Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dear Food Network: Black people are not simply “dipped in chocolate”

I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality
 I watch the Food Network all the time, simply because I REALLY love food. I particularly enjoy the “reality” shows like “Chopped”, “Next Food Network Star” and “Food Network Challenge”. The cooking shows are not as much my cup of tea, simply because I do not like most of the hosts, nor do most of them cook the sort of food I enjoy preparing (comfort food). I do really like to watch Pat and Gina Neely though. I love their style of cooking, and they so obviously adore each other that it makes me all warm inside to see them together. And, it is (unfortunately) so rare that Black love is depicted on television that is just seems extra special to see the Neelys and their family.

The two have a lovely back story (they dated in high school, went on to marry other people, then came back together at their reunion and ended up married) , they are very affectionate, and seem genuine. They are always using little pet names for each other and expressing their devotion to each other and their daughters. Can you tell, I REALLY like this couple?

Anyway, for Valentine’s Day, the Food Network had a series of specials scheduled throughout the weekend. Most of the shows related to that ever popular Valentine’s Day staple, chocolate. They showed commercial after commercial advertising their “Dipped in Chocolate” weekend.. hosted by the Neelys.And it made me feel really uncomfortable every time I watched the Neelys cheerfully announce this theme weekend. I thought maybe I was overreacting, because I never had a problem when Pat refers to Gina as his “Brown Sugar” during the course of the show, but it just did not sit right with me.

See, I have a real issue with people referring to others as food items or other inanimate objects. I HATE when people talk about liking “chocolate” or preferring “dark meat” when they discuss their attraction to Black men or women. When I hear someone speak in those terms, it is like being subjected to fingernails on a blackboard. It just seems so wrong.

Now, for some reason, it does not bother me when it is a term of endearment between a couple, two people in love. So, when I hear Pat call Gina his “brown sugar” or his “chocolate drop” it does not make me uncomfortable. But, using that sort of terminology as a promotional piece for a white owned and operated television station? Yeah, that really grates on my nerves.

The thing is, they were not using the term “dipped in chocolate” to refer to the Neely’s, but rather to the entire weekend. But the implication was there. They could have chosen ANY ONE of their celebrity chefs to advertise their chocolate themed programming block, but they chose two of the very few Black chefs on the channel. It would have made more sense to choose someone who hosts a show about baking or candy making, but they chose the Neelys.

The Neelys are not “dipped in chocolate”. To me, that term implies that they are white people who simply have a sweet candy coating that makes them slightly unique. It negates the entire history of African people in America and throughout the world.

The choice of the Neelys as the spokescouple for this weekend just offended my sensibilities. It was done simply because the Food Network decided to reduce the Neely’s to the color of their skin. Referring to human beings as “chocolate” implies that they are nothing more than an outside shell, that they are no more complex than the shade of their skin.

As I said, at first I thought I was overreacting to this, that the advertising was totally innocuous, but I could not shake the feeling that this was just WRONG. It was not as if the Neelys have any special connection to chocolate, other than the fact that they have brown skin and chocolate is brown. Their show is not about sweets, they are BBQ experts, not chocolatiers. It would make a whole lot more sense to have them host a BBQ themed weekend, yet when they did have a BBQ theme for the Superbowl Sunday, Guy Fieri was chosen as the host.

I think the reason I wanted to believe that I was overreacting was because I do like the Neely family so much. I did not want to believe that they would participate in an advertising campaign that was offensive. But, I have come to the conclusion that my discomfort is reality based. I would love to hear from more people though, and see what their opinion is on this issue.