We all know that McDonald's is bad for your waistline and for your health, but is the company racist, too? Activist and fellow millennial Michelle Dyre certainly thinks so.
At McDonald's most recent shareholder meeting, where individuals can directly speak to and question the board of the corporation, CEO Don Thompson received heavy criticism from a watchdog group called Corporate Accountability International (CAI). Dyre, who has worked for CAI, was one of the most outspoken people present, calling out McDonald's "predatory," and deceptive marketing tactics that target children. That controversy has been going on for years, with many others echoing Dyre's words.
But Dyre coupled this old complaint with a new one: McDonald's particularly and "aggressively" markets to "communities [and] children of color," she stated. How? Through specifically using athletes of color in their promotional materials and through the use of "culturally inappropriate stereotypes" and "hip-hop culture." Dyre also declared that such marketing was particularly outrageous since children of color are more likely to lack access to healthier food and are more prone to diet-related diseases.
Here are some examples:
1. Lebron James and Dwight Howard
2. Happy Meal Cha Cha Slide
3. R&B Song
4. Double Dutch
Instead of responding to this accusation with a thoughtful answer or even a counterargument, CEO Thompson replied by simply pointing out the fact that he, too, was a person of color from a humble background.
Does being a person of color mean that your actions are forever exempt from being analyzed? Does it mean that you could never hurt your own community? Does it mean that Thompson's values and business ethics should be taken at face value?
No, of course not, and for Thompson to suggest as such is demeaning.
The fact remains that though Thompson is a person of color, he is also incredibly privileged as an elite CEO of one of the world's biggest corporations. While it would be a ridiculous and unfair burden to require that every successful person of an otherwise-marginalized group be responsible for the welfare of their community, it is not at all a stretch to expect them to at least not target that vulnerable community for their own profit.
When Thompson admitted that his family once did not have enough money to buy McDonald's, let alone fresh fruits and vegetables, he is acknowledging that he is well aware of the struggle that many people in his community face. This knowledge can be used three ways. Since most of the people he works with may not share such an experience, Thompson can choose to make it a focal point of his policies as CEO or even just ignore it altogether. But for him to choose to exploit that knowledge, to target these groups with advertising and marketing strategies that draw them towards unhealthier fare, Thompson is abusing that knowledge and, in fact, manipulating the very community he once grew up in.
The color of Thompson's skin could be a matter of pride or it could be an insignificant part of his identity, but it certainly should not be a shield to hide behind when faced with the damaging effects of his own actions.