Barriers to the Purchase of Chicken Sandwiches by the African American Community

Cultural stereotyping, black shaming, and adverse health outcomes are three barriers to the purchase of chicken sandwiches by the African American community. The historical targeting of the African American community means there will be a degree of skepticism toward fast-food franchises seeking to overcome these barriers, especially in light of the current political environment. Overcoming these barriers will require transparency, trust, and honesty, which form the foundations of credibility, but credibility will be crucial to overcoming the historical biases and perceptions.

1. Cultural Stereotyping

  • There is no doubt that Popeye’s chicken is popular among the African American community. In fact, Popeye’s chicken has consistently targeted its both its product and marketing toward that demographic. The claim their chicken is spicier than that of its competitors because their research has “proven that people of color love the flavor and taste,” is seemingly a sign of their commitment. The marketing has adopted African American slang and terminology to stand-out from other fast-food franchises.
  • At a superficial level, this seems commendable, but when considered more deeply, questions regarding Popeye’s strategy must be asked given the historic stereotyping around African American’s and chicken. In some quarters, there is an increasing resentment towards companies like Popeye’s that appear to be capitalizing on this stereotyping, which given the current political climate, may see cultural stereotyping becoming a barrier to African Americans purchasing chicken.


  • Questions around food and racial stereotyping were first raised by the Washington Post in late 2019. The article questioned Popeye´s motives of using the cultural stereotyping of African Americans’ love of chicken to market an unhealthy product to an audience that already had poorer health outcomes than its white counterparts.
  • The association between the African American community and chicken stems from when they were slaves. Chicken was cheap, a good source of meat, and easy to feed. In the post-slave era, former slaves used their learned skills and techniques to establish successful chicken restaurants.
  • The stereotyping came with the “silent message to the audience; these are the dangers of letting black folk vote” in the 1905 film Birth of a Nation. The portrayal of elected African American politicians acting in a loud and inappropriate manner created a negative perception: the beginnings of the cultural stereotyping around African Americans and chicken.
  • Professor of Race and Folklore at the University of Missouri, Claire Schmidt, explains, “That image really solidified the way white people thought of black people and fried chicken. It’s a food you eat with your hands, and therefore it’s dirty. Table manners are a way of determining who is worthy of respect or not.”
  • While being seemingly positive toward the African American community, marketing built on cultural stereotyping is known as a winking statement or racist bank shot. In the words of Schmidt, “It’s still a way to express racial [contempt] without getting into serious trouble.”
  • This view is slowly beginning to gain more traction, especially in the current political environment. As a result, it is increasingly becoming a barrier to the purchase of chicken sandwiches by African Americans.


  • Marketing chicken sandwiches to the African American community is fraught with difficulty due to the negative stereotyping around African Americans and chicken. To overcome the issues around stereotyping, anyone that markets chicken sandwiches to the African American community will need to convince the community they are not basing their marketing strategy on a negative cultural stereotype.
  • Credibility is essential in overcoming any barrier cultural stereotyping has created for the African American community and their purchase of chicken sandwiches. If a company is credible, consumers are more likely to accept their marketing as genuine and less likely to believe it is as a result of stereotyping.
  • Interestingly, research has suggested that using black actors and culture in marketing can assist in establishing credibility.

2. Black Shaming

  • Black shaming builds on the aforementioned cultural stereotyping of the association between African Americans and chicken. One of the most recent examples occurred when a series of tweets appeared on social media following the massive demand from the African American community for Popeye´s limited-time chicken sandwich. The tweets were used to shame the same community around low voter turnout in previous US elections.
  • One Twitter users tweet, “Black people will stand in line for hours for chicken but won’t vote OMG, OMG, OMG,” is an example of the black shaming on social media.
  • David Dennis Jr, the senior culture editor at Interactive One, is clear the “wildly popular Popeye’s chicken sandwich has become a vehicle used to shame black people.” He went on to explain; this is part of a broader trend that says, “we are not allowed, as black people, to simply enjoy anything without it being some reflection of a larger issue that we have inflicted upon ourselves.”
  • In the past, other social media posts have made similar comments regarding unemployment offices, job interviews, and black businesses. The net result is there is a growing resentment in the African American community that “everything that black people in America do has to be a referendum on black culture and the state of black folks.”
  • For Popeye’s, the Twitter war that developed resulted in more than $23 million in chicken sandwich sales in just a couple of days, but it equally presented as a barrier for the future purchase of chicken sandwiches by African Americans.


  • Shaming has the impact of embarrassing or calling out a person to the extent they no longer engage in the behavior they are being shamed about. Black shaming has been shown in the past to limit the number of black people accessing mental health services, breastfeeding, and employment opportunities.
  • Although chicken sandwiches are seemingly less important than the aforementioned issues, the impact is still the same. When a population is made fun of or ridiculed because they enjoyed a product, it often becomes a barrier to them purchasing the product in the future. The degree of animosity created by this black-shaming means that African Americans will avoid placing themselves in that situation again. This creates a potential barrier.


  • Popeye´s received an overwhelmingly positive response from the African American community, as their chicken sandwich demand illustrates. There clearly was no barrier to purchase. However, the black shaming that occurred, as a result, has created a future barrier.
  • Although brands have little control over the behavior of the third parties responsible for the black shaming, they do have a role to play in ongoing cultural stereotyping, which is the basis of the shaming.
  • As illustrated above, brands play a role in changing cultural stereotypes, and credibility is key in this process. Changing cultural stereotypes is vital in removing the ammunition for black shaming.

3. Health Outcomes

  • An increasing amount of research shows high sodium, high-fat foods when consumed regularly, contribute to poor health outcomes. The African American community is more likely to suffer adverse health outcomes due to a poor diet than other population groups.
  • Unfortunately, most chicken sandwiches are high sodium and high-fat, meaning they contribute to poor health outcomes, especially if consumed regularly or as part of a poor diet.
  • Fast-food franchises have used health concerns as a basis of marketing. Popeye’s, for example, markets its chicken sandwich as the “healthiest chicken sandwich. At the same time, fast-food franchises have been singled out for targeting the African American communities, knowing it is a lucrative market because of the lack of other healthier options within the neighborhoods.


  • There are a number of health promotion and population health initiatives focused on educating the African American community and the effect fast food such as the chicken sandwich has on their long-term health outcomes. This education is providing the community with the resources they need to make better food choices.
  • Understanding the links between fast food and poor health comes and healthy foods, and positive health outcomes presents as a potential barrier to the regular purchase of chicken sandwiches.


  • Unfortunately, fast-food franchises have historically targeted African Americans with their unhealthy offerings. The disproportionate number of fast-food restaurants in African American communities is a testament to this.
  • Credibility will be a key factor in overcoming the health barrier that has been created, especially in light of research showing fast-food franchises target African American children”using child-directed marketing tactics such as including indoor play areas in restaurants and advertising children’s toys and popular cartoon characters or sports figures on the outside of the restaurants. Fast food locations in majority-black neighborhoods were found to be nearly twice as likely to use such marketing compared to locations in white neighborhoods.”
  • Those marketing chicken sandwiches will firstly have to overcome the health concerns around their product, which has little to do with credibility. However, the same companies will need to convince African American communities that they are not targeting them with an unhealthy product- This involves building trust and being transparent in their actions and motivations. These are key aspects of credibility.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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