Friday, October 16, 2009

Things I don't understand #69...

...Why the Michelin Man is white.

Seriously, he's made of tires. My lifelong experience with tires would suggest two things. One, they're made of rubber. Two, they're black. Do any color-association with a three-year-old and I'm pretty sure it would play out like this.
- "Apple?"
- "Wed!"
- "Grass?"
- "Gween."
- "Tires?"
- "Back!"

You know what I mean, though. And while I may not understand why Bibendum, creation of O'Galop at the behest of the French tire company, is white; I think he probably helped to make you racist.

I actually had the idea for this particular post a couple of weeks ago when I saw a Michelin commercial and was immediately bothered by the same question that arose when I was but a wee lad. "If he's made of tires, why is he white?" I'm almost positive I drove at least one parent to the brink of madness as I laid out my case against the Michelin Man's inherent "tirey-ness". I finally was forced to console myself--after being assured that he was indeed made of tires-- with the fact that there must be some where in the world or in history where white tires were prevalent. So, while that could be true, shouldn't at some point this character at least gotten a tan?

Anyway, I'm currently reading Blink  by Malcolm Gladwell. In it there's a brief section that talks about the unconscious or implicit racism that we all seem to carry around despite what we choose to believe, say, and do. Basically, our environment and the various influences that make up our cognitive world secretly whisper, "White good, black bad." So much so that even black people can't escape it's effect. There's even a test produced by Harvard's Project implicit you can take to see just how implicitly racist you are (I was moderately influenced, which I think is pretty impressive considering I grew up in small town Texas). And while I read this, the first thing I thought of was the Michelin Man. He may not have been created with any thought as to which color was more appropriate. But in the end, an iconic character known the world over might have become one more in the long line of influences that makes us react to people in ways we wish we didn't.

So, to all my black friends out there, I would like to say I'm sorry. I'm sorry that somewhere far below the surface I might "think" something less of you than I should. (Please remember that this is in my subconscious and almost entirely out of my control. Please?) I'm sorry that your life might be harder at times because of implicit racism. I'm sorry that I liked the Michelin Man at some point. But know, as with most things, it's the French's fault.

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