What if whiteness doesn’t do a body good? (Consuming Whiteness part 1)

Despite a penchant for Thai curry, Vietnamese spring rolls, and Jamaican jerk chicken, the US remains a problematically homogenized culture. In particular, singular ideals of what a ‘proper’ American eats and looks like dominate mass mediated images and pervade the cultural imagination. These images, by and large, still convey that certain types of bodies represent American ‘perfection.’ Usually, the ‘perfect’ or ‘true’ American is represented as white, thin, male, middle class, able-bodied, and heterosexual. White women are also allowed to represent ‘perfectness’ if they follow all the conditions listed previously AND are either beautiful sex objects or dutiful mothers (the good old angel/whore dichotomy refuses to die).

In a series of pieces slated to post to this blog over the next few weeks, I will consider how advertisements continue to promote ideas of white supremacy and induce the US public to consume the idea that whiteness (in food, bodies, clothing, etc) is ideal. While ads certainly also promote the thin, non-disabled, wealthy, heterosexual body as superior, the posts in this series will focus in particular on skin color and the “Got Milk”” ad campaign as representative of a trend to represent whiteness as good in advertising.

In the Got Milk ads, the representation of ‘perfect’ white bodies was linked to the consumption of America’s ‘perfect food’ – milk. Inaugurated in 1993, the campaign included the famous milk moustache print ads as well as humorous television advertisements in which people found they were out of milk at the most inconvenient times. While these ads may have seemed innocuous, this campaign (and its similar descendants) help to sustain limiting notions of what it means to be a ‘good body,’ and, most pervasively, perpetuated the notion that ‘good bodies’ are white (and consume/wear/desire whiteness).

This valorization of milk as a perfect food that these ads put forth is part of a long history in which white, middle class bodies are deemed better than the bodies of various ‘Others.’ As nutritionist Marion Nestle notes, the idea that dairy is “essential” was brought about via the joint forces of dairy lobbies, nutritionists, and governmental agencies since the early twentieth century.[i] And, in spite of the fact that roughly seventy-five percent of African-Americans and Native Americans and over ninety percent of Asian Americans are unable to readily consume dairy products due to lactose intolerance, milk has been touted as “all American.”[ii]
The aggrandizement of milk (and other white commodities) reveals American culture’s continuing obsession with ‘perfect whiteness.’ The continued directive to “drink milk, it does a body good”  was imbued with underlying messages about whiteness as good, consumerism as good, cultural assimilation as good. This dangerous commodification of ‘whiteness’ as a symbol of the nation’s health continues to be disseminated in various forms of advertisement and media. From white t-shirts to white bread to white picket fences to white women to white teeth to white socks to white skin to white undergarments to white paper, ads (and the commodities they aim to sell) invest in (and perpetuate) white as good, white as superior, and white as pure.

However, as recent findings have revealed, white is not so good or healthy when it comes to food. The no-carb craze has shown white carbs to be the worst for the body while milk’s ‘goodness’ has been made questionable due to all the growth hormones pumped into cows as well as to studies showing that milk is not all that good for the body after all. Yet, to replace these outmoded investments in whiteness, we have turned to other white pursuits, such as teeth whitening and (gasp) anal bleaching. Who knew that having a white anus was so important?

What if we woke up to the fact that white is not right, that brown bread is healthier, that teeth naturally yellow, that white t-shirts are boring, that, for god/dess sake, a white anus is darn right unnatural and unnecessary? Whiteness doesn’t do a body good-what it does is confer white skin privilege-a privilege that allows those with white skin to walk through the world with many advantages through no actions of their own. But these privileges are not good in the entire scheme of things for white skinned people either because what they perpetuate is a racist, colorist world that harms everyone-white people included.

If people want to drink milk that’s fine, but I wish they could stop mindlessly consuming the message that whiteness is somehow good or better.  If you are so inclined, I hope you will consider complaining to the advertising companies that continue to prompt the US populace to consume a white superiority message.


[i] *Marion Nestle, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 79.

[ii] **Lactose Intolerance is a genetically based intolerance. People who are lactose intolerant usually do not have the gene that allows for the production of lactase, the enzyme that promotes digestion of the lactose sugar found in milk products. See E. Melanie Dupuis. Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink (New York: New York University Press, 2002), 27.

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21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “…From white t-shirts to white bread to white picket fences to white women to white teeth to white socks to white skin to white undergarments to white paper, ads (and the commodities they aim to sell) invest in (and perpetuate) white as good, white as superior, and white as pure.”

    YEE-OW! spot on!

    y’know…the whole anal bleaching freaked me out when i first saw the epi of dr. 90210 (i was channel surfing at the time)…i mean, just how FAR do women have to go for “perfection”?

    in all “fairness”…the woman getting anal bleaching WAS a porn actress….go fig…

    …but that opens the door for other women (who’ve seen this program, natch) to consider having this procedure done and will seek out plastic surgeons and/or dermatologists who will do this (and other procedures) for a nominal fee…

  2. I agree that “white is right” needs to disappear, but this article is an exercise in credulity testing. Paper is white because ink is most readable on it, and milk is white naturally (and people have been drinking it before caucasians set foot on this planet). Milk is also a good source of protein and calcium, so yes, unless you’re lactose intolerant, it does do a body good, and advertising it as such has nothing whatsoever to do with promoting white SKIN as ideal. Geez.

  3. DiosaNegra,
    Thanks for the “YEE-OW!” :)

    I heard about anal bleaching via Margaret Cho’s recent comedy tour. I think she plans to have an episode dedicated to it on her upcoming show (I think at Comedy Central). But, it doesn’t surprise me that you saw a porn star opting for a white bum-hole on dr 90210. I agree that this “opens the door” for other women to have (or be expected to have) this procedure. “Honey, your asshole is so, well, dark. Could you do something about it…” Ugh.

    Jason,
    Thanks for reading. I hear your criticisms and see where you are coming from, but I think that you are simplifying my analysis a bit. I am not claiming that milk is BAD or that advertising it necessarily promotes whiteness, BUT, that historically it has been linked to white privilege, americanization, assimilation, and racist food practices. Also, the Got Milk ad campaign played on messages of whiteness as good and pure in ways that perpetuated a valorization of white people and white skin. What you read is only the first part of a five part post, but you may find the rest “an exercise in credulity” as well. I hope you will keep reading and see what you think…

    As for the white paper claim, I do have to beg to differ… Paper is so white due to way to much damn bleach and processing and I would prefer a darker look (like the recylced paper you get or the kiddie drawing paper). That is why I chose this blog design — I think cream/tan is nicer to read off of than white. White is blinding to the eye, I find.

  4. I find this blog to be extremely racist and ignorant.

    However, some posts are downright funny (such as this one—milk is racist? lol) I’m blinded by your sheer ignorance to see how ridiculous you’re being. You jumped on the “white needs to be changed because white is wrong” bandwagon and you believe it will get you somewhere. It won’t.

  5. “I find this blog to be extremely racist and ignorant.”

    Jane, you have wildly missed the point. Milk is being used metaphorically to convey that this “whiteness” we have in our society is used as a catalyst for advancing a “purity” standard.

    Instead of skimming, I think maybe you should take the time to read through the argument before you pass judgment. Besides, this is blog!

  6. I don’t know if the people posting angrily are annoyed because they get told in repulsed tones how white they are.
    I get this a lot and it really amazes me how free people feel to say it as if being white (they don’t say “pale”, they say “white”) were a social faux pas like picking your nose or being rude to waiters.

    On the rare occasions when I get a tan my kinder relatives comment approvingly.

    So I hear what you’re saying in principle, but my real-life experience is a little different.

  7. I agree that whiteness has been the litmus test of virtue for the last 400 years or so, and certainly don’t endorse such a standard (even though I share Katarina’s frustration with people who think it’s ok to say I’m “so white” like it somehow isn’t insulting). I just don’t for the life of me see how the “got milk” promotes white skin. A few blacks are even featured in the following ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6G7MuKDo6I

    Yeah, this is would certainly fit your definition of “sexist” but it isn’t racist. And as for paper, yes it’s bleached but it’s bleached because many people find it easier to read on (and a lighted computer screen is NOT the same thing, which is why white backgrounds do indeed look harsh).

    But, yes, this is just the first part. You haven’t finished making your argument yet, so I’ll hear you out before making up my mind about it.

  8. [...] What if whiteness doesn’t do a body good? (Consuming Whiteness part 1) « Professor, What If…? “In a series of pieces slated to post to this blog over the next few weeks, I will consider how advertisements continue to promote ideas of white supremacy and induce the US public to consume the idea that whiteness (in food, bodies, clothing, etc) is ide (tags: by:professorwhatif whitenessstudies advertising mediaimages) [...]

  9. Great post, and I’m REALLY looking forward to the rest of the series. I think you’re absolutely white that the “milky white” hue of milk gets deployed in white supremacist ways.

    By way, I did a post about milk and race recently at my blog on whiteness: “use racially coded jungle settings to promote the consumption of another animal’s baby food”

  10. intersting reading and i look forward to the future installments.

    i’ve have noticed the connecton between color and what is deemed good or bad. for example devil food cake (dark) or angel food cake (white).

    Black monday (or any day that have a catastrophe)… dark day on wall street… dark comedy…black lie (bad) white lie (not so bad)
    blackball…black listed…blackmail…..dark mood.
    dark continent.

    Then there is, white as the driven snow.. white christmas..fair play…fair minded… white symbolize purity for weddings. Angels are white. jesus is depicted as white (blond & blue), saints are depicted as white. The devil is never depicted as white, why is that?

    Can we use colors to indicate good or bad, perfect or imperfect without using colors that are associated with humans? It’s not like we only have two choices.

  11. Sorry to all for the delay in responding to your comments. As I am technically on vacation, I will keep my replies fairly brief…

    Jane,
    Huh?
    Ignorant and racist? Yup, in fact, that’s the subject I got my PhD in.
    (Why is it whenever one questions white privilege suddenly one is ignorant?)

    Minority Militant,
    You got my back. Thanks!
    Love the skimming point.

    Katarina,
    I think you are referring to being a non-tan white person or a whie peson that doesn’t tan. Currently, cultural norms favor those with tans (but mind you, white people with tans, not people who are ‘born brown’).

    This tan issue has to do with clas — used to be white/pale skin signified you were wealthy enough not to labor in the sun. Now, tan skin signifies you are wealthy enough to have the leisure time to tan (or afford tan booths/tan sprays/etc.) So, this is yet another area where racism and classism intersect.

    Jason,
    I haven’t had a chance to check out the you tube ad, but I do mention Whoopi Goldberg’s Got Milk ad and point out she is lactose intolerant — as are the majority of POC. Thus, by the numbers,whites are far more likley to be able to readily consume dairy.

    Thanks for the willingness to hear me out in future posts!

    Macon,
    Thanks! Glad you liked the post and hope you enjoy the four other parts yet to come. I will check out your post and blog when I return home from my travels (my internet time is very limited and sporadic right now.)

    Imhotep,
    Thanks for reading and commenting.
    Great points about all the ways in which we use language to further the idea that whiteness is better. Even the ‘white lie’ is the better lie, the little lie… There are so many examples and you list some great ones.

    And, we do use many other colors ways that are similarly racist to the way black is used. For example, ‘yellow bellied.’ And of course, our language is filled with many racist terms that denigrate certian racial/ethnic foodways such as ‘rice rocket’ and ‘beaner.’ For the most part, white people and white food practices are not used in this derogatory whay EXCEPT when they are linked to class/poverty issues as with ‘white trash’ or ‘white bread’(sliced white being a ‘cheap food’).

  12. I believe milk or the domestication of cattle for the purposes of consuming milk originally came from Africa (via Ethiopia) and spread to Europe. East Africans have lower lactose intolerance than West Africans. Here’s the breakdown by ethnicity of Lactose intolerant people around the globe: Lactose intolerance by ethnicity

    And FWIW, there were a number of famous POCs who were part of the gotmilk campaign including Donovan McNabb, Beyonce, Muhammad Ali, Masi Oka, etc.

  13. When in doubt, always be condescending. Isn’t this your motto? Saying that your word is the most credible because you have a PhD is not only ignorant, condescending but it shows that you have little faith in your own word and affirming that you have a PhD is intended to back them up, right? A PhD does not mean that you’re automatically intelligent (like this blog proves again and again). Just as a side note, so it doesn’t get to your head too much, I’m a graduate student and I’m in the process of obtaining my own PhD. So don’t think that you’re anything special because of it—anybody can get a PhD.

    I do think that this blog is extremely racist and it’s very offensive to Whites (i.e. “Whites probably stole the majority of inventions from POC”–what is that? do you have anything to back that up or it’s just what you think?, “White is blinding”–intended to mean that Whites have absolutely no say in what they’re accused of since you know, they’re White). I could continue with the examples, but you should see how offensive this blog is. I stick by my original statement, you joined the new fad that’s meant to criminalize, belittle and reduce the self-esteem of ALL Whites. However, just like I said before, it won’t get you anywhere because the examples that you give are simply ridiculous and you’re really lying to yourself if you think you’re going to achieve anything.

  14. ….My nana always said that “two wrongs don’t make a right”, but I can’t resist saying:

    @ Jane:”…the new fad that’s meant to criminalize, belittle and reduce the self-esteem of ALL Whites. ”

    Actually the fad ain’t new….the script is just being flipped and things are being examined and exposed for what they are.

    POC have had this done to them for a long time…seriously.

    Example: The media (commercials, print ads, and the like)

    You see how it’s commonplace now for Black/Asian/Latino people to be in ads for luxury cars, appliances….and even everyday things like deodorant, shampoo and soap?

    Not that long ago (the late 60′s and early 70′s to be exact)….POC were NOT seen in these ads….unless it was to fulfill some really racist stereotype (“ancient chinese secret” tagline on a detergent commercial)

    Why?

    Because it was believed that White people:

    - would be less likely to purchase a product that had an “ethnic” face attached to it;

    - would believe the product to be of “lower” quality;

    OR (here’s the kicker)

    - believed that POC did not have the wherewithal (read: $$$) to purchase said product they advertised.

    (If you could put yourself in a POC’s shoes for a nanosecond) How would THAT make you feel?

    You earn a living, pay your taxes, contribute to the wealth of this country and are a decent HUMAN BEING….and yet, there are LITTLE OR NO representations of you/your ethnic group….unless they’re derogatory?

    Or, even better:

    Try being a POC standing in line at a store and you happen to be standing between two white people….and the cashier acts as if you aren’t even THERE….they wait on the person in front of you….and behind you. They COMPLETELY SKIP right over you!

    That’s a stealth attack on your self-esteem….to know that you are a LIVING, BREATHING, HUMAN BEING…and be treated as INVISIBLE, due to your lack of having white skin?

    Here’s another:

    Try having one month devoted to the history of YOUR people….and have that treated as separate from U.S. history and (on a larger scale) WORLD history….

    Yet another:

    How about having physical traits associated with your particular ethnic background (full lips, round behind) called “beautiful” when their possessed by someone who is WHITE, however, when they’re on YOU…they’re ugly, malformed and subject to ridicule?

    (re: Angelina Jolie’s lips and Jessica Biel’s rear end — Black women have had these traits for millenia…yet they’re UGLY on us and sources of ridicule)

    Still wanna talk about criminalizing, belittling and reducing self-esteem of people?

  15. Bald man,
    Interesting points. Thanks for reading and commenintg! I will look into the Africa/Ethiopia milk history.

    I am not sure what FWIW means, but I am aware a number of POC appeared in the ad campaign. However, the presence of POC does not mean something is necessarily anti or non-racist…

    Jane,
    I meant the PhD comment as joke. Sorry you took offense. I did not mean to use it as an ‘i am smart’ comment, but a joke referring to the fact that people who work in my field (women’s studies) are often accused of being ‘ignorant’ due to the fact many don’t think looking at the world via a feminist lens has any value. Also, there is a big difference between non-intelligence (or stupidity) and ignorance, one can be very intelligent and still very ignorant about many things. I certainly am ignorant about many subjects. (I can already here your attacking replies…)But, I would like to think racism and sexism are subjects I know quite a bit about. So, it was not meant to be condescending — however, you might consider your own tone…

    I am a POWP — and if you have read the blog you know what this means. My aim is not to attack white people or any other group, my aim is to analyze and question racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

    I did not claim in this post that white people stole inventions — but for proof of this, you can read Howard Zinn, Leslie Marmon Silko, Changes in the Land, Lies My Teacher Told Me, Gloria Anzaldua, etc.

    Why, might I ask, are you so reluctant to admit that white privilege exists? It is not YOUR fault it exists, but, if you are a POWP, I feel it is your duty to help to dismantle it…

    DiosaNegra,
    Excellent, excellent points. Thank you!Thank you!Thank you!
    Your comments helped to revive my hopes after some pretty negative feedback as of late…

  16. [...] lobbies, nutritionists, and governmental agencies since the early twentieth century. read the rest here and [...]

  17. This was terrific and I definitely do not think that you are stretching the imagination by pointing out the white=pure idea in so many things in our lives. Those tooth whitening advertisements look so much like the skin whitening adverts- they really creep me out. Whiteness as assimilation, as the bleaching of culture, as pure, clean, devoid of history- words are descriptions and symbols of a culture’s myths- not objective or baggage-free. Also on whiteness:

    http://nerdsevolving.blogspot.com/2008/02/on-whiteness-topic-for-228o8.html

  18. Emfole,
    Thanks for commenting!

    “Whiteness as assimilation, as the bleaching of culture, as pure, clean, devoid of history- words are descriptions and symbols of a culture’s myths- not objective or baggage-free.” Too true!

    I will check out the link.

  19. hi this is grace. Can you site me an example to make my skin whiter?

  20. As always, excellent post. I always look forward to checking out your blog!

    If I may add, if you are accused of being “racist” against white people (and “sexist” against males, etc.) then you are doing your job!

    Such defensiveness is a pretty typical reaction when one’s privilege is challenged.

    Well done!

  21. Thanks much, Shermanvolvo.

    It means so much to me that my blog is something you look forward to. And yes, I agree that getting troll-esque attacks is an indication of buttons deservedly pushed… Yet, it does get frustrating to see the closed-mindedness of so many. I do think this stance serves as a defense against bursting the privilege bubble. I do wish sometimes though that I had some mental defense against the dark art of troll-like commentary as sometimes ‘rising above’ is quite difficult.

    Thanks again for reading!


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