The question “is this ad racist?” presupposes some sort of universal state of racism or unmistakably pure lack of such. But such questions are almost meaningless when posed outside of a particular geographical or historical context. The question makes as much sense as “are homosexual acts wrong?” Well, yes they were, by law, throughout much of U.S. history, but not today … and not back in ancient Athens -- the inspiration for American concepts of freedom and democracy -- for at least the more respectable portion of society.
Americans are overreacting to an ad that was never meant for them. The Australian KFC advertisement was designed to air in Australia (geographically specific), at a time when Australia was playing a big cricket match against a West Indian team (time specific). That’s part of the reason the white guy is sitting among a bunch of West Indian cricket fans (not African-Americans or Africans). It’s not chance that he’s surrounded by dark-skinned folks; he just happens to be sitting on the wrong side of the cricket pitch. Moreover, Kentucky Fried Chicken happened to be sponsoring the West Indian team, so of course it would focus on that team’s fans. It’s my understanding that Australians love cricket and they love the West Indian Cricket team. KFC Australia was simply trying to associate its product with those warm feelings.
It is also my understanding that there is no Australian tradition of associating blacks (or aborigines) with fried chicken, per se. Once again, this ad was never intended to be seen by Americans; it is only the Internet that made it available to them so that people who had nothing better to do could work themselves into a self-righteous fury.
One other note: there’s more video footage of French fries in the ad than the offending sequence of a white guy offering friend chicken to dark-skinned people as a peace offering. That might also be confusing to American diners who have never seen fries in a KFC (we get mashed potatoes over here, as I recall -- not having been in a KFC outlet in probably a couple decades). That’s another clue that we’re no longer in Kansas here, Dorothy. When I was in Athens in 1997, I was surprised to see sangria on the menu at a McDonald’s. When in Rome….