On Aug. 9, 2021, McDonald’s uploaded a brand new advertisement to their YouTube channel. This advertisement featured the extremely popular African-American rapper Saweetie announcing that she was partnering with McDonald’s to sell what she called “The Saweetie Meal.” She then showed off a variety of ways that she would customize the various items included in the meal, such as placing the meal’s fries on her Big Mac, or topping those fries with the meal’s Chicken McNuggets. The ad ends with her encouraging viewers to order ahead on the McDonald’s app, while sounds similar to her hip-hop music played well into the outro.
At first glance, this McDonald’s ad doesn’t appear harmful. If you have at least a substandard knowledge of pop culture in American music today, you’d feel that this ad makes sense. You’d initially think to yourself, “Saweetie is extremely popular with the Black youth of America today, so of course a company like McDonald’s would try to use her image to boost their sales in regards to that demographic.”
Now let’s imagine that you overheard someone denouncing the ad for having a negative effect on America’s Black community. This might come off as a bit of a shock to you. This would seemingly come off as the basic corporate-style marketing; know your audience and pander to them accordingly.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a case of harmless marketing. When you take a look behind the curtain into the recorded effects of fast food on the health of the Black community, this commercial quickly becomes far more insidious than it initially appears.
Historically, food insecurity has negatively affected Black Americans far more than their non-Black counterparts.
Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture
As you can see in the graph above, the rate of food insecurity for Black and non-Hispanic households has been more than double that of white households (which have the lowest rates of food insecurity among America’s population) for decades. This large disparity can be traced back to one singular concept; food deserts.
Food deserts are described by the Food Empowerment Project as “geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, nutritious food options, is nonexistent or extremely restricted due to a lack of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance.” These deserts are most commonly found in communities of color; specifically, predominantly Black neighborhoods.
When Black American households don’t have access to affordable and nutritious food they turn to fast food. It’s cheap, affordable, and because of food deserts, it’s often the only option for miles. Generations of Black children have grown up on steady diets of Burger King, KFC, and McDonald’s, not because their parents were necessarily being negligent or irresponsible, but because realistically that was the only way they could feed their children.
Sadly, this practice has resulted in a long list of health problems. According to the CDC, Black Americans have higher rates of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes than any other race. These are all risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the Black community. The way that many disadvantaged Black Americans eat is quite literally killing them.
This is the reason why some people view Black celebrities doing ad campaigns with fast food companies like McDonald’s as more than a little bit problematic. They feel that Black celebrities shouldn’t be partnering with these companies that have inflicted so much lasting harm towards the Black community and that these celebrities doing the same either shows a disgusting degree of indifference or an alarming amount of ignorance on their parts.
However, there are some individuals who view these partnerships as a positive thing. A recent NPR article praised McDonald’s for its partnership with Saweetie, stating that it’s part of a trend of many similar companies becoming more inclusive by “featuring more Black and other minorities in their ads and marketing materials.” They cited this increased diversity in advertisements as an important first step in companies reaching out to more diverse demographics of American consumers, while simultaneously supporting Black artists and taking a stand against institutionalized racism in America.
Despite the split views on whether these partnerships are positive or negative, one thing is definitely not up for debate, and that’s the fact that these partnerships are quickly becoming more and more commonplace. Saweetie is just one example. Before her, rapper Travis Scott partnered with McDonald’s in 2020 to release a signature meal of his own. Additionally, rapper Lil Nas X partnered with Taco Bell in August to launch new menu items in the weeks before the release of his new album. As for this month, just a few weeks ago rapper Megan Thee Stallion announced that she would be partnering with Popeye’s to release a signature “Hottie Sauce.”
For better or worse, it seems like this trend of Black celebrity-inspired fast food meals is here to stay and it may take years before we are able to determine whether its lasting outcomes are negative or positive. Right now, all that concerned members of the general public can do is voice their concerns across all forms of media and hope that these multi-million dollar companies and celebrities see and address the points that they are making. Thankfully, we are living in the information age where the internet is a powerful tool in raising public awareness and spurring reactive action from even the largest of companies and celebrities. Boycotts, protests, and calls for administrative action can all be organized through different avenues online.
We as consumers have the power to change these companies' tactics through our shared responses to their new ideas and that is a truth that we must never forget.
Food insecurity is a pervasive problem affecting millions of Americans every day. If you are able to, please donate to Feeding America –– the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the United States. They have publicly recognized that Black Americans consistently face higher rates of food insecurity than other Americans do. To help address this issue, Feeding America is currently working alongside national organizations such as the National Urban League and the NAACP. Even a small donation of just one dollar can enable this hunger-relief organization to provide at least 10 meals to families in need.
Click on this link to be taken to their donation form: