These days, it’s not uncommon to see Western fast food chains alongside local favorites in the post-colony. Lagos, for example, has its Nigerian fast food chains (Mr. Biggs, Chicken Republic, etcetera) but also a brand-new, shiny KFC in the upscale Ikoyi neighborhood, a symbol to many of the city’s modernization and integration into the world economy. This kind of “culinary imperialism” has been discussed before, but less discussed has been the inverse — the use of black and African pride by Western fast food chains to appeal to African-Americans.
Enter McDonald’s new website, 365Black, whose slogan reads “Deeply rooted in the community®!” How deeply? As deeply as “the unique African Baobab tree, which nourishes its community with its leaves and fruit,” just as “McDonald’s has branched out to the African-American community, nourishing it with valuable programs and opportunities.”
The website features pictures of smiling young African-Americans, one even in a cap in gown — if you eat at McDonald’s, it suggests, you’ll be as beautiful and successful as these beautiful people! In its “Opportunities” section, it touts the Ronald McDonald House’s college scholarship program as evidence of its deep roots, but it also touts McDonald’s’ “diverse employment.” Never mind that these diverse employees are paid, on average, about $7.60 an hour, perpetuating cycles of poverty or at least preventing the kind of upward mobility touted on 365Black for many of its employees.
Of course, not all of McDonald’s employees are black, and neither are all of its customers. But the chain’s role in promoting fatty, unhealthy foods in areas with low purchasing power, many of which are predominantly black, is so obvious it need not be addressed. What ought to be addressed, briefly, is the defense of McDonald’s and other fast food chains, which claims that fast food is the cheapest way for the poor to feed themselves. Not true. So even from a “we provide calories” standpoint, McDonald’s has no legitimate claim to being vital for the community, African-American or otherwise.
Aside from issues of health, hegemony, and markets, what we have here is McDonald’s, a Western behemoth pushing a product that could not be even remotely considered African, using an African symbol to appeal to a population of African origin, in order to make itself look like something it isn’t. And it’s a shame that this tactic hasn’t been attacked more widely.
* Justin Scott is a graduate student in African studies at Yale, focusing on access to energy, information, and social networks in Nigeria.