What is it, I wonder, about ice cream that compels its purveyors to give racial offense? Last year I pointed out Dairy Queen’s questionable taste in marketing a light-brown frozen drink called the MooLatte. The name’s similarity to the word “mulatto,” when mentioned by the Houston Press to Dairy Queen spokesman Chad Durasa, was answered with heroically determined cluelessness. Durasa kept his poker face even when, in its Ali G.-style interview, the paper taunted him by suggesting that DQ market a “High Yellow Butterscotch Sundae,” an “Octoroonie,” or “Sambo’s Extra Dark Triple Chocolate Shake.”
This year’s race-baiting ice cream product is Sweden’s “Nogger Black,” marketed by GB Glace, a unit of Unilever. (Thanks to David Goldenberg of Gelf magazine for bringing it to my attention.) “Nogger” is apparently an existing ice cream product, an ice cream bar previously available in vanilla encased in chocolate, with a nougat center. Nogger Black substitutes toffee for the nougat and encases the vanilla ice cream in “crispy salty licorice.” Which, in addition to everything else, sounds a lot less appetizing. (Northern European cuisine suffers from a regrettable impulse to make everything taste like herring.) Licorice is black, hence “Nogger Black.” That’s GB Glace’s story, anyway.
But it hasn’t escaped notice that Nogger Black is, as the Local, a Swedish English-language newspaper, puts it, “dubiously entitled.” Sweden’s Centre Against Racism points out that the logo is rendered graffiti-style, which would seem to suggest that the association with black urban culture is deliberate. My guess is that GB Glace thought it was being “edgy” by emulating black hipsters who use the N word (but who certainly wouldn’t condone its enunciation by any pale-skinned Swede). The company comes close to admitting this. “Even if the word ‘black’ in the logo is inspired by graffiti, we don’t see anything wrong with that, nor about alluding to black culture or hip-hop,” a GB Glace spokeswoman told Reuters. Not even when it’s paired with a word that’s one letter away from the most toxic racial epithet in the English language? “We certainly had no intention that the name, ‘Nogger’, would be associated with any negative word.” This statement makes me want to summon a wide-eyed, rage-shaken, and magnificently dignified Sidney Poitier, circa 1966, to answer, “The word … is Noggro!”
Maybe it’s time to start a counteroffensive. The brother of a Slate colleague recommends that Ben & Jerry’s test-market a new flavor called W.E.B. DuBoisenberry. I’ll take a quart, please.