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Chocolate as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching about Race and Racism: A High School Lesson Plan

TLDR: The following is a 2-3 day lesson plan for high school educators adapted from and inspired by Dr. Carla Martin’s course “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food” at Harvard University. The main goal of this lesson plan is to develop students’ contemporary understandings of race and racism by situating this knowledge within the historical processes of colonization, slavery, and racial representation—through chocolate! Students should already have basic knowledge about the world geography, colonization of the Americas, chattel slavery, and the Jim Crow era.

Background for Teachers

What’s the big deal about chocolate?

Chocolate is a unsung hero of many of our everyday lives in America, especially in the lives of young people who always appreciate a chocolate candy bar after a long day of school, some chocolate cake after they’ve finished their vegetables at dinner, or a waffle cone full of chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day. If chocolate is ever controversial, it is because we may disagree with our friends or family members about whether white chocolate versus milk chocolate versus dark chocolate is the best, or in deciding if it’s really that much worth it to spend a few extra dollars on a Dove bar over a Hershey’s in the supermarket checkout line. However, what if we step back and begin to think about how chocolate got to the checkout line, on our plate, or in a waffle cone? What if we begin to think about chocolate as something that is cultural, political, social, and historical? Why in our society, for example, do we use the word “chocolate” to describe dark skin? What might chocolate be able to tell us about social phenomena like race and racism when we dig a little deeper? In fact, to understand race and racism through the lens of chocolate—something that seems like such a mundane yet integral part of our everyday lives—allows us to understand, as Michael Omi and Howard Winant tell us, how race and racism indeed shapes all part of our society and our identities. [1]

This is where Dr. Carla Martin steps in. Dr. Martin is a lecturer in the Department of African and American Studies at Harvard as well as the founder and executive director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI), an organization which works to advance quality products and ethical practices in chocolate supply chains, especially issues related to unfair treatment of Black and Brown farmers in Africa and Central America. In her work and studies, Dr. Martin looks at the historical and global processes of colonization and harmful labor practices in the rise of chocolate production and consumption, predominantly focused on the people of Central America and West Africa. Through a disciplinary approach—combining anthropology, sociology, economics, history, political science, biology, African American studies, Latinx studies, and more—she teaches about the history of growing cacao (the plant used to make chocolate), chocolate’s changing cultural meanings from days of Aztecs and Mayans to being eaten by people around the world today, the relationship between the European colonization of Mesomerica and the rise of slavery to the global chocolate market today being controlled by only a few companies which often treat Black and Brown cacao farmers unfairly, and the ways that we have understood and represented race in and through this history to the contemporary moment. Her class at Harvard, called “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food,” is extremely popular. Incentivized by weekly chocolate tastings, this course brings together a unique group of students, many of whom are white and middle-class, that typically wouldn’t take a class focused on questions of race and racism.

Schools in the United States can be understood as institutions of knowledge and identity formation which have historically been both constituted by and constitutive of meanings of race since the moment European colonizers began eliminating Indigenous people and enslaving Africans on this land, Bettina Love calling them “spaces of Whiteness”—Black and Indigenous people have nonetheless remained resistant and resilient, forging since their own institutions of knowledge and collective identity, which included establishing the public school system in the American South.[2-5] Nevertheless, the dominant mode of American schooling has always been one that seeks to do away with Indigenous culture and sensibilities, disempower and exploit Black people, and uphold ideals and systems that privilege white people. Talking specifically about the logic of whiteness in schooling/formation of knowledge, Du Bois writes, “How easy, then, by emphasis and omission to make children believe that every great soul the world ever saw was a white man’s soul; that every great thought the world ever knew was a white man’s thought; that every great deed the world ever did was a white man’s deed; that every great dream the world ever sang was a white man’s dream.”[6] A decade later, Carter G. Woodson would echo Du Bois’ sentiment, writing, “Why not exploit, enslave, or exterminate a class that everybody is taught to regard as inferior? There would be no lynching if it did not start in the classroom.”[7] What Du Bois and Woodson are fundamentally pointing to, and what I am presupposing in my own argument here, is that, as Jarvis Givens puts it, “violence inflicted upon Black bodies” by white people originates “at the level of ideas and knowledge.”[8] Thus, the intervention that Dr. Martin makes through her course allows us think about how chocolate can be used as a salient pedagogical tool for constructing anti-racist knowledge not only at the university level, but for all learners, especially in spaces that are white and middle-class.

Why teach about Race and Racism?

More than 150 years since Emancipation and half a century since the Civil Rights Movement and social transformation out of the Jim Crow order, racism continues to structure American society. Today, life in the United States is characterized by what Michael Omi and Howard Winant call racial hegemony, that is whereas the nation’s past was characterized by violent, legally-explicit domination of Black and Brown people (such as through forced labor and lynching), racism today exists in the form of colorblind racism.[9] While many people, particularly white Americans, use phrases such as “I don’t see color” to express that they try to treat everyone with understanding and compassion regardless of their racial identity, not recognizing the racial identities of others in our communities—Black and Brown people especially—can signal that we don’t see the histories and social barriers that play a role in the challenges they may face or unique cultural contributions they contribute.[10-11] By doing so in the context of education, we engage in ways of teaching that alienate and disempower Black and Brown students while socializing white students into thinking that their privileges are inherent and that racism does not exist in our contemporary moment and—therefore—does not need to be challenged beyond being friendly to people of all races.[12] However, in a contemporary era of mass incarceration, the Black-White wealth gap, disparities for Black and Brown people in healthcare and education, widespread white nationalist politics, and the continued enslavement/exploitation of Black and Brown in global supply chains, it is crucial that educators reckon with the ways we are teaching our youth about race and racism and, just as importantly, thinking about these issues ourselves. As sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant tell us, “We cannot step outside of race and racism, since our society and our identities are constituted by them; we live in racial history.”[13] All things considered—as Black and Brown educational leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, Bob Moses, and Bettina Love have modeled for us throughout U.S. history—educators can do their part to challenge racism today by teaching more critical approaches to history and society that 1.) acknowledge that racism is real today and plays a role in all parts of our lives, 2.) examine the history and dynamics of racism as a human creation organized around arbitrary meanings assigned to differences in human bodies in order to justify economic oppression that especially benefits white elites, and 3.) give students the knowledge and tools needed to be identify contemporary racism and challenge it in their schools and communities. Drawing from the example set by Dr. Martin, chocolate is a creative way that we may be able to do that.

Resources for teaching about race and racism.

Lesson Plan

Introductory Activity: Unpacking Assumptions about Race, Racism, and Chocolate

Live word clouds by Poll Everywhere are an fun, interactive, and effective way to introduce a new topic to your students, especially one as complex as this. Students, of course, bring their own assumptions, experiences, and associations into the classroom about any topic, and this approach allows you to draw out what those perspectives are so that you may reference and unpack them throughout your lesson.


As I discussed in the introduction, chocolate is thought of in our society as something that is ahistorical, apolitical, and acultural; however, many us of do have very personal memories, feelings, and preferences in regards to the sweet treat. This gives your students an opportunity to showcase those and begin thinking about the role of chocolate in their contemporary lives. The same applies to issues of race and racism.

  • You may consider posing questions like this in the following order. After each question, pause to discuss the word cloud that was generated, paying attention to what words/concepts seem to be the most prevalent in the classroom but also those that may be unique:
    • “What words or phrases come to your mind when you hear the word the word ‘chocolate’?”
    • “What words or phrases come to your mind when your hear the word ‘race’?”
    • “What words or phrases come to your mind when you hear the word ‘racism’?”
  • While inputting their responses, encourage students to think about the feelings, memories, images, preferences, movies, TV shows, songs, commercials, and even things they’ve learned in school that they associate with the word.

Part One: Who is Willy, Really? The Racist Origins of The Chocolate Factory.

To begin this lesson, you will be discussing this clip from the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As explored below, the novel and film have racist origins that problematically normalize slavery and mock indigenous cultures as it relates to cacao’s origins and the production of chocolate.[14] You can read more about that from David Yacovone whose work I will draw from below. In addition to showing this one clip, you may dedicate an additional class period or homework assignment to viewing the entire film before the start of the lesson.

  • Begin by asking students to raise their hands if they are familiar with the story of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory; that could be the 1971 film, the 2005 film with Johnny Depp, or the original 1964 children’s book by Roald Dahl. Now have a student volunteer summarize the plot. You will probably hear back that five children, including Charlie, won golden tickets to tour Willy Wonka’s secretive chocolate factory; after each child except for Charlie failed to impress Wonka, they were each taken away by Oompa Loompas, leaving Charlie to inherit the factory.
    • Ask your students to describe the Oompa Loompas. Most of us know them as the small, brown or orange, Wonka factory workers that sing catchy tunes as they whisk away the naughty children who have failed to meet Willy’s standards.
    • Have your students break into pairs, brainstorm what the lives of the Oompa Loompas are like, and then share out to the group: How did they get to the factory? How much are they paid, and what kinds of benefits might they receive? Where are their families? How do you think they feel about their jobs? What are their individual personalities and lives like? What is their relationship to the chocolate their producing?
  • Introduce the YouTube clip “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Loompa Land” from the 2005 film in which Wonka explains how he came into contact with the Oompa Loompas while exploring Loompaland.[15] Post chart paper in four different locations of the classroom with the following quotes and related questions on them. Break students into four, pre-established groups; have them discuss and write out their responses on the sheets for 7-10 minutes.
    • “What a terrible country it is… The whole place is nothing but thick jungles, infested by the most dangerous beasts in the entire world.” How does Wonka represent Loompaland? What other countries do Americans often stereotype this way? Do you feel that it is wrong for Wonka, who is an outsider, to describe to another country this way, especially based on such a limited experience there?
    • “I went to Loompaland looking for exotic new flavors for candy. Instead, I found the Oompa Loompas.” What was Wonka’s primary motive for going to Loompaland? Think about it from his perspective as a business owner from another country. What might be wrong with Wonka saying he “found” the Oompa Loompas? Were they ever actually “missing”? How might the Oompa Loompas feel about a stranger coming to take their country’s plants, especially the cocoa beans that they view as sacred/religious, for his own financial gain?
    • “The Oompa Loompas ate nothing but green caterpillars, which tasted revolting. But the food they longed for most was the cocoa bean. An Oompa Loompa was lucky if he found three of four cocoa beans a year. But oh how they craved them. And all they’d ever think about was cocoa beans.” The film then shows Oompas Loompas bowing down to worship the cocoa beans and dancing around it headpieces made from cocoa pods. How does Wonka represent the food and culture of the Oompa Loompas? How does he use their love of cocoa beans to his own advantage? What does Wonka taking the cocoa beans and selling them for his own financial gain mean for the sacred/religious value that the Oompa Loompas place on them?
    • Speaking to the chief in Loompaland, Wonka says, “Come live in my factory. You can have all the cocoa beans you want! I will even pay your wages in cocoa beans if you wish!” Reflecting on that memory, he tells the family in his factory, “They are such wonderful workers.” How does the film represent the Oompa Loompas’ language? Why do you think the Oompa Loompas now sing in English when they initially spoke the language of Loompaland? How does Wonka use their love of cocoa beans to his own advantage? What purpose do the Oompa Loompas have for Wonka? Based on the way he represented their country, their food, and their language, do you think he actually values their culture or just their ability to work and produce chocolate for him?
  • Go around the room and have each group share out some of the key points from their quote discussion for 3-5 minutes each.
  • Have students return to their desks. Share the following with them:

As some of you have discussed in your responses to the clip, Willy Wonka represents the Oompa Loompas and Loompaland through unfair stereotypes and uses them for his own advantage while doing it.[16] However, it is important that we realize that this just isn’t the case of one character in a movie, but actually represents a longer real history of how people in the United States and Europe represent certain people and their cultures and have taken advantage of them—or exploited and appropriated them—for our own enjoyment and financial gain, particularly as it relates to chocolate.[17] As some of you may have gathered from our discussions so far, in our real world, these are the unfair, often inaccurate, racist ways in which we represent the people of African and Latin American descent, the people who we do actually have to thank for the chocolate we enjoy today.[18] That’s something that we will be exploring in the rest of our lesson.

Nonetheless, these racist representations were not a coincidence to the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and were intentionally written in by the author Roald Dahl when he published the book in 1964, a time when Black and Brown people around the world were engaging in social movements to challenge white supremacy, racism, and poverty; such as the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and the American Indian Movement here in the United States. Historian David Yacovone tells us that Dahl originally wrote the Oompa Loompas in as enslaved Africans.[19] The following image, in fact, shows how they were illustrated in the 1964 edition of the book:[20]


According to Yacovone:[20]

When Charlie and the four other golden ticket holders and their parents first spied the Oompa-Loompas Wonka explained that the workers were not made of chocolate, but they “are real people! They are some of my workers!” They belonged to “a tribe of tiny miniature pygmies known as Oompa-Loompas. I discovered them myself,” Wonka exclaimed. I brought them over from Africa myself—the whole tribe of them, three thousand in all. I found them in the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had ever been before.”

After luring them in with the promise of endless cocoa beans, according to Yacovone:[20]

Wonka “shipped them over here, every man, woman, and child in the Oompa-Loompa tribe. It was easy. I smuggled them over in large packing cases with holes in them, and they all got here safely.”

Once enslaved and shipped over to England in way similar to that of real enslaved Africans on the Middle Passage, Wonka not only forced them to do labor in his factory for nothing but beans in return and no chance of leaving or asking for more, but he also performed unethical experiments on them at his own leisure, such as turning them into blueberries.[23] This treatment reflects the real violent ways that enslaved Black and Brown people have been treated by Europeans and the United States in the production of chocolate both historically and even in many ways in today’s world.[24-25] Eventually, Dahl would revise this racist representation in his story in 1982 after decades of criticism from the NAACP, but he continued to use such racist representations in other stories, and as we just saw, those representations continue to circulate through the 2005 film, one the most popular movies about chocolate in our contemporary lives.[26] By not questioning the meanings behind these representations, as you all have done so well today, and understanding their histories, we hide the ways in which Black and Brown people still experience racism in our world today. To learn this history, we can all do our part to create a world without racism and poverty.

Part Two: Culture, Colonization, Slavery, and Chocolate Bars: How Chocolate Went from Something Sacred to Something Bittersweet

In part two, I will work with Professor Martin to further develop this lesson plan to include the cultural and spiritual significance of cacao in ancient Mesoamerican culture, the fundamental role of colonization and slavery in appropriation and production of chocolate in the Global North (drawing on my earlier blog post in the course), and the inequality and role of consumers in global chocolate production today.

Part Three: How to Recognize and Respond to Racism Today

To wrap up the lesson, teachers will revisit the earlier considerations around race and racism in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, examining chocolate’s broader use as a racist metaphor for Blackness in the twenty and twenty-first centuries. To end, students will again respond via live word clouds to the initial questions, comparing their original word clouds to the newly-enlightened ones, and the teacher will discuss ways for students to challenge racism in their lives today, which may include: creating a community action project to address an issue of racial inequality in their community in partnership with a local chocolate shop/producer, starting a reading/discussion group to talk about issues related to race and racism, starting a “Chocolate Week” to educate their school or community on the history of chocolate and celebrate/support the producers who we have to thank for it, implementing strategies to call out and change racist behaviors or representations. To celebrate their new knowledge, students should have a chance to enjoy ethically-sourced chocolate at the conclusion of the lesson!


[1] Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 3rd ed. (New York, Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2015), 137.

[2] Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006), 392.

[3] Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,”  399.

[4] Heather Andrea Williams, Self-taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom, John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 13.

[5] Bettina Love, We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019), 13.

[6] W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folk,” Monthly Review 55, no. 6 (2003):  46.

[7] Sylvia Wynter,  “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues,” Forum H.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century 1, no. 1 (Fall 1994): 57-59.

[8] Jarvis R. Givens, “‘There Would Be No Lynching If It Did Not Start in the Schoolroom’: Carter G. Woodson and the Occasion of Negro History Week, 1926–1950,” American Educational Research Journal (2019): 9.

[9] Omi and Winant, Racial Formation, 132, 211.

[10] Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, 5th ed. (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 2-4.

[11] “Color Blindness,” Teaching Tolerance, accessed May 07, 2019, https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/color-blindness.

[12] Bettina Love, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press, 2019), 14.

[13] Omi and Winant, Racial Formation, 137.

[14] Donald Yacovone, “Oh No! The Depressing Truth About the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory Workers,” History News Network, December 30, 2018, accessed May 3, 2019, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.

[15-16] “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Loompa Land,” Youtube video, 3:41, “Willy Wonka,” January 16, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ5GgslLgVQ.

[17] Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (New York City, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2013).

[18] Jack Bareilles, “Women, Gays, and Other Voices of Resistance,” Zinn Education Project, 2011, accessed May 13, 2019, https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/women-gays-and-other-voices-of-resistance/.

[19-23] Yacovone, “Oh No! The Depressing Truth,” https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.

[24] Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 186-196.

[25] Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power (New York, NY: Viking, 1985): 169-176.

[26] Yacovone, “Oh No! The Depressing Truth,” https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.


“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Loompa Land.” Youtube video, 3:41. “Willy Wonka,” January 16, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ5GgslLgVQ.

Bareilles, Jack. “Women, Gays, and Other Voices of Resistance.” Zinn Education Project. 2011. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/women-gays-and-other-voices-of-resistance/.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. Fifth ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York City, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Du Bois, W. E. B. “The Souls of White Folk.” Monthly Review 55, no. 6 (2003):  44-58.

Givens, Jarvis R. “‘There Would Be No Lynching If It Did Not Start in the Schoolroom’: Carter G. Woodson and the Occasion of Negro History Week, 1926–1950.” American Educational Research Journal (2019): 1-38.

Love, Bettina. We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York, NY: Viking, 1985.

Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States. Third ed. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.

Williams, Heather Andrea. Self-taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom. John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006): 387-409.

Wynter, Sylvia.  “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues.” Forum H.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century 1, no. 1 (Fall 1994): 42-73.

Yacovone, Donald. “Oh No! The Depressing Truth About the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory Workers.” History News Network. December 30, 2018. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.

Then and Now: Exploitation in Cacao Production and Chocolate Advertising

Brenden Rodriquez

The exploitation of people of color in the chocolate industry is almost as old as chocolate itself. Ever since Europeans utilized native peoples in Mesoamerica and later enslaved Africans to produce cacao, there has existed an inherent link between race and chocolate, a relationship not only seen in the production of chocolate but also in chocolate advertising. Just as Black individuals were and are utilized for their physical labor, they were and are being exploited for advertising.

The consumption of cacao dates back to the Mayan and Aztec societies of Mesoamerica. When settlers came to the Americas, exploitation and forced labor came with them. The Spanish introduced the encomienda system in which Spanish settlers were supposed to protect and care for native peoples in return for voluntary labor when in reality the settlers seized lands and forced natives into pseudo-slavery working long hours without pay resulting in the deaths of many. Though cacao had been introduced to and was being brought back to Europe, it was primarily used for medicinal purposes until sugar began being added to cacao which made it more palatable for Europeans. Emma Robertson, a professor and scholar at La Trobe University, states that “this was ‘thanks to the emergent slave-based sugar cane economy of the Americas’. The story of chocolate subsequently becomes increasingly intertwined with that of European imperial politics…Chocolate thus first gained meaning in England as a product of imperialism” (Robertson 67). As time went on—around 1900—some cacao production shifted from the West Indies to West Africa, particularly in São Tomé. The Cadbury company became a center of attention for its labor practices and accusations that it utilized slavery in São Tomé during this period. William Cadbury responded to these claims by stating, “I do feel that there is a vast difference between the cultivation of cocoa and cold or diamond mining, and I should be sorry needlessly to injure a cultivation that as far as I can judge provides labour of the very best kind to be found in the tropics: at the same time we should all like to clear our hands of any responsibility for slave traffic in any form” (Satre 19), though he refused to reveal a bill of sale for the plantation as it “specifically identified human beings as property” (Satre 19). This is an example of chocolate companies blatantly and knowingly minimizing the perceived severity of their production practices and exploitation.

The exploitation of Black individuals goes well beyond just labor practices. As Robertson explains, “The use of black people in advertising has a long history. As Jan Pieterse demonstrates, products made available through the use of slave labour, such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black people to enhance their luxury status” (Robertson 36).

The exploitation of Black people did not stop with cacao production. The image above is an advertisement for Rowntree, an early 20th century power-house chocolate and sweets corporation that still exists today and has developed the Kit Kat among other recognizable treats. It depicts a young Black girl named Honeycomb using broken and stereotypically Black verbiage to convey the benefits of her Rowntree beverage. It is one of many chocolate advertisements to utilize a caricatured Black subject to sell a product. On using Honeycomb specifically for a powdered cacao beverage, Robertson states, “Though processed by western industry, cocoa powder is closest to the ‘raw’, colonial material. The two Rowntree characters only exist through their relation to the cocoa, effectively disempowering them. There is no recognition of the actual connections between the commodity and the labour of black people in the colonies” (Robertson 42). Thus, not only does the Rowntree company exploit and make a caricature of the idea of blackness, they either intentionally or unintentionally, directly linked their advertisements and the subject therein to slavery.

In a similar vein, above is the advertisement used for Banania, a French chocolate drink, from 1915. It depicts a Senegalese infantry soldier with a red fez, a uniform item worn by Senegalese soldiers. This advertisement presents a caricature of this man by depicting him with a stereotypically large smile as well as the slogan for the product “y’a bon” (translating to “it’s good”) which is derived from the pidgin French commonly spoken by these Senegalese solders. The popularity of the product cemented the character with the slogan, making the Black man portrayed on the ad and packaging and this lower form of language inseparable.

Finally, the above video is an advertisement for the Spanish chocolate, Conguitos. This commercial goes even farther to portray Black individuals as “the other.” Whereas the Rowntree and Banania advertisements both push racial and colonial traits and themes on the subjects of their ads, this commercial depicts the subjects as extremely stereotyped natives, completely naked, living in small straw huts, and carrying spears. The music in the background aids in this stereotyping, a light flute and tribal-sounding drum. In the final scene of the commercial, the animated character rolls uncontrollably and the video fades into the character essentially being turned into a ball of chocolate which is then consumed by a white actress. This is concerning on a number of levels. This aspect of the advertisement effectively conveys that the people of color in their eyes are consumable and expendable at the hands of a white individual, a clear similarity to the treatment of Black slaves and laborers in cacao producing regions. Overall, these advertisements speak volumes for the influence that the chocolate labor practices and production had on advertising and how much the colonial mindset permeated every level of the chocolate industry.

Looking toward the modern-day chocolate industry, in terms of production and cultivation, much has changed and yet much has stayed the same. Today, a majority of the world’s cacao comes from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Though the methods and aspects of production may have changed—for instance, instead of massive plantations owned by large corporations and companies, today a vast majority of cacao is produced by smallholder farmers on relatively small plantations—the exploitation of African peoples for labor and production of cacao seems to be a constant in the chocolate industry. The same way companies utilized slavery and pseudo-slavery in centuries past, even in the cacao industry of today’s day and age, companies have established a form of pseudo-slavery by offering the lowest prices possible for beans and creating a cycle of debt or living for growers.

After a series of small wars and conflicts around the turn of the century, some of which had to do with conflict over coveted cocoa groves, Côte d’Ivoire was in shambles. Carol Off, a Canadian journalist and author, states, “By the end of the millennium, Côte d’Ivoire was one of the most indebted nations on earth, even as it supplied almost half of the world’s cocoa to the multi-billion-dollar industry and helped to satisfy the world’s addiction to chocolate” (Off 118). This situation of debt and vulnerability resulted in mass corruption and exploitation of labor, essentially slavery. Cacao growers had no other choice. Due to the fact that cacao is a tricky crop to grow and harvest, only being able to do so by hand for the most part, the amount able to be produced per unit area tends to be very low. This dilemma is exacerbated due to the smaller cacao farms of today. Órla Ryan, an author for the Financial Times, a publication in London, explains, “On most the production per hectare is either low or very low. In many cases, yields have been stagnant for some time. Roughly one-third of farms yield as little as 137.5 kg per hectare. What this means is that the poorest farmers can make just $500 a year, an income which makes it impossible to do little more than survive” (Ryan 59-60). When looking at the differences between slavery and this modern system of cacao production, there is an obvious difference in that today the growers are getting paid an actual wage, but looking realistically, $500 is not an income that can sustain a healthy life for one person let alone families in which the farmer making the $500 is the primary income source. Thus, farmers must look for options to solve their situations since most cannot afford to hire laborers which usually comes in the form of using their own families to work on the farm, which includes their children.

Having children work is a slippery slope as there are many instances in which it is completely fine and others where it is not. Ryan describes how the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) standards for what constitutes the worst forms of child labor is contextualized in the chocolate industry: “‘work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carrier out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.’ On the cocoa plantation; this is generally defined to include work which involves dangerous machinery, equipment or tools, the handling of heavy loads and exposure to pesticides or chemicals” (Ryan 47-48). Child labor offers just another area of exploitation in the cacao production process. In many cases, child trafficking also plays a role as children are brought to plantations and intimidated out of reaching out to authorities (Ryan). Off describes the story and mission of Abdoulaye Macko, a man who took it upon himself to liberate conscripted child workers from the cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire. “The farmers, or their supervisors, were working the young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some likely the effects of physical abuse” (Ryan 121). This goes beyond helping parents, cousins, or other family with light work around the farm. This is systematic and calculated abuse and exploitation of a vulnerable population for the purpose (knowingly or unknowingly) of improving the profit margins of the large chocolate corporations.

We have now looked at how labor practices have changed (or refused to change) but how have chocolate advertisements changed to adjust to the modern market? First, let us take a look at Banania, the company with the stereotyped Senegalese soldier, above. The lifelike depiction of the character has been traded out for the head and hand of an animated version of the same character. The identifiable red fez remains a constant. One major change is the smile which is still distractingly large but now the lips are thick and bright red. This aspect simply adds to the stereotyping involved in this character. In an attempt to solve an outdated and stereotyped subject, Banania did away with most of the harmless aspects of the character and kept or amplified the caricature aspects, though the French pidgin slogan is gone which is for the best.

The next advertisement, shown above, is for Magnum ice cream. It depicts a Black woman whose shoulder is cracked resembling the cracking of the chocolate shell of a Magnum ice cream bar. Overlooking the issue of the sexualization and fetishism of the ad (which is common in chocolate advertising and too extensive of a topic to cover here), Magnum uses the woman’s race in a botched attempt at visual wit, thus adding to the extensive history of utilization and exploitation of Black people. In addition, the fact that the inside ice cream is vanilla further degrades the woman shown as, in an ice cream bar, the ice cream is the thing that matters, thus the chocolate shell and therefore this woman’s race are simply things one must get through into order to reach the vanilla (read: white) center. Finally, this ad for Dove chocolate below further demonstrates the blatant utilization of race and the exploitation of Black individuals for the benefit of the chocolate company. In this case, the man’s face is not even shown, hammering home the idea that this does not need to be anyone in particular, just a Black man. The Magnum and Dove advertisements are not intentionally reminiscent of the racially charged ads of the prior century, but advertising companies and departments need to both understand the society we live in today in which no one’s race should be utilized for commercial gain as well as a basic background of the history chocolate as to not make these kinds of mistakes.

Just as labor and cacao production has evolved and yet also held onto key defining elements up through the modern era, so has chocolate advertising. In both cases, basic improvements were made, such as there no longer being colonialism or slavery in their truest forms or no longer having racially charge language and stereotyping in advertisements. Yet, both also held onto elements of their past. The economic and commercial model that chocolate producers work within keep them in a state of pseudo-slavery and advertisements still use race to sell products and link chocolate to the race of people that cultivate cacao in its rawest form.

Works Cited


Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2013.

Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2012.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.


“Banania Breakfast Mix.” Simply Gourmand, http://www.simplygourmand.com/banania-breakfast-mix/.

conguitosTV. “Anuncio Conguitos: Tribu Color.” YouTube, YouTube, 14 Sept. 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=wFOXOeBbhD8.

“Tin Signs Banania Tirailleur.” Camille Vintage, http://www.camille-vintage.com/en/advertising-aluminiummetal-plates/324-tin-signs-banania-tirailleur.html.

Dove and Magnum Ads: Google Images

Chocolate as a Device for Inequality

It is easy to think of chocolate as a sweet treat that stirs up fond memories of a happy stomach. Yet, there are further issues involving the nature by which we view chocolate as a society. We are going to think critically and assess the inequality and more problematic elements in the production and sales end of chocolate. Chocolate, as a commercialized product, is not only an exploitative product by nature, but it also in several ways serves to exacerbate race and age disparities in our communities through its marketing strategies.


Big chocolate companies present several problematic elements through their exploitation of not only the cacao farmer, but additionally through their exploitive marketing strategies.

Ethically Sourced Cacao

Chocolate has a long history of using forced and coerced labor for its cultivation: “…abuses…have been well-documented for much longer, even if the use of coercion has not been consistent across cocoa production globally and throughout time” (Berlan 1092). However, it is not widely known that our consumption of  chocolate is still based off of the exploitation of others. Even now, big chocolate companies exploit cacao farmers through multiple venues. First, cacao labor is extremely laborious and often farmers are not supplied with the right facilities: “Farm workers often lack: access to bathroom facilities, filtered water, clean spaces for food prep, lesser exposed areas to res/cool down” (Martin Lecture 3/22). Additionally, farming cacao is associated with a very volatile income. Cacao farmers are not paid in wages or salaries, as cacao is a commodity with a fluctuating price in the world economy. This irregular source of income leads to an unstable source of livelihood for cacao farmers and their families: “and yet almost every critic of the industry [chocolate industry] has identified the key problem: poverty among the primary producers” (Off 146). Historically, the exploitation of the laborer exacerbated racial distinctions and categories: “Overall, both Rowntree and Cadbury adverts created a world of white consumers in which the black producers of cocoa beans and the black consumers of chocolate were at best pushed to the margins, if not excluded completely” (Robertson 54). Yet, there is even a further subcategory within the Ivory Coast cacao farmers that is subjected to the chocolate industry’s exploitation. Child labor is often used on cacao farms: In a 2000 report on human rights in Cote d’Ivoire, the US State Department estimated, with startling candor, “‘that 15,000 Malian children work on Ivorian cocoa and coffee plantations…Many are under 12 years of age, sold into indentured servitude…’” (Off 133). The International Labor Organization has explicitly defined the worst forms of child labor. It is universally accepted that not only is child labor unethical, but further, that coerced child labor is morally wrong. Yet, the alarming part is not that child labor is being utilized in cacao farming, but rather, the extent to which children are being exploited: “‘15,000 Malian children work on Ivorian cocoa and coffee plantations…Many are under 12 years of age, sold into indentured servitude…’” (Off 133). Cacao has become a product tainted with coerced and unethically sourced labor. In doing so, chocolate, itself, becomes an exploitative product.

This graph featured above is from Alders Ledge. It shows the primary cacao producing countries in the “Gold Coast” of West Africa. The graph shows that about 71% of the world’s cacao is sourced using child labor and 43% uses forced labor.

Marketing and Advertisement in the Chocolate Industry

Chocolate companies additionally manipulate their consumer base through their marketing strategies. First, chocolate companies have chosen to market specifically to children. Companies target the vulnerabilities of children through specific practices. For example, “until the age of about 8, children do not understand advertising’s persuasive intent” (Martin Lecture 3/29). Chocolate companies manipulate children through advertisements on television, packaging, and social media. Companies are now spending billions of dollars to manipulate children and maximize their profits: “Companies spend about $17 billion annually marketing to children, a staggering increase from the $100 million spent in 1983” (Martin Lecture 3/29).

The advertisement, featured by Kinder, depicts a smiling (happy) young boy on a delicious looking candy bar. The bottom reads “Invented for Kids Approved by Mums”, thereby playing off children’s vulnerabilities and telling them that this bar was specifically made for them.

In addition to chocolate companies’ manipulation of children, their advertisements of chocolate have also been used to dehumanize blackness: “The use of black people in advertising has a long history” (Robertson 36). However, there is some sort of logic to using blackness and black people to represent products like chocolate: “…products made available through the use of slave labor such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black people to enhance their luxury status” (Robertson 36). Yet, does the logic of its representation make it any less inherently racist? The presentation of blackness and the use of that exploitation of coerced labor to maximize profit is morally incorrect. The imperial history of cacao and slavery make the use of its laborers as an advertising tool even more ethically wrong. Yet, we have historically, and still do, use blackface and such caricatures to represent chocolate products.


This is an advertisement by Dunkin’ Donuts in Thailand. It features a smiling woman in blackface makeup holding a charcoal (chocolate) flavored donut. The slogan “Break every rule of deliciousness” is featured next to the blackfaced woman. Not only is this an example of linking chocolate to blackness in advertising, but it also links chocolate and subsequently blackness to sin.

Yet, even when companies attempt to manipulate their consumer base by marketing themselves as leaders of fairly sourced cacao, they do not always succeed. In Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in DivineChocolate Advertisements, Kristy Leissle describes Divine Chocolate’s ad, featuring female Ghanan cacao farmers as a “positive contribution” (Leissle 123) to the depictions of Africa in British culture. However the way that Divine Chocolate depicts these women with their products seems detached from reality: “Divine Chocolate expends considerable effort to make Kuapa Kokoo farmers – and Ghana as a cocoa origin site – visible to Britain’s chocolate shoppers…Divine Chocolate and St. Luke’s supplied the women’s outfits and gave them a stipend to have their hair styled for the shoot…” (Leissle 124). I would argue that if Divine Chocolate had really wanted to showcase the cacao farmers, not only would they have included the male farmers, but they wouldn’t have expended resources to change the women’s outward appearances. Further, much like the popular Western chocolate ads, Divine Chocolate’s ads sexual and objectify women. Divine Chocolate is seeking to maximize both sales and profits from the chocolate industry and are playing off of what they think the consumers want to see. Rather than this advertisement being associated with an educational or philanthropic aura, I would argue that this ad, in reality, fetishizes these female, African cacao farmers. Additionally, the advertisement validates and reinforces stereotypes regarding Africans. Thus, because of its manipulative nature, cacao, as a commodity, becomes an exploited commodity.

Linguistic Tool

Chocolate has become a linguistic tool that exacerbates not only racial distinctions but also racial tensions.

Colloquial Context

Chocolate has become a euphemism for sin; while it’s counterpart vanilla has become linked to purity. Through this symbolism, a standard of uncleanliness versus cleanliness is created. This leads one to wonder if the basis for linking chocolate to blackness is purely based on skin color, or rather does it have a deeper, race related background? In Slavery & Capitalism (1940), Eric Williams argues that racism is a byproduct of slavery and not the cause of slavery (Martin Lecture 3/1). Perhaps chocolate is commonly related to black people because of its historical exploitation of forced labor in the “Gold Coast” of West Africa? Or rather, is the fact that chocolate is also associated with dirtiness and sexuality a factor? Are these racist notions of uncleanliness associated with chocolate and blackness because of our inherent racism towards those that we previously subjugated?

Chocolate as associated with blackness becomes marginalized in society. The Western ideals reign supreme: “The commodity chain model is not ideal, then, creating a progress narrative in which western consumption is prioritized as a symbol of economic development and modernity” (Robertson 4). The association comes through the means by which cacao is cultivated. And in part stems from the inequality in the sourcing, in terms of workers: “The history of chocolate corresponds to some extent with the more well-documented histories of tea, coffee and sugar: notably in the early dependence on coerced labor, and in the transformation of the product from luxury to everyday commodity…Chocolate has been invested with specific cultural meanings which are in part connected to such conditions of production” (Robertson 3). Yet, this relation between chocolate as a symbol for black people and vanilla, seen as the opposite, for white people, creates yet another barrier of difference. And in doing so further paints black people as “othered”.

However, it is important to note, that the relation between chocolate and race is not entirely detrimental. In several contexts, the link and its subsequent meaning have been reappropriated to carry a more positive connotation. For example, “chocolate city”, referring to cities with a very large black population, has become more of a term of empowerment, rather than one of subjugation. Additionally, the book featured below, I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla, uses blackness as related to chocolate as merely a term to describe two halves of the same being, just different flavors. Thus, while the initial linking of blackness to chocolate may or may not come from racist and subjugated origins, the term is not entirely negative.

The book by Marguerite Wright, I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla is meant as a teaching tool to help parents guide their children as a minority in the community. In this context, chocolate as a euphemism for blackness is not necessarily racist nor prejudice. However, the fact that the parallel between race and chocolate exists at all, and the connotations of the parallel are inherently racist.


One Could Argue that Free Trade is the Issue

However, one could argue that the problem of exploitation is not applicable just to the chocolate industry; rather, it is an issue with free trade and the laissez-faire economy itself. One could argue that the exploitative nature of the commodity and the exploitation by which it is cultivated is really a break down of fair trade. Fair trade is supposed to regulate the working conditions yet, in The Fair Trade Scandal, Ndongo Sylla argues that “…Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market” (Sylla 18). Sylla would argue that the system itself is at fault for the worker’s exploitation, rather than the companies employing them: “In the West African context where I worked, Fair Trade was barely keeping its promises. For older producer organizations, there were initially significant benefits; then, hardly anything followed. Newcomers to the system were still waiting for promises to come true. For those who wanted to join the movement, it was sometimes an obstacle course” (Sylla 19). One could also use Marx’s notion of the exploited worked and the systematic oppression involved in capitalism as the issue at hand. One could use Marx’s theory that the sole purpose of capitalism is to exploit the worker and estrange him from not only the commodity that he produces, but further from the capitalist and the land itself. Thereby showing that the exploitation involved in the chocolate industry is not only applicable to other commodities, but this exploitation is also a natural progression in a capitalistic society. The argument that the system is, in actuality, at fault for the exploitative nature of the product is valid. However, this still does not discount the racialized slurs that are a product of this estrangement and exploitation. The free market itself is problematic; but my argument here, is that chocolate is an exploitative product and it can be improved, even if the market is inherently compromised. This is a critique of the system and the mindset that this exploitation creates in society; rather than an essay that provides the means by which we can implement a long-term systemic change.


Chocolate through its advertisement and forms of cultivation becomes an exploitative commodity. Further, the means by which it is cultivated leads society to provide specific and racialized associations with chocolate. Thereby allowing chocolate to exacerbate race and age gaps in society.

Work Cited

Academic Sources

Berlan, Amanda. 2013. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An AnthropologicalPerspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.”

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in DivineChocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121139

Martin, Carla. Lectures (3/1, 3/22, 3/29).

Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet.

Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.

Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.


Beaut.ie. “Maeve and Her Tiny Babies: Ads That Drive Me Crazy!” Beaut.ie. Beaut.ie, 12 May 2013. Web. 04 May 2017.
Jones, Jane. “The Taste of Inequality: Chocolate Is Too Expensive for Many Cocoa Farmers to Eat.” Ravishly. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.
Lee, Jack. “Alders Ledge.” Guilt Free Chocolate. N.p., 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 04 May 2017.
Stanley, T. L. “Dunkin’ Donuts Apologizes for Blackface Ad, but Not Everyone Is Sorry.” – Adweek. Adweek, n.d. Web. 04 May 2017.
Wright, Marguerite A. I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-conscious World. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000. Print.


Power. The ultimate aphrodisiac. It is intangible, yet felt, immeasurable, but detectible. We yearn for it, crave it, dream of it; it arouses us without hesitation. Each and every day we strive to empower ourselves, whether it be through education, exercise, style or socialization. From how we dress and walk, to what we eat and with whom we talk, all of our actions are rooted in an inherent desire to become more influential. As history has progressed, this universal appetite for power has been reflected in the societal standards of both the past and present. Consequently, we venerate the wealthy, distinguish those of status, and yearn for the sexual. Few possessions in the world display wealth, status, and sexuality more poignantly than chocolate. From its inauguration, chocolate has influenced the social issues that are both etched in our textbooks and echoed from our TV screens. Classism. Sexism. Racism. Capable of being both the “food of the gods” in one era and the “food of the masses” the next, chocolate has both widened and bridged the gap between the wealthy and the poor, the elite and the forgotten, and the pristine and the sexualized. Therefore, chocolate—both as an exotic luxury and a ubiquitous treat—exemplifies American society’s ongoing struggle between equality and empowerment.

Dating back as early as the Mesoamerican period, chocolate has played an integral part in the both construction and preservation of social classes. In fact, our understanding of the Mayan use of cacao is predominantly found etched upon elegant vessels unearthed in the tombs of the elite (Coe & Coe, 2013). Furthermore, some of these excavated vases contain chemical traces of alkaloids found in cacao, suggesting that their contents once were liquid (Coe & Coe, 2013). Thus, from both glyphs and painted scenes on these Mayan vessels, it is evident that chocolate was drunk both by kings and nobles (Presilla, 2009). However, evidence from concurrent excavations suggests that chocolate was used across all classes, particularly during rites of passage. Nevertheless, only the elite used and buried themselves with drinking vessels resistant to decay, symbolizing the dignifying effect of chocolate (Presilla, 2009). In addition, apart from regal furnishing in burial chambers, chocolate was a crucial element of opulent feasts amongst the elite; hosts of these feasts were obliged to present their guests with the finest vases they could afford to consume chocolate (Presilla, 2009). Cacao also was linked with many sacred Mayan traditions, such as fertility rites, marriage rituals, banquets, baptism, and rites of death (Martin, 2016). For example, during marriage negotiations in Mayan society, cacao drinks were essential during royal marriage and cacao seeds were often used as legal currency for marriage dowry (Martin, 2016). Furthermore, in Mayan warfare, cacao—due to the stimulating effects of theobromine—caused warriors to feel energized, stronger, even invincible. Therefore, for the Mayans, chocolate served as a medium of communicating power, distinguishing the common man from the noble through wealth and status in both life and death.

The exchange of cacao between Mesoamerican gods highlights its divinity.

Similarly, the Aztecs also use chocolate to illuminate the power of the elite. Instead of being accessible to all people, chocolate was reserved only for nobility, lords, royalty, and the warrior class (Coe & Coe, 2013). For example, in Historia general de las cosas de Nueva Espana, the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún describes the significance of cacao as unmistakably an elite food, recounting that it was proverbially called “heart and blood,” to be drunk by those of wealth and status (Martin, 2016). Additionally, cacao served as a cure to the skin eruptions, seizures and fevers, as well as illness that often were attributed to the Aztec gods; a number of botanical remedies included cacao in their recipes. Thus, cacao was viewed as a divine gift, a tangible, measureable embodiment of power. Such a treasured substance was the birthright of the distinguished; if one of the common people drank it without sanction from their superiors, it would cost them their life (Presilla, 2009). Thus, cacao was also referred to as yolloti eztli: the price of blood and heart. The severity of the crime for simply consuming cacao as a commoner exemplifies the conflict between equality and power observed hundreds of years before and after; for equality to exist, the elite must give up their divine gift, an unfathomable option. Consequently, those who dared to bridge the gap between the elite and the forgotten by—in this case—consuming cacao were met with indiscriminate punishment.

Thus, due to its immense value in Aztec society, cacao evolved from prestigious commodity and divine medication to a form of currency. Ranking amongst gold and precious gems, cacao reached the rooftops of imperial storehouses due to its usage in tributary offerings (Presilla, 2009). For instance, Motecuhzoma II (reigned 1502-1520) reportedly banked 40,000 xiquipilli or 960,000,000 cacao beans. Everything from avocados to full-grown turkeys could be priced by cacao (Martin, 2016). In effect, to simply drink cacao exhibited immense wealth and proved to be the ultimate display of power during the 16th century.

This marriage of wealth, divinity, and status through cacao subsequently was embraced by European nations. Arriving in the New World during the zenith of Mesoamerican chocolate culture, the Spanish deeply embraced the history of cacao consumption dating back to the Mayans. As a result, the central aspects of chocolate use in ancient Mesoamerica were preserved and disseminated throughout many of the Latin American colonies and as far as the Philippines (Presilla, 2009). Recognizing the power inherent to cacao, the Spanish conquistador Cortés wrote to the emperor Charles V requesting a grant of land for a Pacific Coast plantation containing two thousand cacao trees (Presilla, 2009). Not only did the farm prove immensely profitable, but it also catalyzed cacao’s entrance into Europe; both chocolate and cacao quickly became pillars of the Spanish economy. Naturally, people in Spain adopted the custom of drinking chocolate. However, just as in Mesoamerica, the relationship of the elite and the consumption of chocolate remained inseparable; arriving as an exotic luxury, chocolate was experienced first by the powerful (Presilla, 2009).

A painting of Spanish aristocrats enjoying chocolate, showcasing its association with the elite.

Requiring special pains, paraphernalia, and acutely roasted beans, chocolate consumption amongst the Spaniards was an elite privilege. However, as the production of cacao grew extensively amongst every rank of colonial society, chocolate closed the gap the elite and common man. Eventually, by the 18th century, chocolate drinking became routine from the top to the bottom of society (Presilla, 2009).

However, this ubiquitous consumption of chocolate that is observed today did not occur naturally. Rather, the growth in cacao production was largely the result of the African slavery and forced labor. From 1500-1900, between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans were transported to the cacao growing regions of the New World in order to substantially increase cacao production (Martin, 2016). However, although the repercussions of African slavery included racism, racial characteristics did not factor into the decision of Europeans to use African slaves (Martin, 2016). Rather, due to geographical proximity to European nations seeking cheap labor, Africans and their descendants were condemned to enforced labor. Working painstakingly in 18-hour shifts, African slaves were forced to not only cultivate cacao, but also cotton, tobacco, rice and sugar (Martin, 2016). The labor that produced these commodity crops funded the development of capitalism in European society, poignantly illustrating the dichotomy between equality and power; unwilling to relinquish their newfound accumulation of wealth, the Europeans preserved slavery for centuries. As the widespread consumption of commodity goods, such as chocolate, bridged the gap between the lower-middle class and the elite, slavery readily became standardized (Martin, 2016). Subsequently, as chocolate lost its luxury status, European classism gradually diminished while racism rapidly took its place. Once European consumers tasted the power that had been locked behind the doors of being born into an elite family, abandoning slavery was a laughable proposition. Therefore, as Eric Williams, author of Slavery & Capitalism, states, no country thought of abolishing the slave trade until its economic value declined considerably (Martin, 2016). Ultimately, as Mintz (1986) elaborates, the power of chocolate led to it “being supplied to so many, in such stunningly large quantities, and at so terrible a cost in life and suffering.”

The greatest cost that slavery deferred to society was racism. Following slavery’s abolishment in the 19th century and the rise of big chocolate production on a global scale in the 20th century, the chocolate industry perpetuated the inequality across race and class observed a century before. Most notably, in order to display the power of both the company and their white consumers, many chocolate companies during the mid-20th century created ads that reinforced the 2nd class status of African Americans (Robertson, 2010). For example, in 1947, York-based chocolate company introduced a marketing character named “Honeybunch.” A caricature of Africans, Honeybunch’s broken dialect is drawn from stereotypes of black speech, turning her into a minstrel character.

Honeybunch reinforced the idea of supremacy and power of the English.

This cartoon, as shown to the left, is juxtaposed with real images of a white mother and her children who speak perfect English. Thus, the use of imperfect language by a black character is intended to amuse the white audience; the advertisement reinforces the idea of the supremacy and power of the English language, and more broadly of whiteness (Robertson, 2010). Conversely, Honeybunch’s depiction emphasizes ignorance and the lack of power in blackness. Nevertheless, following the progressive steps towards equality during the Civil Rights Movement, chocolate advertisers began to adjust the tone of their racist beliefs, specifically through sexuality (Robertson, 2010). As Oscar Wilde states, “everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” Hence, drawing upon the exotic origins of cacao, and thus of Africans, chocolate companies pushed forward the idea that vanilla and chocolate serve as cultural metaphors for both race and sex (Martin, 2016). Accordingly, chocolate is to blackness as vanilla is to whiteness. More specifically, whiteness exemplifies power in the old-sense: regality, purity, and wealth. However, in order to appeal to a more diversified and less discriminatory consumer base, advertisers began to promote sexuality, the most modern form of power. Hence, blackness embodies desire, impurity, and craving.

As a result, sexual depictions of black men and all women have been used both to sell chocolate products and maintain both the inequality of races and disempowerment of women in America. As detailed by Robertson (2010), the stereotypical depictions of black men and women of all races in the advertisements are not novel. Throughout the history of chocolate consumption and production, femininity and blackness have been used to create spectacles of the exotic and erotic for profit.

The sexualization of chocolate both empowers and belittles its audience.

This blatant objectification and simplification of black men and women not only mocks the consumers of chocolate, but also its producers; many African men and women invest their lives in the cacao production process (Kawash, 2016). Thus, the constant juxtaposition of beautiful women and chocolate along with the belittling of black men as exotic, physical specimens illustrates society’s ongoing struggle between equality and empowerment. Since the chocolate industry has forced fed the idea that sex and empowerment are two sides of the same coin, the inherent sexism and racism of these advertisements is largely disregarded. Although there has been public outcry in response to the most extreme versions of these advertisements, such as Honeybunch, those of the modern era profit by constructing a relationship between race and sex that masks racism and sexism through the power of beauty. Therefore, just like the Aztec elites and the proletariat of 19th century Europe, modern American society has chosen the allure of power over the altruism of equality.

Ultimately, chocolate is one of the most powerful commodities in the last millennia. Due to its divinity, luxury, and sheer necessity, chocolate has played a significant role in shaping the socioeconomic atmosphere of multiple continents. Due to its divinity, chocolate immortalized the Mesoamerican elite in death; due to its luxury, chocolate granted immense wealth to Conquistadors; due to its necessity, chocolate closed the gap between the European elite and middle class. At the same, chocolate left in its wake classism that ravaged the Mesoamericans, racism that enslaved over 10 million Africans, and sexism that objectified men and women across the globe. Consequently, due to its ability to empower, chocolate has seduced generations into embracing social norms that perpetuate inequality across race, class and gender.


Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Kawash, Samira. “Sex and Candy.” The New York Times. Web. 08 April 2016

Martin, Carla. “AAS 119x Lecture 16: Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Web. 26 April 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAS 119x Lecture 2: Mesoamerica and the ‘food of the gods’.” Web. 26 April 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAS 119x Lecture 3: Chocolate Expansion.” Web. 26 April 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAS 119x Lecture 6: Slavery, abolition, and forced labor.” Web. 26 April 2016.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2001. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, women, and empire: a social and cultural history. New York: Manchester University Press, 2009. 124-125. Print.

Multimedia Sources/Links

Godiva Appeals to Women with “Diva” Campaign. Digital Image. http://media260chocolate.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/2014/03/03/godiva-appeals-to-women-with-diva-campaign/. Web. 4 May. 2016

Mayan Gods Exchanging Chocolate. Digital image. University of Oregon. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2016. <http://blogs.uoregon.edu/mesoinstitute/files/2013/11/Chocolate-2-1az3lcd.jpeg&gt;.

Norton, Marcy. “Conquests of Chocolate.” OAH Magazine of History 18.3 (2004): 14–17.JSTOR. Web. 4 May. 2016. Accessed at: http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/25163677

Rowntree Cocoa: Screenshot from Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.












Magnum Chocolate: Perpetuating Racial Ads

Race and chocolate have been intertwined throughout history and the marketing of chocolate follows this race connection, sometimes by accident and bad taste, other times on purpose. There exists a dichotomy of “chocolate is to blackness: vanilla is to whiteness” and their respective flavors, chocolate and vanilla, or in this case, white chocolate, as cultural metaphors for race (Martin, Slide 12). Take, for instance, the chocolate ice cream bar brand, Magnum. Magum ice cream bars are eaten all over the world, but they have had some recent marketing snafu’s that have made the brand seem all but worldly. Of course, racism in ads is nothing new to the chocolate industry as Emma Robertson pointed out in her book, Chocolate, Women, and Empire, which traces the origins of this “commodity racism” back through time, pointing out notable advertising cultural metaphor issues such as Honeybunch and Rowntree Cocoa. However, the fact that this overt racism and using race as a cultural metaphor has been observed before and over the years, makes it even more shameful that these racist chocolate advertisements still permeate popular culture today (Robertson 36).

screen-shot-2015-04-09-at-10-44-09-pmRowntree Cocoa ad, 1950 which shows Honeybunch as a stereotypical “black” young girl, entertaining the British white family. The racist ads of the past, but now the racist ads focus on luxury of race and color and chocolate. 

Unlike the racist chocolate advertising of the past, such as Honeybunch, which portrayed Honeybunch as a stereotypical uneducated young black girl with broken english, “folksy dialect… the use of such language by infantilised black characters was intended to amuse the white British audience,” the advertising of today is centered on a new take of an old idea that companies use “images of black people to enhance their luxury status” of their chocolate (Robertson 36). In the following advertising images I will explore how Magnum has used race to highlight and sell their chocolate products as luxury goods.

magnum-ice-cream-cracking-small-66364-1Magum Chocolate advertisement featuring a “cracked” black skinned woman, revealing white underneath. 

This first Magnum chocolate advertisement blatantly features race, black and white, as a selling technique. The woman featured in the ad is very dark, with typical stereotyped lips accentuated by lip-gloss, looking sensually over at her “cracked” skin which reveals a white flesh or skin underneath. We can’t help but question why a person is portrayed as the chocolate ice cream bar here and ask why is she looking at her cracked shoulder in this way. With the little facial expression we see, it appears as if she is ashamed of the crack with the white showing through, an ode to the white culture that seems to “dominate” the past of the chocolate industry and still permeates through it today. Here is where we can see the selling of “luxury” that Robertson has mentioned. The woman in the ad looks soft and well groomed, although hairless, and without a blemish. Her lips are perfectly luscious and a deep red – a color that evokes a certain luxury. It seems as if Magnum is selling their chocolate as “pure” and “smooth,” just as the woman is – words that normally describe and portray high-end luxury goods.


Magnum Chocolate advertisement celebrating white chocolate but questionably celebrating the white race. Why can we not celebrate “dark” or “milk”? 

This Magnum ad seems cute and tasteful from the outset, my roommate even looked over and said, “that’s cute!” thinking that it was the ad that I had created. Unfortunately, to me, it looks like an awkward celebration of white people over black. Why can we not celebrate white chocolate and black chocolate? The Magnum brand even created a hashtag for the event in 2015 named #CelebrateWhite. This ad seems to furthermore highlight race in chocolate advertising, but from a hyper-white perspective rather than the hyper-black perspective racist ads. Again, the luxury in this ad can be seem as the luxury of white but with hints of gold and platinum as accent colors, rather than flat white. The colors together evoke a certain class of luxury goods and metals.

Sadly, this is not the first time white chocolate has been ill conceived in advertising. This ad is reminiscent of a highly controversial 2013 ad by Ferrero Rocher chocolate advertising their new white nut chocolate:

The ad advocates for Germany to “vote white” and for white nuts to stay. This ad was criticized highly in Germany for referencing racial purity and was ultimately pulled. In the ad the crowd is chanting “white nut remain” and the giant white chocolate box is preaching to the crowd, “We want White Ferrero Kusschen forever.” The supporters in the crowd are also holding cards that translate into “Yes White Can” and “Germany Votes white.”

Another very recent chocolate advertisement is Magnum’s “Brown is in” ad, which features a prominent Indian Bollywood actress sensually eating an ice cream bar and pouring it on the guests below. At the party there are no people of color, and everything that is white or light turns brown. The ad directly sells the ice cream bar as a bar of color – brown. And directly relates this brown bar to the Bollywood actress, a “brown” Indian woman. This ad again furthers the argument that even in 2015, color and race is still being using to sell chocolate to consumers, but in a luxurious manner. The party is obviously extravagant with high-class wealthy individuals and the woman’s dress, although she is Indian and of “color,” is goddess-like and chiffon, she looks of luxury as well. She is luxury, she is eating luxury, and she is spreading that luxury.

Recent Magnum Chocolate ad featuring Bollywood Indian star, Kareena Kapoor. “Brown is in” referencing Indian skin and color. 

However, Magnum did have a brief moment of glory when they explored creative ads, which featured their famous ice cream bars exploding out and showing their contents and colors. This was lauded in the advertising community as a very catchy and unique ad, a different “Magnum” than the earlier ads, but these ads have since disappeared. They focused on the product, rather than race or gender to sell.


Magnum Chocolate ad featuring creative explosions of chocolate, lauded in the advertising and marketing industry for being beautiful and artistic. A different spin on the typical chocolate advertisement featuring people, sexuality, or race.

In contrast to the Magnum ads I have presented above, I have proposed diversifying Magnum’s image as they have done in the past and in fact using part of their past art ads as part of these new ads. The two new mock-ups I have created maintain Magnum’s tagline: “For Pleasure Seekers,” but offer a new idea of what that pleasure is. Rather than the sexual desires or pleasures that this tagline normally would evoke and has in the past, these new ads see the “pleasure” as true good, fun, and healthy pleasurable activities. When Magnum first came out with their Explosion Art Ads, they were a big hit in the creative world. I think this would be the perfect way to market Magnum as different and fresh, but also stay true to its past of focusing on “pleasure.” Most importantly, these ads would focus not on race or gender, but on the activities and the beauty of the chocolate art and the backdrop. The silhouettes of the people make it more accessible for people to imagine themselves in these scenarios and feel the pleasure that such simple, but rewarding activities provide. Furthermore, because Magnum offers so many flavors and fillings inside the chocolate, the company could run a whole ad series for each flavor. For example, the controversial “white chocolate” ad featured above could instead be the white chocolate exploding and forming the snow of a mountain that climbers are trekking along, or even something as simple as an explosion into a white comfy pillow/bed or white sofa (a homey depiction of pleasure). These ads would shift the paradigm of “pleasure” for the chocolate eater.

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Image created by author.

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Image created by author.

(APOLOGY: If I had any sort of artistic ability these ads would be a lot more seamless – the art photo of the Magnum Chocolate is supposed to mesh into the background of the sunset image. The explosion of colors and flavors/ingredients is supposed to form the sunset image itself – coming out from the Magnum ice cream bar stick)

It is apparent that Dr. Carla Martin was correct in stating that “chocolate can reveal our cultural blindspots in relation to racism and inequality” (Martin, Slide 20). Magnum Chocolate has had many issues with these cultural blindspots specifically in regard to race and appropriating race to their chocolate ice cream bars. The company must recognize their faults and blindness to their seemingly casual racism and combat that with new adverts that focus on the beauty of their product and not on the race their product could be associated with. While the use of people and color in chocolate advertising has a long history, our current society must work to inform each other that this commodity racism is no longer accepted as normal (Martin, Race Theory).


Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Martin, Dr. Carla. Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements. Lecture.

Image Sources:

Rowntree Cocoa: Screenshot from Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Celebrate White: http://dude4food.blogspot.com/2015/10/celebrate-whitewith-new-magnum-white.html

Cracked Magnum Ad: http://www.coloribus.com/adsarchive/prints/magnum-cracking-8197655/

Magnum Creative Ad: http://www.dailyinspiration.nl/creative-ads-magnum-ice-cream/

Ferrero White Chocolate ad:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/copyranter/how-the-hell-did-this-germany-votes-white-chocolate-ad-make#.nqx36x36L

Two original ads: Images from above and two sunset photos: Shutterstock.com








Race and Gender Stereotypes in Advertisements


Chocolate and advertisements often go hand in hand. Since its discovery by the Europeans, the popularity of chocolate rose in the 1600s, and it do so through the use of advertisement. Early advertisements began as word of mouth, but over the years it has progressed into what we now know as modern Ads: videos, photos, drawings. Along with progression, came a slew of negative stereotypes that were consistently portrayed for the sake of marketing certain goods. Of the many representations shown through images and videos, the two that will be discussed, is the use of race and gender in Ads. Time and time again, the respect for the history of chocolate and people has been disregarded for the sake of promoting a product.


Chocolate is often used as a synonym for darker skin. This is portrayed consistently in the media whether it is though words or imagery. In this Thai Ad, a new charcoal donut is being advertised. A bite is take out of the donut, which presumably turns the woman “black”. This literal representation is seen in the woman painted in black—to depict “charcoal”, while her pink lips stand out against her face. Dunkin Donuts has received much criticism over the lack of racial sensitivity in the Ad. The chocolate donut could have been marketed in other ways without resorting to race. Tactics such as this undermines  the history and struggle of a group of our population in order to sell products.

A woman’s face turns black, after taking a bite out of a charcoal donut.


As seen in both ads, females are often depicted as the representation for chocolates and sweets. Females are stereotyped into roles of femininity and sexuality in order to represent the object at hand. It often becomes hard to tell whether it’s the product or sex that is being sold, as the two are very entwined. As the image below shows, Cadbury is being compared to a female, and not just any female, but the supermodel Naomi Campbell. Her name brings to mind, images of being a diva, sassy, tall, slender, and beautiful. Focus is paid to the physical attributes that are deemed as the ideal. These physical features are used to convey confidence, sassiness, allure and sexuality. This theme is repeated in countless advertisements where females are seen laying on a bed, or in various sexual poses. It’s as if, any female that doesn’t fit the mold of the stereotypical sexual woman, chocolate just wouldn’t taste as good.

An Ad comparing an new Cadbury product to the model Naomi Campbell, who is of African descent

Original Ad

More focus need to be paid on making advertisements inclusive. Breaking free of stereotypes will allow the advertised message to reach a greater array of audiences who do not fit gender and racial molds. The focus should always be on the product more so than the people. Advertisements should aim to remove any ambiguity as to what is being sold and any stereotypes that are being subliminally reinforced. The original ad depicts an image of chocolate of various color and shapes, with the message   of celebrating all colors and shapes. The message is in direct response to the images above, where the mainstream links chocolate exclusively to dark skinned and African people. This ad tries to break free of socially constructed images of the “ideal women”—tall and skinny—which do not always depict the everyday norm. Above all, the advertisement focuses solely on the product, leaving no ambiguity as to what is being sold and the audience that is being targeted—everyone.

An Inclusive Ad that aims to focus just on the product and to celebrate differences.

Although this original Ad aims to deconstruct stereotypes, its focus may be too narrow. The slogan, “..in every shade and size”, responds only to the racial and body image portrayal of females. Male audiences, along with children and elder people may be marginalized. This shows how easy it is to leave out sections of the consumer population, wether it is intentional or not. It also shows how important it is to be inclusive of all people. Advertisements should direct their efforts in embracing and celebrating differences, not using it to reinforce centuries old ideal. Over time, Ads should completely move away from depicting chocolate to race and gender all together. The sole reason for candy should be for the sake of taste and satisfaction.



 Logan, Ruth. “Dunkin’ Donuts Apologizes For ‘Racist’ Blackface Ad.” News One Dunkin Donuts Apologizes For Racist BlackfaceAd Comments. NEWSONE, Sept. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2016. 
 Wade, Lisa. “On Cadbury, Naomi Campbell, and Colorblindness – Sociological Images.” Sociological Images On Cadbury Naomi Campbell and Colorblindness Comments. The Society Pages, June 2011. Web. 08 Apr. 2016. 

Pushing Back on Chocolate Advertisement: Haagen-Dazs’ 2004 Print Ad

In the world of chocolate advertisements, it seems chocolate corporations go to any and all ends to sell the products that they make; many times resulting in highly controversial images that reinforce negative stereotypes of various genders and ethnic groups. In passing, such images or videos may seem rather harmless – usually not given much thought by the consumer or receiver of the ad. However, a closer analysis of some of these adverts reveals the negative implications of such which can and do dangerously sneak by a casual audience, yet subliminally fortifying negative views of various sectors of the population.

Haagen-Dazs advert. Print Ad from: Lew’Lara/TBWA Sao Paola. Nestlé S.A. 2004.



Haagen-Dazs’ print ad titled CHOCOLATE was created by a Sao Paulo advertising agency in September 2004. This advert is rather striking at first especially because its title is CHOCOLATE, yet there seems to be no chocolate actually present in the photo. Rather, what is depicted is the portrait of a black woman holding a Haagen-Dazs Popsicle stick in her mouth. Just below her chin reads the words, “Chocolate & Dark Chocolate”. Thus, this implies that the CHOCOLATE is actually the woman pictured, blatantly objectifying her and using chocolate as a euphemism for her skin color. Such explicit references made to dark skin color are not made exclusively by chocolate companies. They can also be seen in other product advertisements such as the Kmart ad Anthony Cortese provides in his book Provocateur (Cortese, 92). Principally, we see that this use of race, specifically black people, to sell a product by adding a particular dimension to the commodity is something apparent throughout the world of advertising.

Kmart Ad. Image from: Provocateur by Anthony Cortese, 1999.

In her book Chocolate, Women and Empires, Emma Robertson invokes Jan Pieterse’s work, which demonstrates that the usage of black people in advertisements historically was a strategic measure implemented by many chocolate companies- and other companies whose products historically used slave labor- to enhance the luxury status of the product they were selling. (Robertson, 36) Because these images could implicitly implicate the lucid social hierarchy at the time – whites being the consumers of products provided by blacks – they helped to increase the social status of product they were displaying, in turn making it a commodity that was more desirable to its directed audience. Today however, we may instead look at a more temporally relevant explanation of the use of a black woman in this Haagen-Dazs advertisement as a way to construct “chocolate as an exotic commodity; both the product and the race [of the woman] are marked primarily by their spatial, temporal, and cultural distance from Europe.” (Robertson, 36) Kristy Leissle explains how in postcolonial literature, Africa and its people, are continually cast as primitive, traditional, and in an eternal developmental lag. (Leissle, 121) In depicting the place where cocoa is grown and the people who harvest such in this way very much creates a binary, which place Western culture on one side and African culture on the other. Thus, products which are exported from Africa are seen by Western consumers to have an exotic appeal to them; a perception that many chocolate advertisements play on such as this particular Haagen-Dazs commercial which uses a black woman to depict chocolate as an exotic, desirable product.

Another notable feature of this ad is that the person depicted as chocolate is not only black, but also a woman. Her profile is shown, and her bare shoulders indicate that she is nude. Holding the popsicle in here mouth, here eyes are closed and her head is tilted downwards, as if she is bowing or submitting herself to the consumer as the ad; personally, I get a sense of the fact that she has accepted her objectification, looking as if she has lost all her power and self-respect. In Provocateur, Cortese explicates how in many cases, women are hacked apart in ads, which only depict parts of them or their bodies. When separated into their parts, the woman is no longer linked to her mind, soul and emotions. (Cortese, 31) She has truly been objectified, as only certain parts of her have become important or of value to the consumer. In this case, the woman’s profile is shown but really only her head is of interest in this picture. Oval in shape, it closely links itself to the Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar that takes a very similar form. The rest of her body is omitted from the picture, as it is not “important” in this case, which Cortese explicates with the notion that “a woman without feet is immobile and therefore submissive”. (Cortese, 31) The woman in this case has been made to look like a chocolate ice cream bar who is submitting herself to the consumer – in this case the targeted audience is most likely men – accepting and perpetuating her objectified nature along with the idea that the objectification of women as done by such advert is acceptable.

Haagen-Dazs use of women and race to sell its product is highly derogatory and offensive. Adverts of such nature should be understood thoroughly by their audience and condemned for their either careless or intentional exploitation of women and race as a means for selling their product. As a way to push back on this particular ad, I have created an ad of my own that works to deconstruct these stereotypes.

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 10.07.35 AM
Haagen-Dazs Bars. Digital Image from: http://www.niradar.com

In the advert I have created, instead of using a person to depict the Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar, I have instead used the bar itself, choosing images that allow the chocolate to sell itself; silky smooth . Also, to remove the gender stereotype from the original advert while maintaining the ads sexual appeal, I added the lines “I know you want me…. Come and get some…” as if the ice cream bar itself is attempting to lure its consumer in, rather than a submissive woman that plays on a power and dominance stereotype. In this way, without objectifying a woman, and connecting black complexion with chocolate, I still achieve the ultimate goal- selling the chocolate product.



Adar, Nir. Haagen-Dazs Bars. Digital image. http://www.niradar.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Apr. 2016.

Cortese, Anthony J. “Figure 4.25.” Provocateur: Images of women and minorities in advertising. Lanham, MD.: 2001. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.

Lew’Lara/TBWA Sao Paulo. “CHOCOLATE – Haagen-dazs Print Ad.”CHOCOLATE – Haagen-dazs Print Ad. Nestlé S.A, Sept. 2004. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.

Works Cited:

Cortese, Anthony J. Provocateur: Images of women and minorities in advertising. Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-139.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Race and Cultural Insensitivity in Chocolate Advertising

It is impossible to speak on chocolate advertising, through the lens of race and cultural insensitivity without being over-loaded with one image or video after another, of companies pleading ignorance or using deception in their bid to gain more consumers and acquire “target markets”. It is pertinent for the discussion of this subject matter that I utilize a select few images to tell a Story of the constructed prejudices still proliferated today in the world of chocolate advertising. Advertising in the chocolate industry especially in the western world is ignorant of the social, economic and political conditions facing the chocolate products that are marketed to consumers. These advertisements are generated primarily for the purposes of consumerism.  History has been unkind in creating these stereotypes and what is now apparent is that chocolate industries have adopted these attributes to be used thematically in advertising as a means to widen consumer markets and increase sales, the use of racial and cultural insensitive has now become a tool used by certain chocolate companies to sell more ‘chocolate’.

belgian chocolate hands
Belgian ‘Chocolate Hands’

This picture, is of sweets popular in the Antwerp region of Belgium. “Antwerpse handjes in Dutch,  are associated primarily with the myth of the founding of the city, in which the hero Brabo slew the tyrannical giant Antigoon, cut off one of his hands, and threw it in the river” (Dean). Of course the origin of the chocolate hands has been falsely attributed to a mythological story. The Chocolate hands in truth originated from a more sinister series of events that occurred during Belgium’s occupation of Congo by King Leopold II. “ The Belgium forces overseeing the enslaved workers were tasked to meet a daily quota of rubber and ivory harvest, the workers who did not meet the required quota would have their hands severed as punishment” (Dean). A false attribution of this chocolate hands with a local myth, is used to create patriotism and to increase sales. A marketing tool that chocolate advertisers often utilize.

Kina Ad
Swedish Kina Chocolate

The Swedish Kina chocolate company advertisement shows how companies use cultural appropriation to suit their needs. The image features a rice krisp covered chocolate; an Asian woman with a hat is seen perched on top of the chocolate bar. This traditional hat is widely common in Asian countries, it is also common knowledge that people of Asian descent are attributed with rice. After much uproar, Kina went ahead and removed the face but left the hat, a trade mark of the Asian community that simply just is- is used to promote a stereotype.

Sunny chocolate

To push back against the use of race and culturally insensitive as an advertising tool, I have created an image that focuses just on the chocolate itself. Chocolate being consumed by something we all consider gender-less, the sun. An argument could be made that my advertisement has no “target market” and it does not promote sales in anyway. My answer to that, is why should it? Chocolate sells itself, people are drawn to the taste. If chocolate is truly for the young and old, black and white, man and woman, why is a “target market” needed. Why is it that chocolate can’t be advertised to all on the same platform and everyone be allowed to choose without the power of persuasion. It could also be said that my advertisement lacks persuasion, I would refute  with the assertion that persuasion when coupled with stereotypes and prejudice leads to vilification. As chocolate has been deemed to be sinful and even a subject of oppression- in reference to the disparities in Cacao industry.

To better understand the damages perpetuated by chocolate advertising, one should take a closer look at the Critical Race Theory introduced by Professor Martin in Lecture. The six basic tenets of race theory emphasizes certain points that enshroud the problems with race and cultural insensitivity today. 1) Racism is ordinary- these stereotypes are enforced by human beings and only we can change them. 2) Interest convergence- the interest of the power players do not align with an egalitarian initiative. 3) Social construction- stereotypes are used as a tool to promote Dwarnist ideas- some people have to be at the bottom of the food chain while others are on top. 4) Differential Racialization- Different groups are profiled based on what is best suited at the time. Intersectionality and anti- essentialism- No prejudice is above or under the other and one can experience all in a particular situation. For instance, in the Cadbury Ad calling out Naomi Campbell, Not only was she profiled as having a stubborn and unyielding attitude like most black women are that she has to be instructed to “move over”, she is also called out as a “Diva”, a negative image that strong and independent women who know what they want are often associated with.

Naomi Campbell cardbury
Cadbury- Naomi Campbell Ad

6) Unique Voice of Color- People who have experienced prejudice are better at shining light on their plight. Integrating stereotypes in advertisements can be positive when it is used to create awareness or for positive campaigns against prejudice. It should never be used as an advertising tool to promote consumerism.

The Chocolate industry has had damaging effects in the use of “target market” ideology to increase sales. These stereotypes are often times given a pass because people are unaware of them or choose to be undisturbed by them. To condone the stereotypes in chocolate advertising is furthering the damage history has already created and in this case, it is much more insidious because it can go unrecognized or even worse, be tolerated as the norm.

Works Cited

Scholarly Sources:

Dean, Caroline. Chocolates as Cultural Blind Spots: Responding to “Civilization”. 12 February 2013. 5 April 2016. <http://sites.northwestern.edu/akih/2013/02/21/chocolates-as-cultural-blind-spots-responding-to-civilization/&gt;.

Martin, Carla. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Chocolate Class. Byerly Hall, Cambridge. 30 March 2016. Lecture

Multimedia Sources:

Meyer, Norma. River cruise celebrates ‘tulip time’. 21 August 2015. 5 April 2016. <http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/aug/21/river-cruise-celebrates-tulip-time/&gt;.

Sweneyy, Mark. Cadbury apologizes to Naomi Campbell over ‘racist’ ad . 3 June 2011. 5 April 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/jun/03/cadbury-naomi-campbell-ad&gt;.

Waterfield, Bruno. Nordic confectionery giant redesigns ‘racist’ logo. 21 September 2011. 5 April 2016. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/8778820/Nordic-confectionary-giant-redesigns-racist-logo.html&gt;.

Sashay Away, Godiva: Dismantling the “Diva” Ad Campaign

The most surprising thing about Godiva’s “diva” ad campaign isn’t the use of languid, elegant women to sell chocolate and target the female demographic. In fact, this aspirational campaign, which hopes to generate sales for small items such as individual chocolate bars and boxes of truffles, is just playing on old tropes that have long plagued chocolate advertising. Through its portrayal of upper-class, mostly light-skinned women sensually indulging in chocolate, these ads reinforce the intersection of luxury, chocolate consumption, and women’s sexuality, which must be examined for its perpetuation of problematic gendered and racial norms.

To begin with a bit of history: Godiva’s tactics are not surprising, but what may be surprising and ironic is that chocolate’s takeover of European drawing rooms was facilitated by upper-class women who brought chocolate drink recipes with them when they married into their husbands’ households—marking chocolate from its introduction as a drink reserved for the elite and wealthy (World Standards). In fact, it was not until technological innovation (conching, powdered cacoa, and transportation/storage advances) allowed chocolate to be made at a lower price point and more widely available to the working class. However, what is dismaying is how—even as chocolate became more democratic in its availability— chocolate ads continue to draw on the aristocratic, European segment of chocolate’s history. An 1870 trade card targeted at consumers (see media below) shows how chocolate was already being framed as a drink for white, upper-class, domestically-minded women. Future advertisements to follow would continue to “perpetuate western sexist and racist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption” (Robertson).


Trade card from chocolate manufacturer. Source: Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage by Louise E. Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.
Trade card from chocolate manufacturer. Source: Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage by Louise E. Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.

Even today, chocolate ads cannot seem to let go of the fixation on upper-class, white women in its advertising. A great example of this is Godiva’s “diva” ads. Of the five images I have been able to find, four of them are of white women and one of a light-skinned woman who may or may not be of European origin. This blog post will focus on this image in particular:

One image from Godiva’s Diva campaign. Source: Marketing and Advertising Chocolate Group (see references at end of post).

At the most basic surface level, the ad appeals to viewers with a beautiful model and can be interpreted simply as “Treat yourself to Godiva chocolate, you wonderful diva.” The clever tagline (“every woman is one part diva, much to the dismay of every man”) seems humorous and witty. In fact, the use of “diva,” usually reserved for famous female singers or actresses, seems to engage with gender perceptions by stating that “eating this chocolate can make you a diva, a female boss.” Taken at face value, the ad sums up to read “you can be a beautiful, powerful woman—and our chocolate will help you feel that way.” When Jacqueline Lenart, vice president of marketing at Godiva North America, was asked about the ads, she said, “inside every female is a diva,” showing how the ad was supposed to promote empowerment of the “every” woman (Cho).

But a deeper, contextualized reading of this ad undermines its supposed progressiveness: if this ad is supposed to promote the idea of a diva as an influential person, then why the need to bring in the dichotomy of heteronormativity with the tagline “much to the dismay of every man”? Suddenly, the viewer is slapped back into the reality that this diva, and women in general, are objects to be consumed by the heterosexual male gaze. To appeal to this male gaze, the model poses coyly, does not seem threatening in any way, and wears sheer clothing. In fact, this ad undermines its intended uplifting message (“women can be powerful divas”) by playing on stereotypes of gender roles and juxtaposing the powerful word “diva” with a submissive woman sensually inviting the viewer into her chocolate fantasy world. Rather than empowering or celebrating women, this ad merely repeats the idea that women and chocolate are both “markers of sexual excess” (Robertson).

In addition to the ad’s gendered component, the backdrop of this ad, although blurred, also draws on themes of class and privilege in order to entice viewers. The woman sits in front of brocade wallpaper and a large vase, marking her elegant, European tastes. Behind her are chandeliers dangling with crystals, signifying her upper-class privilege. Not only does this ad reinforce gender assumptions under the guise of promoting girl power, but it also subconsciously appeals to cultural markers of race and class that are associated with its chocolate. The diva in this ad campaign is very much a wealthy, privileged, and European flavor of woman.

To push back against this ad campaign, I created my own ad featuring RuPaul, a drag queen known for his campy show “RuPaul’s drag race.”

RuPaul in Godiva's Diva ad campaign
RuPaul in Godiva’s Diva ad campaign

I believe RuPaul’s ad deconstructs the “diva” ad in several ways. First, as a black man with creole roots, RuPaul pushes back against the prevalence of beautiful white woman in chocolate ads. Additionally, RuPaul is known for his work ethic as a singer, an actor, and a drag queen—the opposite of  the leisurely, upper-class women often featured in chocolate ads. Lastly, RuPaul absolutely destroys the gendered assumptions behind the “diva” ad. RuPaul’s drag costume is not intended to appeal to heterosexual men. In fact, the slogan “every woman is a diva, much to the dismay of every man,” actually makes more sense in this ad because heterosexual men might actually be intimidated by RuPaul’s aggressive pose, instead of being enticed by yet another sultry female model. RuPaul’s fluid gender performance also undercuts any gender assumptions that a viewer might have had about women and chocolate: RuPaul’s drag performances actively dismantle heteronormative gender roles in his performances, and RuPaul refers to himself as both a man and a woman.

In summary, the intersection of white female beauty, privilege, and chocolate products is nothing new. A close reading of chocolate ad campaigns can reveal the undercurrent of race and gender assumptions in our cultural conversation. RuPaul’s ads challenges the expectations of gender in society and pushes back against the gender and class dynamics that underly chocolate advertising. Instead of Godiva’s ad, which claim to celebrate women (but actually demotes them to sexualized objects and almost exclusively cites to European tastes), RuPaul’s diva ad utilizes an actual diva who is worthy of the title.




No Proof in Chocolate Pudding

In 2012 JELL-O responded to the Mayan Calendar scare with an attempt at viral marketing.

Playing upon the craze of a world ending 12/21/2012, Kraft Foods decided to cash in by poking fun at the Mayan religion. In this admittedly semi-genius advertisement, JELL-O asks if chocolate will save us from the Mayan foretold apocalypse. They trek far and wide to the top of an obscure Mayan ruins to offer chocolate JELL-O to the gods in hopes that the world will see 12/22/2012. Will chocolate JELL-O save the world?

This ad does several things cleverly. It plays upon people’s curiosity of an already publicized Mayan event. This leaves people associating JELL-O with the apocalypse. Which brings me to the second part of the ad’s clever anchoring.

It specifically states that if the world is not destroyed and Earthlings live to see 12/22/2012, it was the chocolate pudding sacrifice that appeased the gods.

A rundown of the commercial’s racist elements reveal many associations with the historical exploitation of exotic culture to sell chocolate.

A cartooned map of the Yucatan. (an exotic locale)

A cliched and sarcastic representation of an ancient culture. The narrator even goes so far as to call their religious practices lame. “No wonder the gods decided to end the world.”

An expedition “deep into the jungle” led by a white man, and his native looking crew. They reach a fictitious ruin and offer chocolate JELL-O pudding to the gods. Will it appease?

In Chocolate, Women and Empire, Robertson shares a history of tactics big business advertisements use by implementing race to sell chocolate. With this colonized/colonizer paradigm (Robertson, 36) this ad not only blatantly and unapologetically undermines the Mayan religion, it uses these various forms of racism to sell a product.

By leaving viewers hanging, it would be obvious that should the world still be in tact on 12/22/2012, it was Kraft who saved the world. The video ends with a tag “JELL-O, FUN THINGS UP.”

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George Manko

In response to Kraft’s commercial offering chocolate pudding to the Mayan gods, I’ve created an equally sarcastic ad by a fictitious company called Creamy Criollo.

The idea behind this advertisement is to show what a would be Mayan god’s reaction is to a modern day version of what a big chocolate company considers “chocolate”.

A quick look at the JELL-O chocolate pudding ingredient list reveals the following:

Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Cocoa Processed With Alkali, Disodium Phosphate, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Salt, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, Artificial Color, BHA (Preservative)

With cocoa ranking third on the list (even then it is diluted with other ingredients) it’s no wonder the Mayan gods decided to destroy the world in 2012.

I did not use race, gender, or class in my advertisement, but rather a shocking portrayal of what this world has come to with its processed ideas of food throughout the last two centuries. What this portrayal hopefully shows, is that use of quality ingredients is the only ancient stereotype that should be acceptable in marketing.


Works Cited: 

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
Vol. 24, Iss. 22012