You know how sometimes you see something and you just cringe and wonder how, how, something made it into the public sphere? Paul Fidalgo, of Near Earth Object, took a photo of this display illustrating the career ladder at McDonald’s. The display provides a rather unintended commentary on race and corporate hierarchies in general:
I suppose I should be happy, as the sky appears to be the limit for White women like me on the Ladder of Whiteness.
I was doing some googling, looking for data on the racial diversity of McDonald’s employees, since the company has touted itself as a leader in providing career opportunities to women and underrepresented minorities. I’m always surprised how corporations that carefully guard their brand in other ways, and talk about diversity issues, often seem to drop the ball when it comes to thinking about the cultural politics of representations of race and ethnicity in their materials.
[UPDATE: A number of commenters argue that McDonald’s has a better record on promoting women and minorities than most corporations. I’m not trying to argue there that they don’t — I was trying to find some data on their employees because I’ve also heard they stand out, as far as corporate America goes. That’s why I found the display surprising, as opposed to perhaps predictable.]
So anyway, my online search led me to 365Black, the website McDonald’s set up to appeal to African Americans:
Ok…uh, sure. Just exactly like the baobab tree.
I’d seen 365Black before — readers have sent it in, and we just couldn’t think of much to say so we’ve never posted about it. But then my googling took me to MeEncanta, the McDonald’s page for the Latino community. They offer this sticker (i.e., instruct you to download the image and print it on sticky-backed paper) to show off your Latin pride:
And finally I arrived at Myinspirasian, which targets Asian Americans. On the page about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month they include information about contributions by Asian Pacific Americans, such as this:
Multimedia creations inspired by Asian Pacific Americans are the latest rage among kids, teens and young adults of all ages. The multimedia creations offer a variety of the trendiest ways to receive news, information, entertainment and services using the worldwide web.
No specifics are given, so you’ll have to figure out what these mysterious “multimedia creations” are. Also, “they have become household names in a host of sporting activities,” though apparently not the type of household names where McDonald’s could actually name one. The entire section is similarly vapid, completely lacking in anything other than non-specific statements that Asian Pacific Americans have, like, done stuff, and things. It reminded me of some of the very superficial celebrations of Black History Month we’ve seen.
But if you want, you can take the Asian Phrases Challenge, where you can hear various phrases spoken in either Mandarin or Cantonese, Filipino/Taglish, Indian/Hinglish, or Korean:
I’m not sure what the “challenge” aspect is, since it doesn’t do anything but play the phrases.
I just…I don’t know. You decide to make webpages entirely devoted to a particular demographic and this is the best you can do? And do these types of marketing projects actually work?
For more, see our previous post showing how people of color are subordinated visually in advertising materials.
Syd — March 2, 2011
I'm torn. On the one hand, most of these advertising campaigns are absolutely stupid, and some are insulting. HOWEVER. Unlike many corporations of the same caliber (I'm looking at you, Wal-Mart), McDonald's does indeed provide a lot of opportunities to those that are otherwise systematically excluded. For example, many McDonald's in predominantly-black neighborhoods are owned by black businesspeople.
I guess they need to get some of those owners in on the advertising panel, huh? But while the advertisements drop the ball in a huge way, it can't be said that these are quite the same as many of those black history month ads coming from companies which would likely die before letting a black person into an actual position of power within the company.
AlgebraAB — March 2, 2011
Gwen, what exactly is your judgement on these ad campaigns? Your statements "Alright ..." and "Ok ... uh, sure" seem critical to me but you didn't really articulate your thoughts precisely.
I thought they were a bit cheesy, which isn't surprising to me since it's a large corporation that has to appeal to a massive audience, but I didn't see anything problematic or noteworthy from a sociological perspective.
As for the corporate hierarchy element ... did you ever find out what the racial composition of franchisees or of upper management is? Seems like that information would provide more context re: the poster.
RG — March 2, 2011
I used to work at McDonald's, and I think it has a bad employer rep it doesn't deserve. Sure, the pay's low, and the work isn't interesting, but I think it's one of the last places a person with a good work ethic can move up regardless of education, race, gender etc.
Not sure if this is still true, but I've heard McDonald's has an outstanding record of promoting within, it has way more managers, owners and even executives that started at the bottom rung than any other company. So cheesiness and unintended messages aside, I think the ad is pretty true. Certainly, I think if you are looking for minimum wage employment, McD's is the way to go.
BinaryZen — March 2, 2011
"Multimedia creations inspired by Asian Pacific Americans are the latest rage among kids, teens and young adults of all ages."
I wouldn't call this vapid and non-specific. I think as direct reference to Japanese/Chinese/Korean cartoons, video games, pop music, and other assorted Asiaphilia that's been all the rage with kids as you can get without using the specific words "Playstation", "Pokemon", "Xhu Xhu" or the mildly provocative term "Asiaphilia".
Maria — March 3, 2011
Where you find food deserts (places lacking grocery stores and access to healthy food and produce), you find McDonald's and other fast food franchises, and you find America's minorities. So I think that a key strategy for McDonald's would be to hire from within these communities, not because they are committed to racial equality or some such ideal, but because those communities are their customers so it in their best interest to have local staff that reflect the local population. So while there maybe 'equal opportunities' at the bottom, the decision makers at the top (I'm talking corporate headquarters, not regional manager) remain fairly monochromatic - which is why such ridiculous marketing material continues to be produced.
pete — March 3, 2011
Identity politics do not challenge economic inequality and may support the status quo. The sub text is that there is nothing wrong with inequality and poverty as long as people of different races and women get the same chance as others to either bag the wealth or the opportunity for low paid work. In fact it becomes a marketing tool "we celebrate diversity" often means equal opportunity exploitation.
rP Stoval — March 3, 2011
How about some constructive commentary here? Pointing at things and snapping off a semi-snarky and sardonic quip isn't sociology, it's affected hipster.
How would you have them change the career ladder display to address your concerns, for example?
Jessica — March 3, 2011
You can actually get to Myinspireasian.com by typing in: i-am-asian.com. Who knew that the central factor in an Asian identity was an affinity for McDonald's?
Ollie — March 3, 2011
I wouldn't conclude that these marketing projects work. Just reading the lack of persuasive language, lack of actual information, and general lack of commitment to these websites makes me think their only purpose is only to project a culturally competent image. They don't actually have any substance, but you can easily tell your advertisers that the programs are up and running.
splack — March 3, 2011
Ian — March 3, 2011
While this image is a bit offensive from the get-go, after thinking about it, I do find it to be a true reflection of what IS going on at McDonald's across the country. You can't fault the chain for being honest, can you?
McDonald’s awkward multiculturalism | AZB Promotion — March 3, 2011
[...] Sociological Images shared this unfortunate “career ladder” snapped at an unidentified McDonald’s by Near Earth Object: [...]
HP — March 3, 2011
Kind of interesting that McDonald's would redefine "Asia Pacific" to include South Asians and yet exclude Polynesians and Japanese.
I wonder, given current events, into which preexisting racial category marketers will stuff the future American-born children of Tunisian, Libyan, and Egyptian emigres. African-Americans? Muslim-Americans? Do we lump them in with South Asians or treat them as White (cf Christian-Lebanese-Americans, e.g., Danny Thomas, Casey Kasem, etc.)? What about Eritreans and Ethiopians? (Melanistic, similar/identical culture, different religions.) I sure wouldn't want to be the marketing consultant tasked with shoving the mid-21st population of the US into a handful of efficient demographics.
@ Gwen -- I agree wholeheartedly with your "????," "Wha?," and other typographical indicators. It's for circumstances like this that I keep the word "anodyne" in my vocabulary.
Are These Corporate Giants Committing to These Causes or Co-opting them? | Info Wrangling — March 4, 2011
[...] Others have pointed out these web sites before. For another discussion of the sites in their present state, I refer you to “Sociological Images” where Gwen Sharp blogged about these three sites on March 02, 2011 in a post called “Race, Ethnicity, and McDonald’s Marketing Strategies“. [...]
Too Asian — March 5, 2011
Please pass us another Happy Meal! We love to be stereotyped and interpreted through the lens of whiteness!!! Even up here, in the Great White North, where a national news magazine describes us as "Too Asian" [Google Maclean's "Too Asian"] MacDonald's is a shining example of multiculturalism and diversity. No, really. Well, it's not as good as the latest Tim Horton's ad about being Canadian, at least being a very white Canadian. Oh f-ck, just pass us another Happy Meal and we'll take a break from TALKING BACK.
Andres Felipe Vargas Mariño — May 26, 2012
The white people on the top of the stair is not just a mcdonals policie, it is the reflect of a world where white people are in the best corporation positions, the same happens with goverment postions and in genral with all power positions. We have been living in racist euro-centric and white centric world for many centuries. I am not saying that this is good, but i am just ponting out that this is not a mcdonals policy.
also, as latin person, i know how latin people love that kind of stereotipical crap that big corporations launch to sell their trash to latin people. I still remember when 15 years ago mcdonals was launched in southamerica, all peopke wanted to go to mcdonals.
we live in such ethno-centric, north-centric world, that in south america mcdonals is not th working class food. No, it is middle class food, because south american people wanted to be like US people (till they go there). Moreover, many southamericans identify them selves as white and tend to be really racist... thill they go to europe or the US, look for Luis Suares, the center atacker from urugay to see what i mean.
of course we have to changue things, but infortunatelly we all (latin) keep on going to white countries to work, study, or find a better life.
Kate — December 19, 2016
This is outrageous. They should know that the only person who can be appropriately represented as the top of a management hierarchy in advertising or marketing materials is a black woman. Fail, McDonalds.
Concerned — June 11, 2017
Indian is not a language... you'd expect a Phd to know better... This article is also trash
Pat D-J — March 25, 2018
I am a 71 year-old resident of Inglewood, CA. I am VERY concerned about the recent lack of African Americans employed by McDonalds, not only in my area, but in others that I frequent. What happened to the young, energetic black teens and young adults who previously worked at the restaurants. There is a slow, albeit constant, replacement of blacks by Hispanics. I asked one McD manager, "Are there any African American employees at this restaurant?" She responded with, "Why do you want to know?" My point is that this battle has already been fought and won. Now it seems that we must suit up once again. Would someone PLEASE explain this to me.