Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Stereotype Of African Americans & Kool-Aid

Edited by Azizi Powell

Kool-Aid Ad

Uploaded by randimay21 on Apr 29, 2010

Kool-Aid Commercial (1992). I remember seeing this commercial every Saturday during Soul Train lol.
A post about an un-named store in the United States offering a sale on Kool-Aid flavored drink for Black History month was recently published on the Sociological Images forum that I read and periodically post to. One blogger wrote the following:

"Okay, Non-American here... Is there a specific streotype associated to Kool-Aid and blacks in the States, or is it just a random\strange product to choose?"
- Spekatie
I decided to look online before I responded to that query, and doing so I found a similar, but much more loaded question on

"Why do black people like kool aid, fried chicken, and watermelon?

what do African Americans like kfc kool aid and watermelon im not a racist im not trying to be one no offence to anyone but why do people say they like it so much?
- Mr. Crazy, 2010
There were several responses to that question, but the one that was voted the best was submitted by Mr. Baltimoron. I agree with the first part of his response:

"Many black people in America come from poor backgrounds. Chicken always used to be a cheaper meat (than, say, beef), so it's the protein they could afford. Of course chicken is bland in flavor (it tastes like, uh, chicken) so what can you do to spice it up? Flour is cheap, oil is cheap, and deep frying anything makes it 127% tastier. Tah-dah! Fried chicken. Same thing for Kool Aid (cheap and easy to make). Both are less a "black" thing and more economic and regional (the South) in origin but were grafted onto blacks as a dehumanizing mechanism...
- The Baltimoron 2010
That blogger goes on to write that "Yes, your question (whether intended or not) is offensive. Whites used to malign black people as watermelon and chicken thieves. They would say that during the night, when it was pitch dark, black people would go to the master's field to steal watermelons, or, like foxes, to the chicken coop to steal chickens. But supposedly, these black people were always betrayed by their white teeth and white eyes which shone in the dark like lightning. So they could not hide, even in the darkest of nights, even though they were so black. That was why their smiles were cut like slices of watermelon and they were considered, like chickens, to be cowards."
I don't agree that asking a question about the reasons for stereotypes is necessarily offensive. However, I believe that accepting that stereotype as the truth is offensive for the reasons that Baltimoron wrote.

Referring to Kool-Aid as the Black person's drink is a short handed way of saying that all Black people are poor. That statement is stereotypical. First of all, there are more poor White people in the USA (since it's probable that those making that statement erroneously equate the referent "Black people" with African Americans). Furthermore, all Black people in the United States aren't poor. Some of us (but unfortunately not me) are quite wealthy.

However, I think there are other reasons besides that product being inexpensive why many Americans (including Black Americans) may associate Kool-Aid flavored drink with Black folks. One of those reasons is that that company appears to have made a strategic marketing decision to target Black people in its ads. Note that the uploader of the video on the top of this page wrote that "I remember seeing this commercial every Saturday during Soul Train lol." Soul Train was a very popular music/dance show that featured mostly Black dancers and guest recording stars. However, it wasn't just Black people who watched that show.

A number of people who watched Soul Train may have favorable rememberances of those ads not only because they were aired during that well loved show, but also because those ads favorably depicted Black people. Here are some examples of those ads:

(These videos are presented in no particular order.
My thanks to the producers & uploaders of these videos. All copyrights remain with their owners.)

Video #1: Kool-Aid Ad (1992)

This video is shown at the top of the page.

Video #2: You're never too old for Kool Aid (1970's)

Uploaded by CineGraphic on Jan 30, 2010

"From the early 70's, a unique commercial for it's time.

Commercials depicting African Americans in suburban settings were ground-breaking at the time."

Video #3: Classic Kool-Aid commercial, featuring the Monkees

Uploaded by barbrababble on Sep 15, 2006

"Kool-Aid commercial from 1970 featuring members of the Monkees at an amusement park."
Notice that not only were there a few Black people in that commercial, but those Black people weren't depicted any differently than White people.

Video #4: Vintage Kool-Aid 1973 Commercial

Uploaded by robatsea2009 on Sep 14, 2009

"a vintage 1973 television commercial for Kool-Aid"
A viewer wrote that this commercial may have been from 1971-1972, not 1973.

Video #1, #2, and #3 feature Black people portrayed in non-stereotypical ways. (For what it's worth, Video #2 is my favorite of all of these featured videos because of its depiction of a Black family reunion which include that delightful baby girl taking her first steps.)

With regards to videos #3 and #4, it was rare in the 1970s and beyond for commercials to show Black child interacting in a non-stereotypical way with White children.

Part of the stereotype about African Americans and Kool-Aid specifies that we like grape flavored Kool-Aid the most, although some say its cherry flavored Kool-Aid that Black people prefer. I think that's because many people (including me) thought that those two flavors taste the best - or at least they did until new flavors like lemon lime were added in the 1990s or whenever.

But for the record, since I've read this statement on other websites, I want to mention that I don't think that Black people preferring grape Kool-Aid (if that is even true) has anything whatsoever to do with the 1978 Jim Jones mass suicide in Guyana when that religious cult leader served grape Kool-Aid laced with arsenic or some other poison to his followers and then drank it himself. (It may be beside the fact that the powdered drink laced with arsenic that White American Jim Jones served to his mostly African American followers and then drank himself may not have even been Kool-Aid).

One reason why people regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic class buy Kool-Aid is that that flavored drink tastes "all right" (for instance, it has no bad after-taste). But, it seems to me that if that product was linked to disrespectful depictions or racist treatment of Black people, then no matter if we liked its taste or not, and no matter how inexpensive or easy to use it is, Black people would be dis-inclined to buy it. That said, some people consider this Kool-Aid commercial of the Kool-Aid icon, a large othe Kool-Aid pitcher full of cherry flavored drink, joining in with Black teenage males playing basketball to be offensive:

Video #5: Racist Kool-Aid Commercial

Uploaded by wambam1205 on May 18, 2008

"I was very offended by this think we live in a world where huge corporations can still insult the rich black culture and get away with it."
Personally, I don't think that ad is racist. However, I do believe that producing an ad which includes Black people playing basketball & drinking Kool-Aid was a bad marketing choice given the racist memes that all Black people are poor and the "White man can't jump" stereotype which assumes that all Black males naturally are skilled at playing basketball.

Here are my final thoughts about this subject:
Even if there are neutral or positive reasons for Kool-Aid to be linked with Black people, companies and individuals should be very careful not to feed into the toxic memes that have developed around Black people and that product or other products.

It would be foolish for any store to have a sale on a a product that is considered part of the stereotype for Black people during Black History month (February) or at any time. To do so demeans the whole point of Black History month (to raise awareness about Black history and culture). Furthermore, for any company to put on sale any product that feeds into stereotypes associated with Black people isn't using good judgement. It sets that company up for bad publicity which could result in customers refusing to shop there because of that culturally incompetent marketing choice.


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  1. I used to drink Kool-aid as a kid. Even when we moved to Japan, my mom would stock up on Kool-aid when we took trips back to the States. I never thought of it as a "black" thing, but rather as a flavor for water.

    1. Some people would take offense out of anything. I am black, I used to love the KoolAid drink and I used to pour lots of powder into a small amount of water to get a nice sweet and soar flavor.

      This is just ridiculous. I tell my black fellows. "Get over it, live is better with less grouches.

    2. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      To clarify, I don't believe that drinking kool-aid is "a Black thing". However, I do believe that is a stereotype that some Americans have about Black people.

      Also, I don't believe that recognizing, writing, and talking about stereotypes mean that people are grouches. I think that is an important area of documentation and study, for the current and for the historical (folkloric) record.

  2. "I never thought of it as a "black" thing, but rather as a flavor for water."

    Thanks for your comment, Umlud!

    Yeah. I know. Kool-Aid is definitely a part of my childhood memories and my children's too. I remember when you had to mix the powder with sugar, and now you can buy packages of it with or without the sugar.

    Don't they sell Kool-Aid in Japan?

  3. I don't know whether Kool-Aid can be purchased in Japan these days, but when I was growing up, the only place to buy it in Japan was at a US military commissary. Needless to say, as a non-military family, this wasn't an option for us, and so my mom would buy about 50 packs of Kool-Aid of various types whenever we were Stateside.

  4. Thanks for sharing that memory.

    And now you've got me thinking what product I would buy lots of that they don't have elsewhere if I moved away from the USA...


    I'm sure I can think of a number of things... but probably not Kool-Aid. Then again, those packages take up hardly any space, so..yeah, why not?

  5. I am a medium color human being. I love Kool-Aid, fried chicken and watermelon. I just laugh at the author thinking this is important. Stereotyping is done by people who have nothing more to do with their brains than putting together meaningless words that do noting positive for the human race. Such a waste.

    1. Anonymous, November 27, 2015, I agree with you that stereotyping is a waste. But it's not meaningless to talk about it. Stereotyping can cause psychological harm and physical harm including death.

      Also, I don't know what you mean by "a medium color human being".

  6. I'm a 46yo white woman who grew up in the 80's in the South, next to mostly black neighborhoods. I had many black friends around home and school. I don't remember them drinking or liking Kool Aid anymore than I did. We always had Kool Aid in my house growing up. It was a cheap and easy way to create a drink that was something other than water. For the record my favorite was and still is lemon-lime.

    1. Thanks for your comment eeecee.

      Kool-Aid is a brand name for a cheap, ready made drink. Whether or not Black people drink Kool-Aid more than non-White people is irrelevant to the fact that Kool-Aid is part of the negative stereotypes about Black people, along with eating fried chicken and eating watermelon. (Black people probably don't eat fried chicken or watermelon more than other Americans, but there's no denying that those are stereotypical images of Black people in the United States.)

      Your comment and the comment above which is also dated November 27, 2015 are probably prompted by the Fox & Friends cooking segment where a White co-host asked the Black co-host who was demonstrating how she makes peach cobbler whether she makes Kool-Aid.

      Here's a link to an article about that segment:
      Fox's Brian Kilmeade Asks Black Co-host If She Makes Kool-Aid
      Harris Faulkner appeared shocked by the seemingly racially-loaded question.
      by Nina Golgowski, Posted: 11/26/2015 02:58 PM EST

      And here's a YouTube video of that segment:

  7. I am a 77-year old white grandfather who has made and drunk Kool-Aid all my life (it was invented by a white Nebraskan in about 1925), and with my family. I NEVER thought to associate it somehow with blacks or "African-Americans" (a phony designation if ever there was one) until a segment on Larry Wilmore mentioned the blooper on Fox & Friends when a journalist asked a black chef if she made Kool-Aid. Offense-no-why-would-you-ask, etc., went right over my head. I have lived in Montreal, California, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Connecticut and Wisconsin, have a mixed-race adopted granddaughter that I love, and I sing with a mixed-race men's chorus that serves Kool-Aid and sometimes lemonade or apple juice at our breaks. In what way is Kool-Aid some kind of black drink or racist? I also love fried chcken with the skin removed, and watermelon (since they bred out the black seeds). I am familiar with the watermelon stereotype but give it the same credence as "can't swim," "rhythm" and "rub hair for luck." Am I a racist pig for not knowing about "Kool-Aid and blacks"?

    1. Unknown, December 4, 2015,
      The fact that you are familiar with a number of stereotypes of Black Americans people but not familiar with the stereotype about Kool-Aid that is also often associated with Black Americans does not make you "a racist pig". It simply means that you aren't aware of all the cultural memes that are out there that have been connected to Black people.

      Knowing Black people distantly or closely - or being even Black - doesn't mean that a person would be aware of every stereotypes that has been circulated about Black people.

      Needless to say, indicating that something is a stereotype doesn't make it true. Therefore, it's factual to indicate that people of all races & ethnicities drink Kool-Aid and other powdered ready made drinks.

      Regarding your comment that the referent "African American" is a phony designtion, we African Americans are the best people to determine whether this is an appropriate referent for us or not. And since enough of us say "African American" is an appropriate referent for us (given our African roots and American heritage), that should end that discussion.

  8. Ten packets of kool-aid for a dollar . Pound of raw sugar costs around the same . Add the two ... one of the many reasons why most black women are overweight !

    1. Thanks for your comment, what the what.

      What you wrote is probably true, but there's more to that story, which you probably know.