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Duncan Hines & Their Hip Hop Cupcakes! #Fail

I try to stay away from political or racial debate here on the blog. I honestly don’t think I’d like to waste our time with things we hear ‘round the clock from pundits and analysts. And if you follow any of the major news networks or newspapers, you’re sure to get all the rhetoric there.

But, there is one topic that has me and my two friends Chrystal and Courtney, a bit taken aback: the allegedly racially inspired commercial by Duncan Hines wherein Blackface is implied by beatbox singing cupcakes.

“Amazing Glaze” (perhaps a word play on the old negro hymn “Amazing Grace?”) is a chocolate icing that brings to life a group of vanilla cupcakes when poured all over them. The animated cupcakes start a song/dance routine in attempt to be cool.

The Blackface implication is not solely because the cupcakes are covered in dark brown goo and have the stereotypical big lips and thwarting snow white pupils, rather because in addition to those poorly drawn “cartoons,” a white woman seems to be entertained by their lackluster midi tune performance while she’s dressing them.

For anyone, regardless of race, color or ethnic background not to consider the ad as overtly racist and at minimum highly insensitive, is to completely dismiss the salty history of Black face and the negatively connotated Minstrel shows that are a less glamorized version of the Japanese Geisha.

(Sarah Silverman as Blackface in 2007)

The commercial, created by Josh Binder incited emotion not easily aroused in national headlines last week. To very little reaction on websites and more surprisingly in social media realms, the commercial was mentioned in the Huffington Post, mildly criticized on other websites and subsequently removed from Youtube, where it originally aired. This website makes an argument for the other side.

While the cupcakes themselves are harmless as most of middle America thrives in the glory of boxed baking mixes and ultimately enjoys a piece of sweet goodness, the suggestion that chocolate glazed cupcakes mimicking and resurfacing a painful and resentful time of American history, is hardly amusing, comical or delicious. In my best assessment (without speaking with or talking to anyone involved in the campaign so as to get their side of the story), it’s racially charged, insensitive to those that were employed as Blackface, those that fought for racial equality and those seeking justice in all forms.

That the commercial has pretty much gone unnoticed and unaddressed in mainstream media is a blatant reminder of how far we’ve yet to go in understanding race, culture and even history. My political foe, Bill O’Reilly poignantly underscores my feeling and disagrees with my friend’s and my opinions. During his incendiary program last week, he and his contributors spent what I counted to be less than 90 seconds discussing the commercial. He posed this question to his guests: Do you find this to be racist?” He showed 15 or so seconds of the clip to which all 3 sarcastically smirked and came to the consensus there was nothing wrong with the commercial and certainly nothing racial about it. None of them made an argument for their point. They simply conferred  and moved on. My interpretation was that he wanted to give us concerned consumers (Black) a quick moment of attention as a way to save face and later say he was conscious about the issue (should it come up again).

But, I won’t bore you with my decision to continue watching his show despite my feelings toward him.

As a black woman, having been raised and educated in a middle-class home and environment, I don’t expect to see a modern America mock families that have sacrificed their lives in desperate search of freedom by jumping into treacherous seas and paddling their way to U.S. shorelines by way of nationally advertised cakes decorated with rafts, homemade floating devices and ropes—real imagery that would depict a painful time for many Hispanic groups–including close family friends. The Duncan Hines cupcakes pick at a similar story.

Yes, there are bigger and important issues to talk about and spend time debating,  however and unfortunately, insensitivity to race continues to be  a core problem in our society. Just ask all the Obama haters.

Mosey on over to The Duo Dises and CoCo Cooks for their opinion.

[Update at 6:25 PM] If interested, please read additional thoughts I’ve shared in the comment area below. They are a result of the debate and comments which have ensued!

[Update at 11:20 PM] As a result of great debate today initiated by our posts, a few other women (and bloggers) have taken a position and shared it on their blogs.

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80 thoughts on “Duncan Hines & Their Hip Hop Cupcakes! #Fail

  1. Like you, I stay away from political debates, yet it is true that this advert is very “refined” and quite obviously discriminating in a very cliché and old-fashioned way.



  2. Wow, that Sarah Silverman picture is disappointing. :/ For some the racism is overt, for others it is slight but there. It’s just unfortunate that this is an issue put on the table at all, especially by a baked goods brand. Of all people to be at the core of this, who would think Duncan Hines? All good points you’ve made.

  3. I can understand your dislike for this commercial. It does straddle a line and is almost distasteful… But, it is funny, and really black people make fun of themselves on TV all the time – as do Asians, Jews, and Englishmen.

    As a black guy, I can’t say I’m offended. It’s a funny little commercial with a good tune, and it’s not annoying either – there’s no worse commercial than one that gets on your nerves.

    What I’m really surprised by is your last comment – for someone who says they don’t like talking politics, you really stuck it out there when you mentioned Obama haters. Have you ever considered that there could be many people out there who dislike Obama for justifiable reasons?

    And furthermore, how could you possibly like a person who’s main goal in the Presidency was to force you to buy a commercial product or pay a fine? (insurance) Are you prepared to buy health insurance? If not, are you willing to find all the paperwork you need to get your insurance subsidized (if you’re low-income)? Do you have any experience with Food Stamps and Section-8 housing? Do you know that when you sign up for such things you have to report your income to the government every few months? Do you know how much of a headache this has caused everyone? Can you even imagine the damage it’s caused to the insurance and health care industries – *before* that part of the bill has even enacted?

    There’s countless reasons to dislike Obama. I have two. He’s spineless, and he pulled a bait & switch on us with health-care. People voted for the guy because he said he’d help us out of this recession and solve our medical problems. Hell, even I was happy about that. I thought I could get my tinnitus fixed one day because of it (ear ringing). He was going to throw a lot of businesses money, he was going to save GM. He was going to increase funding for colleges, and help more people qualify for financial aid. The guy made so many big promises people thought he was a miracle worker – even though he hadn’t done anything yet.

    They thought he was going to change Washington… they thought he was just what we needed.

    What a disappointment! Democrats & Republicans hate him now. The bastard even extended the Bush tax cuts! How could someone like you continue like him – except for the fact that he’s black?

    I think it is you that’s the real racist. Not me, not anyone else. Just you.

    Nice website though. I never really come here, and I admit I’m a friend of Joe’s.

  4. After seeing the commercial – it is definitely offensive. Great post and, after seeing the commercial and the implications, I think it’s time that Duncan Hines and my pantry part ways. I could never support a company that is like this.

  5. Awww, why did you delete my post? I wasn’t being offensive. =/

    Anyway, I just wanna say the commercial isn’t that bad. If you want to talk about racism being perpetuated in the media, you should look at all the black comedy TV shows from the likes of BET and so on.

    Also, that there’s plenty of justifiable reasons a person can dislike Obama. If someone can’t dislike a politician without being dehumanized and denigrated, then we have a problem.

    And finally, you’re not black anyway, so I don’t know why you’re so strung up about this.

  6. I’m black and I find it in poor taste. It really takes a lot to offend me so I don’t find it so. It’s insensitive and I find that very disappointing from a well-respected company. As to our hostess not being black, that should have no bearing on what she finds offensive.

  7. This is a direct insult to black people and Hip-Hop. I’m not suggesting that Duncan Hines or the director of this commercial is racist, but they should have used better judgement. Over the past 12 years we have seen an increasingly number of commercials using hip hop music or referencing hip hop to appeal to an audience(which is very LARGE!) that loves this genre of music. Duncan Hines attempts to do the same but; it’s obvious that the term “Hip-Hop” doesn’t fit here. Where is the hip hop music in the commercial? Is it Hip-Hop because of the black faces??? An obvious exploitation of Hip-Hop!! Also, Duncan Hines is being inconsiderate of the feelings of black people and our struggles. The black faces and big lips are reminiscent to the Minstrel Shows, which was an attempt to make fun of black slaves for entertainment. In the end, this is just another corporation exploiting black people and black culture for financial gain. So, what else is new???

  8. Why is it on on almost every comment I see on the internet some Obama basher comes on to divert from what the post is about?
    Thanks for showing Chris’ comment Bren. What you/we are trying to do open a dialougue and he’s just trying divert with Obama is responsible for all the worlds ills BS.
    We are entitled to voice our opnion with respect and consideration of others. Unlike Duncan Hines, which really didnt show African Americans any respect.

  9. The sound won’t work on this computer so i was only able to see the commercial. I hadn’t heard of it before you mentioned it here & i wonder if i would have thought it was racist if i’d seen it one night while flipping through channels before reading about it and its nature. I must say this, your writing on the subject is very passionate and knowledge about for such a tender subject. Eloquent & greatly expressed. Racist intentionally or not i understand your feelings and words as an African American woman. I think at times advertisers are insensitive and don’t think ESPECIALLY if they can’t relate personally! People need to be more conscience in general.

  10. I’ve been very busy so missed out on all this… Wow. I’m about as pasty as you can get without being utterly translucent, and the blackface is quite obvious to me. This commercial would make me twitch even without the “hip-hop” label. Hell, even *I* know this isn’t hip-hop. Qualifies as a sad Casio beat-box imitation, maybe. I have a feeling it was inspired by doo-wop and 40s-50s era housewives and then was executed ignorantly.

    And Chris, to me the phrase “Obama haters” applies to people who aren’t disagreeing and debating on issues. I was in SW Virginia coal country for that election (and phonebanked out of a United Mine Workers of America office, which puts a different perspective on some of his decisions regarding coal). I heard comments I will never bring myself to repeat. Swastikas were spray-painted on many signs the next morning. *Those* are the people the phrase “Obama haters” brings to mind. People who disagree (like me quite often, but I still think Obama/Biden was a better choice than McCain/Palin) aren’t haters. Disagreements based on reasons and policies aren’t hate.

  11. Thanks to all that have chimed in so far. A note to all: this post was part of on going conversations between me and two other black bloggers that felt the disparity in the issue not being addressed by other bloggers. To that end, this was intended to create dialogue and conversation on the matter and not to divide or alienate anyone. The post reflects my opinions based on my interpretation of the poorly judged commercial and its racial implications.

    It’s completely okay and appropriate for you to disagree with me, politically and otherwise. That’s what makes the U.S. a democracy and not the Cuba I come from.

    That being said, the only persons I took issue with where the execs at Duncan Hines and the ad agency that produced it. I’ve not and will not take up a personal issue with you simply because you disagree and find nothing wrong with the commercial. That was not the point. This is friendly blog and I invite all people, races, ethnic groups, etc.. to join in on anything I say, regardless of my feelings.

    But, I will address one new comer to my blog: @Chris. I will my keep my response short. While I appreciate voicing your opinions, you are no one to be calling me racist. I’ve not said anything that is inappropriate or offensive to anyone. We don’t know each other and surely you have no knowledge of my background, general beliefs, or even political affiliation. My mention of Obama Haters has nothing to do with his policies. If you must know, as a voter, I’m not content with the positions he’s taken or some of the laws he’s tried and succeeded in passing. I don’t have to defend my position one way or another. I made a simple point… there are people that hate Obama simply because he’s a black man. That was the point. I don’t care about his policies as it relates to the racial undertones of the commercial in question. Furthermore, do your research on black people before you assume I’m not black. Another point I don’t have to defend, but if you knew anything about black race and ethnicity, I wouldn’t have to point out that blacks are not limited to North Americans. I guess Jamaicans or Dominicans aren’t black either. Lastly, you suggest that only black people should care about race and all the problems we have with it? Interesting. Check yourself before you come to my space grossly accusing me of something I’m not. Still, thank you for sharing your thoughts and creating conversation.

    To everyone else, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post. I don’t like to talk politics here and believe this is the 1st time I’ve done so. For obvious reasons this blog is fun and light-hearted with the purpose of sharing useful information as it relates to food (sometimes my culture; sometimes my shoes). It will remain that way. But since this commercial had everything to do with a product we’ve all probably used before, I thought it was my duty so speak up in the absence of other people doing so!

    Enjoy your Christmas and holiday and eat all the brownies and chocolate iced cupcakes your heart desires!


  12. The music, the graphics and even the use of chocolate glaze,all are clear pointers of what the creator of this ad wants to bring to the table.Its humour, all in bad taste.I do not understand how a brand like Duncan Hines can resort to such sissy acts.
    Again, though I agree with you that blogs are for fun and light hearted issues but dont forget that blogs are also a way to express a person’s self-I m glad you did exactly that.
    Thanks for stopping by the other day on my page1

  13. As someone else posted above, I wonder how many people would have interpreted the commercial as racist before reading about the controversy. I hadn’t previously seen the commercial and didn’t view it until after reading Bren’s very well writing article. But, I have to admit that after viewing it, I was really kind of wondering what the big deal is. Yes, you could say that they used the big lips and yes you could say that it resembles blackface somewhat, but that’s certainly not what I immediately thought of when I viewed the footage (yes, I’m black). I don’t know where the hip hop reference is coming from either because in my opinion, there is nothing hip hop about it.

    However, I think that since it does somehow offend some people, Duncan Hines should completely pull it, if they haven’t already, and announce that it wasn’t their intent to offend anyone. At least that’s what I would do if I ran the company. If you think about it, what would the company possibly think to gain by purposely producing a commercial that offends part of their target market? I think that the real intent is an important consideration here and feel that they were just intending to market their product via a cute commercial and it backfired.

    What I am more bothered by are some of the offensive comments that were made by some contributors to this discussion. It’s too bad that we never seem to be able to have an intelligent conversation about a sensitive topic without the distasteful comments coming out. Just because you are able to hide behind your computer keyboard and say whatever you want without much fear of face-to-face retaliation, doesn’t give you license to be so disrespectful of others. It’s very shameful and unnecessary and is an example of the huge amount of work that we still need to do as a society.

  14. Bren, I have followed with great interest the passionate conversation you suceeded -beyond your expectations I might add- in creating here. Because we have had this genre of discussions before and you know well where I stand, I will save you and your readers my opinion on the commercial, on your own opinions on the issues of race, politics, et al and on your readers’ comments, most saliently Chris’s. This I want to say, though: Bravo for your last response to your readers and Chris in particular. You handled it superbly, with a passion and dignity I admire, as well as sensitivity for all people and positions involved. I am sure this conversation has enriched your readers’ minds as it provided excellent food for thouhgt. While, as we all know, some topics, like politics and religion, have great potential for provoking strong sentiments and can reach incendiary tones, we all, as individuals and proud American citizens, should never shy away from our social resposibilities and convictions. That’s the Bren I know. I’m proud of you.

  15. Well, heres the deal.

    Racism is cute. Its funny, in a sort of smirky white snob and/or hick sort of way. And yet, if that black girl is hot, its about her body, not her skin color. And if the cupcake is black and it reminds someone of blackface, Amazing Grace or the well known facts that black folks enjoyed their bondage…..than there isnt much wrong with a little conservatism, right? I mean, cupcakes are pretty conservative.

    But wait, theres more…

    We have Aunt Jemima. She has been adorning our yeoman cakes cooked quickly in the frying pan for a century or more. Yet Aunt Jemima….”ain’t your momma”…is she?

    But wait, theres even more….

    We have collard greens. Are they small veggies high on white society plates? …or are they “colored greens” ….who knows, they good but they arent colorless greens….or white greens…or even “diaspora cabbage”…they are, bluntly veggies for colored folks.

    And of course we have “soul food” which would otherwise be ideal for those many Fox listeners who are without one…but ultimately we might ask ourselves, if black folks have soul food, can white folks cook a mean chicken too?

    The problem with all of this, is that racism and racial lines are abhorrent to us, yet we still want our cake and want to eat it too. We cant have it both ways. Because if we do, then the flat out racists, the closet racists, the marital segregationists, and jungle feverists (ahem) start to marinate and cook our own words…..in our own juices.

    If you want to fight racism, work to educate people, fight for jobs, and most importantly, teach empathy whilst condemning apathy. For it is apathy that leads to uncomfortable hacks like that cup cake add….consciously or not.

    Gotta go….the REDSKINS are losing and my indian grandmother is asking for a hard drink.


  16. As a follow up…..I was using a degree of sarcasm to make a point. Hopefully that is implied. If not, hopefully youll understand what I meant now.

  17. i hadn’t seen this commercial, and probably wouldn’t have realized all of those… similarities… but now that you pointed it out it seems as though there’s no way that was accidental. and that i just don’t get. aren’t we supposed to learn from our mistakes?

  18. What…the…he**??

    I’m trying to figure out what what pitch the advertising agency used that got the Duncan Hines people to say “Great! Run with that one!”

    It was stupid. Plain and simple.

  19. After seeing the video, reading the post and the subsequent comments, I have 2 responses:

    1) It is times like these that I wish the accessability of media/news/videos, etc was as it used to be in the 80s. If it weren’t for this post, many of us would never have even heard of this lame attempt at comedy. The media often shines a spotlight on something that didn’t even deserve a candle flicker. Bottom line, the more we talk about it, the more ammunition we give racists and bigots. If we didn’t have the opportunity to see and discuss it, the “creative geniuses” would have received no buzz and very likely no bonuses!

    2) For people to believe that racism as a whole is EVER going to go away would be to say people really are blind and maybe even dumb. Racism (and classism) has been around since the beginning of time. It’s how Romans and Christians,Jews and Gentiles, Royals and Commoners, Whites and Blacks have dealt with each other for CENTURIES. The issue isn’t in the demeaning, degredating and often times dehumanizing acts, it is how those who are constantly put to the test fight their way out of it! It’s not in the blaming of society, but the rising above it! If we could just stop expecting others to do better, we may be able to do better ourselves.

    (I will now get off my soapbox)

  20. Of course it”s racist. It’s the same way they used to draw pictures of blacks – black face, big white bulging eyeballs, big red lips, singing and dancing.

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