Kellogg’s, the maker of family-friendly cereals and snacks, was forced to respond on Wednesday after a Twitter user complained of racially insensitive art on Corn Pops cereal boxes. The art in question showed a shopping mall filled with colorful cartoon characters shaped like corn kernels “ninjas.” The activity was simple: Find the characters who are juggling, snorkeling, sunbathing, taking a selfie, skipping rope and stilt walking. Instead, novelist and Marvel comic writer Saladin Ahmed found the only brown-skinned character in the scene.
“Hey @KelloggsUS why is literally the only brown corn pop on the whole cereal box the janitor?” he tweeted. “[T]his is teaching kids racism.”
Kellogg’s responded to Ahmed on Twitter a few hours later and didn’t mince words. “Kellogg is committed to diversity & inclusion. We did not intend to offend – we apologize. The artwork is updated & will be in stores soon.” Ahmed replied, “genuinely appreciate the rapid response.” Racism and sexism has a long and storied history in advertising, and addressing it, while uncomfortable, has an impact.
Charlene Markley, an anthropology professor at Reed College, is building an extraordinary database of images, all drawn from mainstream advertising materials, to use as teaching aids in a sex and gender class. “Taken individually, some may seem innocuous or fun, others disconcerting or disturbing,” she writes. “But viewed as a group, the images immediately convey the pervasiveness of damaging stereotypes of subordinate categories of people in the U.S.”
But while Ahmed might have won the battle with the Battle Creek cereal-maker, he’s taking a break from the war. After being re-tweeted and attacked by trolls, he decided to take a break from social media. “Avoiding my mentions which are particularly full of upset racist dipshits right now,” he tweeted. “[S]orry if this means I’ve missed your non-dipshit words.”