercial has.

  • Dumily

    Before I stick my foot way in my mouth, I just want to make sure: we know 100% that this is an ad that airs in South Africa, and not Thailand? Shot in Thailand but for a South African Market, yes?

  • Jim

    I think you're correct. At the risk of putting MY foot in my mouth it like a Canuck KFC showing a canadian kid in Tokyo being shown to a KFC there by his classmates, I guess. (I'm a canuck and they LOVE the stuff in Tokyo - they embed ginger under the skin DAMN it's good.)

  • Chatty Penguin

    From this site:

    "Ad agency Ogilvy and Mather Johannesburg (O&M JHB) has launched the latest
    KFC Brings the Taste of Home television commercial, which was shot on location
    in Thailand and directed by Kim Geldenhuys. Filming a commercial abroad was a
    first for the brand in the 40 years that KFC has been making advertisements in
    South Africa."

    Also the video is on the KFCSouthAfrica Youtube channel:

  • Dumily

    Also I have no idea what's going on in this commercial, but I love everything about it.

  • nomongoose

    It looks like this girl's parents are possibly in the South African foreign service (or similar) and have just been posted abroad. It can be a confusing time, because often the kids won't know the language or anything much about the culture, have left all their friends behind and are feeling terribly isolated. Her schoolmates understand this and are trying to make her feel at ease.
    As a former diplobrat kid myself, this ad warms the cockles of my heart.

  • Dumily

    Sorry, I meant the KFC Zinger Double Down commercial that Chatty Penguin posted. The accent is throwing me off, but as far as I can tell, someone's dance moves are more top shelf than someone else's dance moves, and that all means something.

  • Dumily

    In that case, I'm voting not racist. If it were a Thai or American commercial, then it would feel unnecessary to make the person that must love KFC a black person. But given that it was filmed for a predominately black market, it doesn't feel weird. Like if some Taco Bell in Wisconsin filmed a commercial featuring new Mexican immigrants, I'd be all "Hey guys, that's totally racist." But if a Taco Bell in Mexico City filmed a commercial featuring Mexicans, I'd be all "Hey guys, I know where you can get much better Mexican food."

  • foolsage

    I agree. I'll revise my opinion based on the origin of the commercial. Granted that it's from South Africa (and not America or Thailand), I don't think the little girl's race was intended to be a commentary on American race relations.

  • Cree83

    "Look at him. He loves it. Just like it says in the encyclopedia!"

  • TheOtherGreg


  • mairimba

    Hhmm... I don't see it as racist. Probably cause I've seen many KFC commercials here in the states featuring African Americans.

  • Bob Genghis Khan

    Sometimes it's best to keep stereotypes in mind when envisioning things like this. I mean they HAD to of known this was going to ruffle some feathers. Makes me think they straddled the line juuusssst enough to both create the controversy and still be able to deny it. Which is pretty shitty.

  • huh.

    Just to be fair, KFC is all over the place in foreign nations. I saw this as trying to be sweet and give the girl a taste of home. But, maybe not the best execution?
    Hopefully they see the response to this ad before airing the next one where they make an Italian foreign exchange student feel at home in middle America by feeding him Chef Boyardee.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    White people around the country were equally upset at an ad featuring a white college student abroad that is given a moleskin notebook and a frisbee as a welcoming gift. More confusing, was what the ad had to do with Urban Outfitters.

  • TK

    Why? Just because they're building on ignorant, often-demeaning stereotypes, marginalizing an ethnic group by reducing it to nothing more than its perceived dietary preferences, and using gross generalizations about race as a way to market their shitty fucking chicken?

    Fuck this commercial.

  • Prepagan

    Why should the USA get to impose its "ignorant, often demeaning stereotypes" on the rest of the world?

    It's about time KFC in South Africa started featuring some black people in their advertising. This is a thoroughly charming advertisement that reflects well on KFC in SA as well as on the friendliness of Thai schoolgirls. Unfortunately, presenting this ad without sufficient context on this site reflects less well on Pajiba.

  • Ingrid Today

    --KFC only sells chicken, it's what their known for. Would you prefer it off KFC only showed ads with white people (which is basically what they've been doing)
    --This ad is for South Africa, so it makes sense an African girl would be used.
    --Have you ever seen an ad with a girl from African studying abroad in Asia? Nope, it's a first for me.

  • Cheetahdriver

    As opposed to Barry Switzer's very specific, laser guided, through the front door racism?

  • KonaKreep

    So KFC is racist for marketing their product to a target demographic? Or are African Americans at fault for liking KFC disproportionately? Or is the problem that it makes white liberals uncomfortable?

  • Some Guy

    There's a potential racist behind every blade of grass. One must be ever vigilant.

  • Kane Leal

    or it could just be referring to the most recent Karate Kid movie

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Talk to me about treacle-down. Does that happen to spotted dick, or figgy pudding? I'm not sure it happens to economics or racism.

    C'mon. Regardless of the Asian nation, they would offer WAY better fried chicken than KFC. They probably chose a black child because she stands out more against Asians. Btw, what market is this for?

  • Miss Jane

    Dear lord, this is the height of pearl clutching here...Af Ams eat fried chicken. They over index, by a large amount, the QSR* category for fried chicken establishments. Now you could interpret the little Chinese** girl as thinking black person must need fried chicken, but that's not the way I saw it at all. For me, it was more like a Chinese girl telling an American girl where she could get a little taste of home.

    *Quick Service Restaurant
    **I'm assuming China, but some place the in the Pacific Rim

  • foolsage

    It's set in Thailand actually, based on the writing on the buildings.

    And yes, I think it's valid to view this as a foreigner seeking to show an expatriate American something from home. Having said that, the fact that the American girl is black does cast the shadow of doubt over the whole thing. Poor choice there.

    Edit: I watched it again and it appears the little girl isn't from America, but from the southern part of Africa (she points to that on a map in front of the classroom). So, ergh. Yeah, it's just racist. I got nothin'.

  • Miss Jane

    It's funny how a dialog free commercial holds up a mirror so you can see your own potential for stereotyping, i.e., me seeing Chinese rather than Thai and an African American rather than a South African.

    I'm wondering now just where this commercial hails from? Was it even made for the U.S. market?

  • foolsage

    Turns out it's from South Africa.

  • Dumily

    I was just going to say, there's no indication the girl in the commercial is African America. All we know is that she's black.

  • William

    This is a movie review site yet no one sees that this entire commercial is a black kid from America moving to china and not fitting in and culminating in a kungf.....i mean kfc eating tournament. its a complete ripoff of the karate kid remake.

  • foolsage

    Very true. I made a faulty assumption that she was intended to be American, because I thought the commercial was American or Thai. To be fair though, it's not an unreasonable assumption; KFC is after all an American restaurant. It's not like the American association was just forced in there willy-nilly. ;)

  • Guest

    Not Racist. Just incredibly poorly thought out.

    If it was McDonalds would you also think it was Racist?

  • I mean, no. It's a fairly fried chicken-specific thing.

  • e jerry powell

    I'm torn, personally. Campaigns are sometimes parceled regionally. Most of us never see the Latino-targeted ads, which, when I see them online, strike me as relentlessly racist, but are apparently fine with the targeted demographic.

  • Guest

    Yeah, but it goes to the point how quickly people perceive racism. Hell I'm just happy its a commercial featuring minorities.

  • Darlene

    I agree. I think the commercial is sweet. ALL the students were gathered at KFC, it wasn't as though the one girl took the new girl to the place where all the Black people were eating, she was taking her where all her friends enjoyed going, to be inclusive.

  • cruzzercruz

    Who allowed this happen, then had it filmed beautifully enough to almost fool me into not immediately thinking it's racist?

    Too bad it is.

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