Disney Candy Marketed with Racist Symbolism

by Carrie Tilton-Jones

Lisa Wade at Sociological Images recently wrote about the history of the use of watermelon as a symbol of how "simple" black folks are. Wade does a great job of showing that this is not an innocent stereotype -- it was actively used to dehumanize black people and justify keeping them as slaves. The argument went: If a watermelon is all it takes to make black people happy, this indicates their suitability for slavery and un-suitability for citizenship. (Warning: the images on this page are pretty disturbing.)


Pretty horrifying, right? Well, at least we don't do that anymore. Or so we'd like to think. Soon afterward, a reader wrote in to tell Wade about this:

Yeah, that's real. That's a candy package featuring a covered-up, dewy-eyed white princess advertising the vanilla flavor and a bedroom-eyed black princess -- the only one in the Disney canon -- in a strapless dress advertising watermelon. This packaging was produced by a Fortune 100 company in 2012.
So much for this symbolism being a historical curiosity. Worse yet, notice how Princess Tiana's bare shoulders and direct, sultry stare contrasts with the demure styling and shy smile of Sleeping Beauty. This calls to mind the racist stereotype of Jezebel, the sexually insatiable black woman, which was used to justify the rape of black women and even to deny that it was possible to rape a black woman.

I've been in rooms where marketing decisions were made. Even in small organizations, several people -- from the big boss to the marketing staff to the graphic designer -- got a look at any product that would see the light of day. I'm not sure which possibility is more disturbing: that no one among Disney's highly educated and qualified staff objected to this, that someone did notice and didn't feel safe objecting, or that someone did object and got shot down. And these are the more charitable options! The ugliest possibility is that someone with decision-making power thought this was funny -- when a 10 second search on the Internet would have told them how horrifying it was.

Whatever actually happened inside the Magic Kingdom during this decision-making process, any of these possibilities strongly suggests that Disney needs to require that every person who came anywhere near the design or production of this incredibly racist packaging needs some cultural sensitivity training pronto. NOW.

Why is this a big deal? Well, imagine you're the black mother of a black child, and you come across this candy at the grocery store. You're angry and sad. You think about your enslaved ancestors and how images like this were used to rationalize their sub-human status and justify unspeakable violence toward them. And now one of the most beloved and successful companies in the world is using it to sell your child candy. What do you say to your child? How do you begin to express all this in the middle of Aisle 12? What a horrible moment for any of the millions of black mothers in this country! And how unnecessary -- all it would have taken was one person at Disney saying, "Um, wait a minute, y'all …"

Are you furious yet? Because we are. So here's what you can do:

If you see this at a local retailer, let the manager know you find it offensive and ask that it be removed from the shelves. Use this online form to write to Disney -- tell them they need to apologize and should institute cultural sensitivity training to ensure that staff who make these kind of decisions act in keeping with Disney's stated anti-discrimination policy and do not engage in this kind of offensive symbolism.

If your local chapter is mad about this, go protest at your local Disney store! Make a petition asking the company to pull the product and mandate cultural sensitivity training, and get people to sign it. Send the petition to Robert A. Iger, President and CEO, The Walt Disney Company, 500 South Buena Vista St, Burbank, CA, 91521.

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Comment from: maxxum [Visitor]
I’m conflicted about this topic since I was subjected to a lot of racism in the past. I showed both images to my children and they couldn’t find anything wrong with either, other than to say that they all preferred watermelon to vanilla. The problem with symbolism is that it can be manipulated, misconstrued and will always be changing. Therefore, it can never be relied upon to be a good marker for anything (religion, race, etc...).

Most people like watermelon, including blacks (YouTube Dave Chappelle Division of Foods). All someone has to do is make a joke or some form of degrading association and now you have racism. Black people have even embraced some of these symbols and made them acceptable (n****, gold chains, etc.). However, most children don’t know about these associations and are integrating them into their lives without knowing where they came (ex. Swastika, pentagram, demon names originating to druidical times, etc).

Anyone that has worked with kids knows once you open up new taboo ideas you often create the same problem you are trying to avoid. The more people seem like they are taking advantage of race (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, etc) the more resentment you will create. The more one race is favored, the more resentment it creates for all others (killing a black person for being black is a bigger crime than simply killing a person). The simple matter is, racism is being created by the very things that are purposed to stop it.

The problem with trying to empower a group of people (blacks, women, gays, etc..) is that it cannot be done. All that one can accomplish is keeping them isolated, lift them above all others (equality & racism laws) and force the empowered to give them things (work & welfare). Which, of course creates resentment and and unbalances the playing field. Anyone that has taken a few years of social health and sociology knows this - but most people never take these courses.

Every society, people and group that has been empowered has accomplished it themselves - every single one. Jews, hispanics, Irish, Mormons... The list goes on and on. No one gave them power, they took it, worked for it and earned it. They persevered despite the obstacles. Every society, people and group that has been empowered by a government or organization has never prospered. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. both knew this, but approached it differently. Both knew that if government tried to equalize the playing field it would create resentment and set the movement back. To become empowered, blacks would have to ‘take’ that power, not be given it.

Don’t believe me? It happens every day all over the world. For example, lets say you have a 1st grader that always hides behind the teacher because some of the other kids pick on him. Imagine the teacher telling the kids, “If you pick on him, I will punish you twice as much as I do for other kids.” Does that make the other students respect the child or does it create resentment? Does it portray power or does it show weakness?

The only blacks who really get any respect today are those that either take power or don’t blame others for their misfortunes. Bill Cosby [Show] knew this and didn’t chastise people daily on his show for being white.

Racism is a real problem and will remain so for the foreseeable future. It is inevitable and we should always strive to fight it, but we should never do so at another’s expense.

If you want real equality, go create it by empowering yourself instead of preaching to the world that they need to treat you better.

Question to N.O.W.: Why are the topics of your main site not open to discussion? This blog is pretty softball compared. For instance, why not let people talk about HR.2299. I don’t see anything wrong with this law. It prevents children subjected to pedophiles and rape as well as children subjected to incest from being transported across state lines for abortions in neighboring states. This law can also help prosecute men of kidnapping children as well.

Not to mention, those articles are filled with some pretty biased and sometimes misinformation. I would think you would allow for an exchange of ideas and even some correction. That would be true equality, would it not?
04/16/12 @ 19:37
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Comment from: Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director [Member] Email
Please note that this is the only comment I will be making in response to @maxxum: NOW is a membership organization -- there are lots of ways to get involved and help shape NOW's positions -- that is, IF you share our goal of achieving full equality for women, people of color, LGBT people and other groups that continue to experience discrimination. You can get involved at the chapter level, and you can attend state, regional and national conferences, where you can help shape NOW policy. The blog is NOT the place to affect NOW policy, nor is our main web site (which is not a blog for numerous reasons that I don't feel the need to explain).

But it really wouldn't make sense for you to get involved in NOW because you seem to disagree with the organization on many key points. It seems to me that you are here to be contrary, which I believe to be a giant waste of both your and my time. It makes little sense to seek out an organization with which you disagree and try to convince that organization to change many of its main positions, to change its very nature, its founding principles. It makes much more sense that what you're really trying to do is derail staff from working on more important things and stroke your own ego by going on endlessly about whatever. So, having said what I just said, I'm going to refuse to play along any more.
04/17/12 @ 16:32
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Comment from: sheyla [Member] Email
I registered here before reading maxxum's well written response, which has expressed my main point beautifully. I would emphasize, as well, that when you tell people you are going to empower them, the subconsciousness message is, "You are powerless." It's degrading and hurtful. The little kid hiding behind the teacher's skirt gets that message.

Lisa Bennett, why not take maxxum's question in a constructive, positive manner?
04/19/12 @ 10:03
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Comment from: maxxum [Visitor]
@Lisa Bennett,

Have you ever gone to a Republican meeting and tried to convince them to change their policy’s? I tried to at a N.O.W. meeting in Texas several years ago. It took all of fifteen seconds before I was booed down. I simply asked why N.O.W. was supporting a bill in Congress that was actually the direct opposite to this one. It allowed anyone to transport children across State lines without parent consent for the purpose of having an abortion. It was beyond my understanding that N.O.W. would advocate such a reckless bill. Luckily it was shot down quickly. The main reason was because it directly violated other child protection laws.

Without opposition there can be no strives in understanding and which only leaves stagnation. Ideas should be free flowing, but misinformation is an evil that must always be challenged. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, no one’s ideas should be heard. Once the conversation ends so to is our freedom. So, I see this as my civic as well as moral obligation to let readers have another view of your “truths”. Particularly since far-leaning organizations (left or right) tend to warp that truth to suit their own ends.

I would very much like to see N.O.W. adopt a more holistic path where family and home are held as the most important starting points for change. Instead of focusing on the symptoms, they should try to actually fix the problems before they begin. I think the idea of N.O.W. is fundamentally flawed because it alienates half of the team (men). In fact, there is a long list of N.O.W. opposing legislation that help the family. N.O.W. has actually made “Family Planning” a running joke. The term is now so synonymous with abortion that many now oppose anything with the term.

I also think that N.O.W. is spinning it’s wheels on some topics such as trying to make girls take interest in certain fields. For three decades women have been inundated by messages that it’s cool to be into “insert field”. In most cases it isn’t working and in others it actually getting worse.

It saddens me when people close their minds and hearts to new ideas, particularly those advocating change. They, above all others should know that change is frightening and often faces opposition. So Lisa, just because our ideas are different, does not mean that we cannot have a dialogue. That you would flatly refuse makes me wonder if perhaps your ideas are not perfectly conceived. Why fear challenges? It may actually help you achieve your goals, even if it isn’t in the manner you first thought was best.


Thank you and do not let someones' ideas deter you from speaking your own. Different views make for a richer dialogue.
04/21/12 @ 06:29
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Comment from: maxxum [Visitor]
Holy crud, the errors in my writing. Teach me to write a response so early in the morning after coming back from vacation. Just people can discern my meaning :)

… no strides in understanding… not strives
… no one’s ideas should go unheard… not, not be heard.

There are [several] more, but those two are the most glaring since they change the meaning completely from my original thoughts.
04/21/12 @ 06:40
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Comment from: american [Member] Email
Author - When you see this candy in the store "You think about your enslaved ancestors and how images like this were used to rationalize their sub-human status and justify unspeakable violence toward them."

Really? Do you think your response to this candy is just a wee bit over the top?
04/24/12 @ 09:53
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Comment from: billywms [Visitor]
Ok, first, like maxxum said, most people like watermelon, so it's not a race issue.
Also, she's advertising watermelon, not to stereotype blacks, but because her green dress goes good with the pinkish backround, -It also makes the colors of a watermelon(green+pink), so it's not stereotyping anybody.

Second, the reason it's a strapless dress, is because, i believe that is what she wore in The Princess & the frog. She also wore a green dress(google it). I believe she was portrayed like her voice artist, Anika Noni Rose, who wears a strapless dress, she's a more modern princess, unlike sleeping beauty, who's from an older time where strapless dresses weren't made whereas they're very popular now. So that explains the dress part.

Third, with the stares, the picture used was an image from the film &
She appears bold, like she's not overcome by the sight of the prince. And sultry means hot with passion for somebody, what is so stereotypical about that? That's what happens to everyone in love. She's clearly not taken back by the sight of him, she's bold with love, isn't that what you want? To see women who are strong enough not to be so weak at the sight of a guy?

Don't you think you may be overreacting, just a bit?
04/24/12 @ 16:12
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