The Whitewashing of the American Farmer (Participation)

The Whitewashing of the American Farmer: Dodge Ram Super Bowl Ad Edition

By Alexis C. Madrigal

Maybe God did make farmers, but why’d Dodge only show us the white ones?

 

Dodge Ram turned heads with its high-production value remake of a Farms.com YouTube video, featuring conservative radio broadcaster Paul Harvey’s voice laid over beautiful photographs of Americans farmers.

The arresting images combined with the crackle of what everyone immediately recognizes as old audio made everyone at our Super Bowl party stop and watch. Dodge, I’m sure, had good demographic analysis of their audience, so they knew they could go godly with the message and encounter little backlash. So God made a farmer, and also the advertising agencies who will use him to sell trucks. Quibbles aside, I’d rather have this kind of Americana than GoDaddy’s bizarre antics.

But there’s a problem. The ad paints a portrait of the American agricultural workforce that is horribly skewed. In Dodge’s world, almost every farmer is a white Caucasian. And that’s about as realistic as a Thomas Kincade painting.

Stipulating that visual inspection is a rough measure for the complex genealogical histories of people, I decided to count the race and ethnicity of the people in Dodge’s ad. Here’s what I found: 15 white people, one black man, and two (maybe three?) Latinos.

I couldn’t help bu wonder: Where are all the campesinos? The ethnic mix Dodge chose to represent American farming is flat-out wrong.

It’s true that whites are the managers of 96 percent of the nation’s farms, according to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture. But the agricultural workforce is overwhelmingly Mexican with some workers from Central America thrown in. The Department of Labor’s National Agriculture Worker Survey has found that over the last decade, around 70 percent of farmworkers in America were born in Mexico, most in a few states along the Pacific coast. This should not be news. Everyone knows this is how farms are run.

And yet when a company decided to pay homage to the people who grow our food, they left out the people who do much of the labor, particularly on the big farms that continue to power the food system. You want to tell a grand story about the glories of working the land? You want to celebrate the people who grow food? You want to expound on the positive ‘merican qualities that agricultural work develops in people? Great! What a nice, nostalgic idea!

Now, did God make Mexican farmworkers or only white farmers? Is the strength and toughness that comes from hard work God’s gift to white people only?

To borrow Ta-Nehisi Coates’ phrase, the way this ad whitewashed American farming leaves Mexican farmworkers and their children “excluded from the process of patriotism,” even though many identify as American. Almost 75 percent of foreign-born cropworkers have been in the states for more than five years. Hell, more than half of the farmworkers surveyed by the Department of Labor have been in the U.S. for more than ten years. These are members of American communities and prospective citizens.

Contrast the advertisement with what you get from Lisa Hamilton’s Real Rural project, which documented the lives of people living on California’s farms and in its small towns. It’s a better portrait of reality, though no less stirring, as you can see in the portrait below.

Obviously, a Dodge ad isn’t on the level of the government’s deportation programs or the long-time cognitive dissonance of American immigration policies. But it’s the kind of cultural substrate in which our laws and prejudices grow.
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13 thoughts on “The Whitewashing of the American Farmer (Participation)

  1. I feel that this advertisement is a good example of a white supremacy mindset. I’m pretty sure that Dodge isn’t a racist brand but it would be understandable that they would want to represent themselves that dominantly being caucasian. As others might label Dodge as a Caucasian brand, it wouldn’t be surprising that they would rather go with a white, strong built man in their commercials rather than a mexican or an asian. The fact that their portrayal of the American agricultural workforce is so skewed may not only be because of mild prejudice but also lay in the roots of the company and what they stand for. Or it could just be a marketing scheme where they feel that as the white race being seen as dominant will draw others even from those of other races to endorse their brands by purchasing their vehicles.

  2. You have to take into account the pure advertising perspective. When they left out black and mexican farmers in the commercial, they were probably appealing to who they thought would be most likely to buy their new trucks – white farmers. I dont think Dodge Ram is racist. The commercial seems racist on the surface but if you look deeper I would bet that they had evidence to back up why they marketed their trucks to white farmers during this commercial. Racism in this instance looks like it is inadvertant but nonetheless present and thats the problem… why the trucks are being marketed to white farmers when they aren’t even the majority in that field of work!?

  3. Does intent matter; remember the “what you are conversation” isn’t helpful. Can multiple things be at work; does the advertisement normalize farmers through white men? What is the consequences of this? How does it fit with Americana?

    • Going off of the what you are conversation not being helpful i would say Doge is going to advertise to appeal to the owners of the farm land, 96% white according to this article. That is what is happening, the question to ask that gets at some inequality is why are the owners of the farms 96% white while the workers mostly mexican?

      • Do you really think Dodge spent millions of dollars to sell cars to farm owners (can it be multiple things anyways)? Are they selling something beyond cars and why? What are they tapping into and how does race operate in this context?

      • Thats a great point made below at the end of the ad they say something about “for the farmer in all of us.” So maybe the target market is not just farmers but people that associate with farmers or thier work ethic. There could also be a PR angle to this ad, they could be trying to tug at the heart strings of rural America.

  4. I think in this Dodge commercial multiple things are at work, but the main point of the commercial was to appeal to White American farmers because they are the ones buying Dodge trucks. When I watched the commercial during the super bowl I did not notice the lack of diversity throughout the commercial and how it normalizes farmers through white men. After it was brought to my attention I did think it was unfortunate that only one African American and two Hispanics were seen because they are the main force behind farms that keeps them going. The negative consequence of having white farmers be the face of farming is that it excludes much of the farm workers and gives the viewer a skewed view of who the real American farmer is. However, the image of the white, hard working man fits well into Americana because this image is our heritage. White farmers built this country, homesteaded the west and helped to make America what it is today. When watching this commercial it gives Americans a sense of pride, helps them reflect back on their own heritage and possibly makes them think Dodge is what Americans drive. It goes to show that race and stereotypes are rooted deep within our culture and instead of trying to avoid the issues it is good that they are being brought up, like the Dodge commercial so that we are able to talk about the issues when needed.

  5. Personally I don’t think the Dodge commercial is racist at all. I believe that the commercial was intended to target farmers that own small farms. Farms where the majority of the food feeds your family, and then the leftover goods are sold to the town grocery store. The majority of these small farm owners are white, and they do perform all the farm duties showed in the commercial on a daily basis. Dodge most likely didn’t intend for this commercial to come off as racist. There’s always going to be someone that has something to say negative about high profile people and/or companies.

  6. I don’t think that the intent of the commercial was to be racist rather than to attract the people that are most likely to buy the truck. As a company you are supposed to appeal to the broadest audience that buys your products. Their goal may have been to attract white males but if that is their biggest consumer I don’t see why that is a bad thing.

    • Can it do multiple things? Does intent matter? Does the commercial perpetuate idea that farmers are white men? is there a consequence of this narrative? How does it connect to history of black farmers (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/02/AR2010090204443.html) or Japanese losing lands b/c of “Alien Land law” or the impact of NAFTA on Mexican farmers

      Push beyond intent, beyond either/or, beyond commercial aspect to think about what is being sold (beyond car; besides since when do commercials selling directly to person in the commercial . .. think about all the commercials that have little to do with actual product) to think about larger issues at work. Whose experience gets privileged here and what are the consequences?

  7. I’m confused, even though the farmers presented in this video are predominantly white, isn’t the farmer at 47 seconds African American?

    • The article acknowledges this – “Stipulating that visual inspection is a rough measure for the complex genealogical histories of people, I decided to count the race and ethnicity of the people in Dodge’s ad. Here’s what I found: 15 white people, one black man, and two (maybe three?) Latinos.”

      Can a commercial still contribute to a narrative of white male normativitity even with a few moments of diversity

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