America as “the race of races”

When we hear the word “America” pictures of stars and stripes of the flag, barbeques on the back porch in the summer, and the good ole taste of Coca-Cola come to mind.

In a commercial by Almay, Carrie Underwood is promoting the makeup line by using a key theme, “American”. We see clips of a little girl running free in a wheat field, a young girl practicing gymnastics, and Carrie Underwood performing at one of her shows. Carrie talks of this “great country” as a place where dreams are made and deep American pride is in our hearts.

But what American ideas are missing from this video? One thing I noticed was a lack of different ethnicities. In her essay “America”, Kirsten Silva Gruesz discusses different ways to define the term “America”. Gruesz quotes Walt Wittman who said, “America is the race of races”, (Keywords for American Cultural Studies, p.17). If America is the “race of races”, then why in the Almay commercial do we only see Caucasian, blonde girls? On Almay’s website we see the title “Almay: The American Look” followed by photos of Carrie Underwood holding her dog who’s wearing a blue bandanna, Carrie laying on a picnic blanket, and Carrie frosting a cake. What race and culture stereotype is Almay depicting as truly American? Almay doesn’t include photos of people of other races, people practicing different religions, or people of a variety of cultures. Almay’s illustration of “American” is very one-sided.

In our class we have read stories about American girls of different cultures and time periods. Kaya is a Native American living in California in 1764 before European settlement, Josefina is a Mexican living in New Mexico during 1824 when the land still belonged to Mexico, and Kirsten is a Swedish immigrant who moves to Minnesota in 1854. The stories allow readers to learn the origins, traditions, and values of these different cultures. The three stories are all connected by a single term, “America” as they are a part of the American Girl collection. Although none of these girls see themselves as fully citizens of the United States of America, they are American because their culture is prominent or has affected the way our country is today. The differences in these girls’ lives and characters show the many sides of the United States that define it as truly the “race of races”.

In the stories of Kaya, Josefina, and Kirsten, the American Girl company depicts “America” as a culturally diverse region. In the commercial of Carrie Underwood, Almay describes “America” as a very one look, one culture type nation. Almay should use examples of the different prominent races and cultures in the United States of America in order to accurately represent this country.

3 thoughts on “America as “the race of races””

  1. I agree with this analysis of the Almay commercial and its depiction of “America.” It seems that the commercial is depicting America in a white-homogenous sense. Although this clearly isn’t the case as many would describe our country as a mixing pot of different races, ethnicities and people in general (as it truly is). Unfortunately the creators of the commercial must think differently – a true bashing of diversity and the acceptance of others.

  2. I think you bring a up a really interesting point about what is considered “American” and I agree that companies, like Almay, who are trying to represent America should use more examples of all the different types of people and races in this country. For a country that’s called “the melting pot”, we are almost always depicted as white, and in the case of Almay’s ad, blonde. This reminds me of when my friend from Spain, a foreign exchange student, told me that when her and her friends in Spain think about Americans, they also would instantly think of white, blonde, & blue-eyed individuals. She told me how at first she was so surprised to see how different everyone looked, not only in race, but also in hair color, eye color, and body type.

  3. I think that you really hit the nail on the head! I think that the lack of ethnic minority representation has been brought to the spotlight with the issue/ hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Even though there are some TV shows and movies that include ethnic minorities (such as Fresh off the Boat and Black-ish), they often exaggerate behaviors generally associated with certain ethnic groups and perpetuate racial stereotypes. While the societal impacts and implications of the commercial you mentioned isn’t quite as overt as those of the TV shows/ movies above-mentioned, they play similar roles among children. The lack of representation can cause ethnic minority children to feel under-appreciated and less worthy compared to their white peers. While the lack of racial integration in TV shows can reinforce children’s inclination to gather with peers of their same ethnic background. For that reason, I think that it is really important for children that commercials/ TV shows/ movies portray images that better represent the idea of “America” and pertain more truthfully to the cultural diversity of “America”.

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