I like chicken. Let’s start the conversation right there. There is no shame Black people enjoying chicken and being proud of it. If eating chicken were a crime, I’d be gladly serving 14 life sentences with no chance for parole.
Mary J. Blige also seems to enjoy chicken. In fact, she enjoys chicken enough to sing about it in a recent Burger King commercial. Mary doesn’t just sing about chicken in the cute way that I used to sing “I love chicken” to my mama when I was a kid. She belts about the crispy bird in a way that scoops up the bottom of her soul, as if she’s agonizing over a long lost love, a painful miscarriage or her overwhelming struggle with addiction.
In full Mary J. Blige R&B gear, the queen of all things musical spits out a tune that would be a fit for any awards show, celebrating the juicy-osity of Burger King chicken like a pastor praising the Lord for curing his daughter’s cancer.
I’ll admit that while it’s OK for Black people to love chicken, the image of our favorite artists singing and dancing for a piece of chicken can ruin our collective appetite. Mind you, Mary J. reportedly had two million reasons to sing for the chicken, so we can’t get mad at her for taking the money. What we can openly ask is whether or not there’s a price being paid when one of our classiest performers reduces herself to the Chicken Jingle Lady at Burger King.
One interesting thing about Black people is that we love money even more than we love chicken. Money is the ultimate trump card that makes nearly any activity acceptable: It turns a drug dealer into a saint, a corporate sellout into a legend, and Bob Johnson into Martin Luther King. Many of us assume that financial rewards serve as an instant purifier of every decision, no matter how egregious or humiliating.
By doing this commercial, I would not put Mary J. Blige into the egregious category. But we’d be lying if we didn’t confess that there are legitimate reasons to be offended by this ad. One would hope that Burger King can find a more acceptable way to utilize the talents of Mary J. Blige without reducing her to a walking cartoon character. Mary and her fans deserve better than that.
Burger King apparently got the message. When the uproar started over the ad, the company took down the video faster than you can say, “Boss, I sho be lovin me some chicken!” The move by Burger King is a good one, and shows the kind of maturity and respect that leads to greater racial understanding. It also allows us to keep Mary J on the pedestal she has earned over the last 20 years. I just hope that Mary herself understands that much of her brand is built on the self-respect, dignity and grace with which she carries herself, and those things can’t just be sold to the highest bidder.
Please Mary, no more drama from this point on, at least not over chicken. Now, go collect your two million dollars, and know that we love you to death. You’re still our queen, you bring positive energy to the world, and we love you a whole lot more than R. Kelly.