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For some, Cheerios commercial crossed a line by depicting mixed-race family as normal

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Cheerios ad
A 30-second Cheerios ad featuring a black dad, white mom and biracial child gained so much negative attention in June 2013 that Cheerios turned off commenting on the YouTube page.
Screenshot via YouTube

You might not think a cereal commercial would serve as a vehicle for a heartfelt conversation about race, but that seems to be what's happening — both around the country and on The Daily Circuit.

Not all of that conversation is respectful. Some of the reactions to the current Cheerios commercial were so ugly, the company asked YouTube to turn off its comments function.

What made some watchers angry was the racial mix of the family depicted by the commercial.

"That family could be my family," said Sue from Minneapolis. "That could be my little girl. I feel like part of people's reaction is that it's too normal, too all-American, and people seem to have an expectation that mixed-race families live differently. ... that we're not living the same life, having the same hopes and dreams, functioning the same way, that there somehow must be something different."

"I thought the problem was going to be that African-Americans would be irate that the husband was depicted as sitting on the couch while the wife was off working in the kitchen," said Brooke from Minneapolis. "It didn't occur to me that it would be a problem with the interracial part."

Brooke might have been speaking for a large part of the population that sees nothing surprising about  multicultural families. 

The 2010 census showed a significant increase in the population that identifies as mixed-race or multi-racial. The number of American young people who identify as more than one race has increased almost 50 percent since 2000.

But in some parts of the country, especially in rural America, such images still take some getting used to.

"The presence of these couples is opening up a new conversation that hasn't been there," said Jenifer Bratter, professor of sociology at Rice University. "In a space where there is almost no racial diversity, where it's dominated by one group, it's hard to really gauge what people think about race.

"It's that act of forming a family that I think is really still a powerful moment for people to deal with their own racial attitudes."

That perception fits in with a call from Rick in Hawley, Minn., a rural community east of Fargo-Moorhead.  

"I'm originally from Hawaii," he said, "and in Hawaii it's not an issue because everything is interracial there. It's an immigrant state. I met my wife from Mahnomen, Minn. [north of Detroit Lakes].  She's German and I'm black and her parents didn't have a problem until we were going to get married ... They said, 'What are the kids going to look like?' Well, I grew up in an interracial family. I said, 'The kids are going to look just fine!'"

"We know that one of the most charged couplings is white women and black men, for many reasons," said Marcia Alesan Dawkins, a professor at the University of Southern California. "There's a history of lynching black men for their perceived threats against white women. ... A lot of people said in the comments, 'It's only white women who can have white babies, so if they start having babies or keep having babies with African-Americans and  Asian-Americans, etc., etc., what's going to happen as white people become not the majority race in the United States?'"

In a different context, Dawkins said, the race of the little girl in the commercial would not have attracted attention. 

"In regards to the little girl, the casting was really interesting," she said. "If both parents had been presented as African-American, nobody would have raised an eyebrow. Which speaks to the fact that many African-Americans are mixed-race, multigenerationally, but aren't perceived that way, don't perceive themselves that way, for many different reasons. So I think the ad, while short and brilliant and cute and loving and funny, in many ways is also touching on a lot of hot-button issues."

Bratter offered a similar observation. 

"We've seen little girls like that," she said. "Mixed-race children are commonly used in these types of commercials. But this is the first time we've seen a mixed-race child in a mixed-race family. And I think it's very notable that that is what has inspired so much negative commentary.  

"We do take our images very seriously, and the notion that this is an average American family remains unsettling to some people."

@dailycircuit Interracial families are doing to racism what the coming out of gays/lesbians is doing to homophobia. Love is defeating hate.

— 46thParallel (@46thParallel) June 11, 2013

LEARN MORE ABOUT AMERICA'S CHANGING FAMILY:

• Census data presents rise in multiracial population of youths
"Among American children, the multiracial population has increased almost 50 percent, to 4.2 million, since 2000, making it the fastest growing youth group in the country. The number of people of all ages who identified themselves as both white and black soared by 134 percent since 2000 to 1.8 million people, according to census data released Thursday." (New York Times)

• Signs of racially-based struggles in multiracial families
"All families, regardless of race, encounter challenges and stressors, but there are a variety of unique racially-based issues and struggles that tend to confront multiracial families." (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy)

• The Future Is Now: What PR Pros and Marketers Need to Know About the "Mixed Mindset"
"Multiracial identities have been leveraged for social and anti-social purposes since the dawn of print media. Even in today's networked world we are still figuring out how this 'full color' demographic fits into a historically black-and-white racial context." (Huffington Post)