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Cheerios Illustrates Racial Realities that Schools Face

Posted by Grace Lee on Jun 3, 2013 4:26:00 PM

Cheerios is my favorite food group. According to my mother, they have been a favorite of mine since I was an infant. I go through a box of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios each week, so when they go on sale I usually stock up with a cart full. (Have you noticed how small those cereal boxes are getting--that's for another conversation.)

Apple Cinnamon CheeriosRecently, General Mills aired a new commercial that features a bi-racial family and the online conversation about it has been surprising--at least in my opinion. (An embedded link to the ad is provided below.)

Is seeing a mixed race couple on TV in 2013 really that shocking?

When I first saw this ad last week it immediately caught my attention because the blended race of the young daughter was obvious as she was speaking to her caucasian mother. The camera then showed an African-American dad covered in Cheerios because his daughter wanted him to be "heart healthy," one of the brand messages of the cereal.

Perhaps I've become so accustomed to seeing mixed-race couples at the mall, at church, and in other social settings, that I didn't think it was that big of a deal. The bigotry expressed in numerous posts over the last several days regarding this ad, however, accentuates the challenges that school leaders also face when dealing with families within the context of race relations. 

Consider the average private school in the U.S., for example, where the vast majority of the population is white. Managing this conflict is easy at younger grades because the social issues are less complex. In middle school or high school, however, the tone changes.

  • Does the administrator want the black student who transferred in high school taking playing time from a white student who has been at the school for several years? 
  • How does the school manage the parents who don't want their child dating that Chinese kid? 
  • What about that Korean mom, who learned to drive on the chaotic streets of Seoul, who flies through the parking lot with reckless abandon? 

Literally, these issues aren't just black and white, even though that's a prominent theme of the conversations. For example, at a school that enrolled a large population of foreign students from Korea and China, the local parents referred to their enrollment as the Asian Invasion. Race differences and conflicts must remain a part of the campus dialog, giving faculty, students, and parents the opportunity to discuss their concerns in a constructive, non-threatening forum.

Healthy debate is difficult in many parts of America because of the epidemic of the Princess-and-the-Pea Syndrome. Never heard of it? That's where small offenses cause unusually catastrophic pain and bruising (as in the fairy tale). The over-reaction by the "offended party" in politics, sports, media, schools, etc., strangles any hope of genuine reconciliation and cultural growth. It's a shame that President Obama has to so carefully choose his words, as does Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-a. The threshold for disenfranchised indignation is dangerously low, and the collective emotional intelligence of the United States continues to plunge

I love my Cheerios and will continue to enjoy this breakfast of champions until I'm pushing up daisies. Hopefully before that time we will mature as a community that is able to respectfully learn and debate issues without the emotional manipulation that has been honed into an American art form.

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