I just read an article on Spiegel Online International concerning a German food company that named it’s newest product – pre-cooked, breaded chicken strips – Obama Fingers.
First off, for my American readers, what we call “fish sticks” the Brits call “fish fingers”. And in many countries where English is taught as a foreign language, it’s British English they teach.
For those non-Americans reading, American blacks have long been caricatured as greasy-mouthed fried chicken lovers or sticky-mouthed watermelon crunchers.
- Many still remember the off-hand remark made by pro-golfer Fuzzy Zoeller when Tiger Woods won his first Master’s Tournament: “…Speaking to reporters at the tournament, Zoeller referred to Tiger Woods as “that little boy” and urged him not to order fried chicken or collard greens for the Champions Dinner next year…”
- And it’s only been a matter of weeks since a California politician decided to resign after sending out an email showing the White House – now home to the Obama family – surrounded by a patch of watermelons.
So, on a number of online American news platforms a discussion is brewing as to whether this reference to the president in connection with chicken is racist or not.
After having spent 30+ years in Germany – and over 15 of those years working in branding/advertising – I would bet that there was no conscious desire to take a racist jab at the American president. Fortunately, most of the people commenting on US news and feature blogs seemed to think the same thing – or are at least willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt. For all the stereotypes Germans might have about blacks in general, and American blacks in particular, they cannot be suspected of being in-tune with all of the archaic two-dimensional ‘info-bites’ about minorities that some Americans themselves still hold so dear. To many Germans (fried) chicken and any kinds of similar fast food snack is simply quintessentially American.
On the other hand, one comment asked a very pertinent questions: With all the Americans (and blacks) in Germany, didn’t the company think to seek the advice of a consultant?
Although I don’t agree with this same person’s admonition that something like this would have never happened in the States, Germany is still very slow when it comes to taking the feelings of their minority population into consideration in matters like this. One only has to consider how long it took for the infamous “Negerküsse” (“Negro kisses”) or “Mohrenköpfe” (Moor’s heads) to be re-baptized as “Schokoküsse” (“chocolate kisses”) to know that Germany isn’t an unwritten slate when it comes to ignoring the nuances of intercultural sensitivity.
And this issue doesn’t only pertain to blacks. Let’s not forget the discussion of the “Deutschländer” brand sausages a few years ago. Because “Deutschländer” is a term often used in Turkey to describe former guest workers returning from Germany to their native country, many Turks found this name objectionable. At the time no real dialogue (in other words, a two-way discussion between partners on equal footing) took place. The objections from the Turkish community were ignored and the product continues to be manufactured and actively advertised to this day.
Although I don’t believe that Sprehe acted maliciously with reference to President Obama’s race, I do agree with another reader who found the usage of the name of an American (or any) president to be tacky and disrespectful.
Or how would the Germans feel about encountering a Merkel-brand bratwurst in Bogota, Boston or Beijing – complete with a little life-like doll of the German chancellor wearing an apron and swinging a grilling fork?