We need to talk about Sexual Chocolate.
It’s not so much the name of the Foothills’ iconic cocoa-infused Imperial Stout — a nod to the fictional band in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America — that affronts, but the fetishizing label art that has accompanied the brew since its 2007 release. Concern over the label, which features a busty, dark-skinned black woman wearing the Foothills logo as a necklace pendant, isn’t new. Though protest hasn’t quite risen to a boiling point, the overtones of the image have always reeked of misogynoir, a term used to recognize the unique misogyny black women experience.
In the midst of this heightened cultural reckoning with race and gender dynamics, it’s high time for the conversation to kick back up. Consider first that the artwork isn’t even that apt of a reference to the film. What did the conversations around this artwork sound like? Whose voice was missing from the table? There is a difference between intent, however benign, and the impact of reproducing hypersexualized imagery of black women for profit. Anyone suggesting the label art is merely meant to conjure the blaxploitation genre is participating in mental gymnastics to make excuse for what, in context, is just plain exploitation. Narratives and images of hypersexual black women have marinated in the white-supremacist imagination for centuries and continue to drive physical and structural violence against black women in America. Feigning ignorance won’t cut it. It’s important to note that Foothills’ Jade IPA similarly leans on Orientalist subtext regarding Asian women’s sexual desirability. It’s harmful, however subtle.
Inevitably, some will argue that because some black women drink it, or don’t interpret its label art as offensive, that it is therefore not offensive, but as the pithy maxim circulated whenever Omarosa throws people who look like her under the bus goes: “Not all skin folk are kinfolk.”
The bottom line is that the Sexual Chocolate label art is racist and sexist and that Foothills — so often framed as a crowning glory in our community — can and should do better. If their leadership is willing to listen, to atone and to demonstrate accountability with action, imagine what else might be possible. But when they dig their heels in and talk at us about things we must not understand, we should keep imagining a just future nonetheless.
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