“[…] We cannot allow a major Caribbean corporate player to perpetuate demeaning images of African People at any time—and more so on a day that is sacred to us, when we pay homage to our ancestors whose sacrifice resulted in the freedoms we celebrate on Emancipation Day.
“In light of all of this, we collected groups—the Emancipation Support Committee, the Kwame Ture Educational Institute, Rhodes Must Fall Caribbean, the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago—along with design experts will engage Prestige Holdings Trinidad Ltd in discussions about reparative action for this insulting representation of our people…”
The following letter to the editor on KFC’s controversial Emancipation Day advertisement was submitted to Wired868 by Emancipation Support Committee chairman Zakiya Uzoma-Wadada, Kwame Ture Education and Development Centre founder David Muhammad, Cross Rhodes Freedom Project director Shabaka Kambon, and Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago president Rubadiri Victor:
On Saturday 1 August 2020, Trinidad and Tobago celebrated its 35th Emancipation Day holiday. This year’s Emancipation commemoration was marked by two significant concurrent events: the world-changing ramifications associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and its interrogation of white supremacist systems, and those changes associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
These twin upheavals have made this Emancipation a time of real communal reflection. Unfortunately, in the middle of this historic celebration, the African people of Trinidad and Tobago were horrified to find that one of the nation’s largest restaurant conglomerates had concocted a most heinous racist campaign to mark its Emancipation remembrance and solidarity message for 2020.
Whether the image in question was created in malice, in carelessness, in jest, or in complete ignorance of racist stereotypes and good design protocols, it was racist, derogatory and diminishing of the African Struggle for racial justice particularly in terms of the Black Power Revolution celebrating its 50th anniversary and the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement.
The image enjoyed widespread purchase throughout Emancipation Day, being viewed by tens of thousands—here and abroad. Negative reaction to the image was nearly immediate. Many commentators engaged in long viral conversations about the debilitating and negative nature of the image.
Yet still it took most of that day before there was a statement of apology from the brand and its withdrawal!!!
We do not believe that the late apology is enough. This ad brings to light greater issues of the way that Africans are represented in media and how careless and flippant many media programmers are with African icons, legacy, and symbols.
We believe that this must be a teachable moment for the nation and corporate Trinidad and Tobago.
Some people are still asking: ‘what is wrong with the image?’
Allow us to illustrate: the image equates the raised fist, the symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power and African Liberation with a fried chicken leg—deriding these universally important efforts to expand human freedom by placing the iconic fist associated with them in the shadow of a spicy chicken leg!
Is the brand saying that Black struggle is equal to or subordinate to a drumstick? That Black Power is equivalent to consumption of fried chicken? That a Black Life is worth a dead piece of chicken?
The fact that the international slogan of ‘Black Power’ mocked in the ad was coined and popularised by a Trinidadian, Kwame Ture, is even more of a stain of shame on the ad.
Is the brand conscious of the American-born but now globalising stereotype that ‘Black People are obsessed with fried chicken and watermelon’—and that Black Life can be purchased with it?
Does the brand know that if such an ad were to find itself in American media it would be a death knell for its brand; and that the same fist might rise up against it with compensatory ramifications in the tens of millions of US dollars?
There are serious implications to the publication of images and the disrespect of ethnic groups. Brands with multi-million-dollar marketing apparatuses around them know this.
Destructive and debased stereotypes, which all people become targets of at some point, must be all be overturned.
One of the many battles that African People in particular have fought and continue to fight is the mobilization to project African Achievement, to make our representation in art and media more respectful, truthful, panoramic, and honourable.
The battle is to eliminate destructive and debased colonial stereotypes which repeatedly project our people as lazy, savage, evil, criminal, and ignorant. The battle is to ensure that Black dignity, Black heroes, heroism and even super-heroism become more commonplace in modern storytelling.
The recent #hollywoodsowhite movement highlighted this issue of representation; and has since seen major improvements in front and behind the camera and in boardrooms.
We cannot allow a major Caribbean corporate player to perpetuate demeaning images of African People at any time—and more so on a day that is sacred to us, when we pay homage to our ancestors whose sacrifice resulted in the freedoms we celebrate on Emancipation Day.
In light of all of this, we collected groups—the Emancipation Support Committee, the Kwame Ture Educational Institute, Rhodes Must Fall Caribbean, the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago—along with design experts will engage Prestige Holdings Trinidad Ltd in discussions about reparative action for this insulting representation of our people.
The apology and removal of the ad is welcome but not enough. The real conversation must now begin.
The engagement will include a public, corporate, and advertising industry outreach component. We have to ensure that such a grievous error in representation is not made again.