Disturbing reaction to Cheerios ad takes us back a century

06/13/2013 9:52 AM

06/13/2013 9:54 AM

I never really gave much thought to Cheerios.

To me they’re tasty little oat circles that are often my go-to snack mixed with peanuts and raisins.

Who knew such an innocuous product could generate so much extreme passion?

But, as you might have heard, a Cheerios commercial — featuring a cute little girl with a white mother and a black father — created a backlash of hateful bigotry that seemed to shock a lot of people who thought it was the year 2013 and the president of the United States is a biracial man.

Though we as a nation were enlightened enough to elect him, I wonder if that would have happened if Michelle were white, and their daughters were of the same light brown hue of that little commercial cutie.

I tend to think not.

You can’t be naive about racism when you’re the white parent of black children.

And it scares me.

It scares me to know that behind the open-mouthed stares that come your way when you’re a white man walking down the street holding the hand of a black child, are some who hate you for doing it.

It scares me to know that some twisted miscreant could even hurt one of my daughters because of the color of her skin.

I’m not smart enough or possessed of enough insight to even begin to be able to explain what motivates such hate and fear.

When the Cheerios incident came to light, I happened to be reading a biography of Theodore Roosevelt focusing on the first term of his presidency at the beginning of the 20th century. One of the first guests he invited to dinner at the White House was Booker T. Washington.

When news of their repast became public, reaction was widespread and vicious, particularly in the South, where newspaper editorial writers opined as if Roosevelt had just handed the keys of the country back to the king of England. Some were particularly incensed because Roosevelt’s wife — a white woman — had a place at the same table as a black man.

Jump ahead 107 years to 2008. Sen. John McCain mentioned that Roosevelt-Washington dinner in his concession speech after losing the presidential election.

“A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt’s invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters,” McCain said. “America today is a world away from the cruel bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States.”

Unfortunately, after reading the responses generated by the Cheerios commercial, it would seem that McCain was a little premature in his hopeful analysis.

Maybe in another 107 years, the sight of an interracial couple and their cherubic, curly haired child will be as commonplace and non-threatening as a bowl of cereal.

Maybe then.

But we’re not there yet.

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