I was in the check-out line of a Target-equivalent last year in Bogotá, Colombia when I came across this candy. I couldn’t help but to start looking around like “No one else thinks this is nuts!? Am I taking crazy pills??” Blank stares as far as the eye could see. These kinds of things still leave me nonplussed even though at this point I should’ve grown somewhat accustomed to the many overt displays of racism that people seem to find acceptable throughout Latin America. This little delight is produced by Nestle and as much as I complain about the treatment of race in the US, I’m fairly certain a chocolate covered candy called “Kiss of a Black Woman” could not, in this day and age, fly at home. And just two weeks ago I came across this advertisement on an ice cream delivery truck in Cartagena. It reads “Rejoice with chocolate kisses” and below “Share the taste of the people, buy yourself Mimo’s.”
Now of course many will assert “oh no, things like that aren’t racist” (as they did last year in Facebook comments). But this notion seems related to an inability to believe that racism is still quite alive and well and due to a lack of understanding of the many forms in which racism presents itself that don’t necessarily involve burning crosses and nooses.
Can you imagine something white being called the equivalent of “Kisses of a White Woman”?? Heavens, no. THAT would be ridiculous. O_O But the image of the Black woman can be exploited at will. Two of the most pervasive archetypal characters depicting women of African descent in the United States have been the “Mammy” and the “Jezebel.” The “Mammy” figure is characterized by the physically large and overweight woman with distinct African facial features, tight, kinky hair and darker skin, that is an asexual subservient being whose life revolves around tending to the needs of whites (think Aunt Jemima before the perm). The “Jezebel” is the hypersexualized, seductive, amoral and promiscuous woman who is often slightly lighter in skin complexion with less African facial features and straighter hair that uses her sexual prowess to exploit men (think Birth of a Nation). Both of these stereotypical characters emerged in the US South during slavery.
Latin American versions of these archetypes are often blended. Take for example this advertisement I saw at an airport café in Cartagena last summer:
The product is called “La Negrita Rhum” which basically means “Little Black Woman Rum.” The woman featured is of African descent, darker-skinned and reflects a sense of subservience and domesticity. She is slightly bent over and smiling, suggesting she is pleased with her role in this position. What distinguishes her from the typical Mammy archetype is that here she is sexualized. Her stance, the fact that her blouse is somewhat open and her bare feet suggest a domestic worker who could also serve in a sexual capacity for the person she is serving.
The combination of text and image in this photo suggest the “Jezebel” archetype, even though the drawing appears to be of a young girl. The name of the product ““Mi Cañita” means something to the effect of “little cup of beer or wine,” which suggests intoxication. Yet because it is made of cream, fruit and sugar it is conveying the idea of sweetness. This small girl of African descent is almost sweetly intoxicating. The use of “Mami!!” at the end of the tagline is common in Latin culture and does not typically refer to a mother, but is a way to refer to a woman and is often sexualized. It reflects the trope of the “Spicy Latina.” The way she is peering through what appears to be sugar cane suggests a sort of jungle-like quality, typical of stereotypes of women of African-descent. The manner in which the ice cream is near the figure’s mouth could also be seen as phallic.
The combination of text and image in the “Beso de Negra” photo also suggest the “Jezebel” archetype, but far more blatantly. Just the name of the product alone reflects the hypersexualization of the woman of African descent. In order to attract consumers, this chocolate product has been dubbed “Kiss of a Black Woman.” The character’s lips are pursed. She is wearing a strapless top, exposing her cleavage and large breasts.
The fact that all characters are adorned in a similar fashion suggests that a stereotype exists of what women of African descent in Latin America typically wear. They are all in bright red lipstick, large hoop earrings and a head scarf to match their attire like it’s some sort of Afro-Latina uniform. And what does each of these things represent? The red lipstick historically implies that the woman is a vamp. The head scarf could be similar to a kerchief, which suggests domesticity. The earrings could imply a certain degree of loudness and “Latinidad.”
When taken collectively, we see the repetition that both naturalizes the myth and reveals the intentions of the creators of the myth. We see an assertion of Eurocentric aesthetic values and white male hegemony. We have been fed these types of images so often that they have been normalized. No one accidentally puts a brown face depicting a woman of African-descent on a package. Someone had to sit there and think that these are appropriate representations that could be effectively used for pushing products. Before you know it you are seeing such images and not even recognizing that they are constructed. And that’s the magic of myth-making. You won't ever feel like you're taking crazy pills. This foolishness will seem normal and even acceptable.
Carolyn M. West, “Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel: Historical images of Black women and their implications for psychotherapy.,”Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training 32, no. 3 (1995): 458-466.