Well the internet has been a-buzzing! The latest comes courtesy of America’s second favorite soda brand, America’s fourth favorite Kardashian!
Today’s word is-Tone-Deaf: meaning inappropriate, coming at a poorly chosen time and reflecting an inability to pick up on cues. All jokes aside the internet has been busy and by now you have no doubt seen Pepsi’s newly dropped commercial featuring Kendall Jenner befriending a cop with soda. Just in case you haven’t seen it, here is a link.
To make a long story short, the commercial features model Kendall Jenner donning a blonde wig and make-up at a photo shoot. She then tears off said wig and wipes off said make-up, (the wig was oppressive! hooray for feminism!) then running out to a diverse crowd of peaceful protesters and sharing a Pepsi with an officer.
Based on that description it doesn’t sound too terrible, watching the video however….is another story. Not only does the entire video centralize a young, conventionally attractive white woman, but it features some of the absolute worst tokenization of minorities I have ever seen. The seeming diversity is nothing more than conveniently posing brown and black people around Jenner. All of the interactions are incredibly melodramatic, but they only ever serve to show interaction with Jenner. She is the focal point. The black man daps Jenner up, showing her validity and acceptance into the activist circle. He approves! She’s one of us! She’s young, she’s hip and she’s woke! Kendall is down for the cause! As she moves forward through the space the camera cuts you over to a young woman in a hijab, she’s holding a camera and surveying the scene- she sees Kendall and she is captivated! Even while combating xenophobic legislation and systemic Islamophobia and violence (because tokenism) she can see this
mediocre white girl has got something special. Her entire career as a photographer culminates in THIS moment!
She’s just GOT to take her picture, this is a story that MUST be told.
This is the same thing we’ve seen play out over and over; time and time again. Sure it resonates deeply, but not for the reasons Pepsi intended. This is a very familiar, and very tired, story; minorities are no stranger to being devalued, having our stories ignored until they glorify whiteness. We can speak about our oppression endlessly, but it isn’t until a nice clean white savior speaks about them that they matter. I call it ‘The Macklmore effect’. LGBTQ+ people all championed for our right to exist for centuries, the right to live without threat of death, violence and brutality. Instead at every level we face institutional violence and impediment. Not only were these conscious and continual efforts watered down to ‘gay rights’ but the right to marry was posed at it’s center. Even after all this we could not star in our own (watered down) story. Enter Macklemore, a straight cisgender white dude who sings about thinking he was gay once in kindergarten and suddenly he is a gay icon! He is the face of ‘gay rights’.
This is no different, only instead of a white dude we’ve got Kendall, make no mistake that her being a white woman is none the less a slap in the face. The role white women have played historically (and continue to play currently) in being complicit in racism in violence is glaring. Pepsi knows this, Jenner is supposed to be a feminist representation, but the over-whelming white feminism of it all dooms them from the gate.
Every character who interacts in the Pepsi commercial is only validated by their proximity or interaction with Jenner. Sure, they exist, but it isn’t until the head nod or the fist bump that they really matter. (There is definitely a black lives joke in there somewhere, is that in poor taste? more so than Pepsi? Let me know y’all) Kendall is the white saving grace who dignifies them with her presence, prior to her showing up everything they are doing is irrelevant. The photographer is going through her photos in her studio only to trash them all, they just aren’t good enough yet! Not enough mediocre white women!
This speaks to what is all too common in activist spaces. Marginalized folks work together to build their communities and resist destructive forces, but none of their efforts matter until the nice white savior shows up. Thank you Kendall!
So considerate! When is the last time BLM or DeRay bought a cop a soda? Hmmmm?
See if she had some Pepsi on hand things would have gone differently, hopefully she learned her lesson.
The ad becomes even more tone deaf considering the history Kendall’s family has with racism. Many have called out the Kardashians for their anti-blackness, fetishization of black identity and numerous instances of cultural appropriation, especially Kendall’s sister Kylie. In addition to her notorious family, Jenner keeps close ties with model Gigi Hadid who has come under past scrutiny for racist antics including donning an afro in a photo shoot and snap chat story wherein she mocks Asian identity. But, we wouldn’t be real liberals if we didn’t play devil’s advocate. Let’s say Kendall is different from the rest of her family…and her friends …;who she has consistently failed to call out every time they do something racist or questionale-we can judge her by all the times she has spoken up about police brutality, anti-blackness, state violence, xenophobia, prejudice, intolerance, undocumented struggles, immigration reform, intersectional feminism, misogynoir, and stood as an activist! Oh wait, she’s never done any of those things! And yet, she is posed as the wonderful hippy flower child here to save us from the police, with soda pop! Pepsi has featured past ads with artist Jannelle Monae who is adamant and vocal in her support of Say Her Name and combating police terror. They have also featured Beyonce who has been incredibly vocal, through her art, about black identity as resilient and standing up to police brutality and violence. Perhaps Pepsi thought they’d be too adept at talking about this issue, why not give someone new a chance, how thoughtful.
What is perhaps most insidious about the commercial is the underlying inferences that somehow being nice and sharing a soda with a cop is the answer.
Let’s do a quick play-by-play shall we? Kendall sees a brown musician (this means he’s got double cred) carrying a bass at a protest (weird) give her a head nod. This prompts her to break forth from the oppressive shackles of a multi-million dollar modeling contract. She changes her clothes while the camera shows some dancing black people then she comes back wearing a cool denim jacket. She aimlessly meanders through the crowd, unsure of herself around so many people darker than a paper bag, will they accept her lily white good girl nature? Will they riot like thugs and tear her to pieces King-Kong style?! A black man approaches… and they fist bump! Phew. First foe down…now it’s up to Kendall to really
be the center of attention save the day. There photographer from earlier is ready to capture the moment off to the side…can Kendall do it? Can she confront police terror and state violence and finally put and end to brutality? Can she confront the militarized police force? She’s going for it, the photographer sets up the shot. Kendall grabs a Pepsi, she tosses it lightly to the stoic cop, he catches it, the tension is palpable- The crowd goes silent…what will he do? Shoot her, body slam her? Throw her around like a rag doll and sit on her back? Put her in an illegal choke hold and kill her on camera!?!?
No…he takes a sip and… smiles, looking at his buddy as if to say ‘maybe we didn’t need the insurgents, rubber bullets, tanks, and bear mace after all!” The crowd goes wild! Hugs and high fives all around! Thank you, Kendall!! Thank you, thank you for saving us, what would we have done without your pivotal and fearless leadership?!?!?
Racism is over, guys! You can all go home! We did it! Nos hicimos! HOORAY! Injustice has been vanquished! All these decades we had it all wrong! All we had to do was be NICE to the cops and the prejudice would have disappeared! You see they were never racist, just thirsty. Those cops didn’t want to beat Rodney King or murder black people in the street like dogs, they were just thirsty. It’s like a perverse take on the Snickers commercial only instead of being angry when you are hungry, you become racist and perpetuate systemic violence when you’re thirsty. The cure is just to have a refreshing Pepsi and then start over. Maybe having a soda in your pocket is the key to coming out unscathed in interactions with police. Perhaps if Michael Brown had offered to share a soda and a smile with Darren Wilson he’d still be alive. Trayvon Martin should have bought a Pepsi instead of an Arizona iced tea and then Zimmerman and him could have had a nice laugh. Well live and learn I suppose…or not.
Okay time for a break! I know you’re all probably getting a bit antsy, so let’s play a game!
Can you spot the differences? Ready…Set…..GO!
Thanks for playing, that sure was fun! What did you notice? Anything interesting?
All of this serves to reinforce the very pernicious idea that your conduct can save you.
The idea that there is magical code of conduct people can obey and somehow be respected by police is a myth. History, statistics, and experience show that for black people (and other people of color alike) no matter who you are, where you come from, what you say or do will keep you safe from brutality. Pepsi paints a picture wherein all we need to do is be nice and problems will be solved, cops will smile and years of tension, racial violence, profiling and brutality will disappear. The reality is sharing a soda with an officer means absolutely nothing. This is an ultimately empty and insulting gesture to the countless individuals, institutions, organizations, and groups who work to confront injustice every day. It is not the soda that saves Kendall in her interaction, what protects her is her privilege, namely her skin color and class.
But this is what happens when you only pretend enough to create a facade. Pepsi’s aim at being inclusive and progressive was incredibly transparent and very much insulting. Not only are people of color treated as props, but they are only shown in so far as their interaction with a white woman. This sort of pseudo-progressivism which masquerades as the pinnacle of diversity inclusion is, at it’s core, nothing more than empty pandering. Rather than make effectual leaps towards including marginalized identity Pepsi conveniently places a woman in a hijab, a few cool black guys in sunglasses, and some vaguely non-white characters around their set and tada! Diversity: nailed it!
This is lazy and insulting at best, violent at worst.
Make no mistake, the ad is nothing if not thorough (and also toxic). Every population is exploite- ..er, I mean represented. They’ve got three (that’s right! count ’em up, THREE) cool black guys dancing, then another with cornrows, they’ve got apparent trans and gender non-conforming folks, they’ve got brown people, black people, red, yellow, green and purple, even blurple people! They’ve even got a fat black sista with natural hair conveniently waiting outside the door to Kendall’s wig and hold it for her! So helpful! This is
white feminism! How amazing and fortunate this black woman was there to be Kendall’s hand maiden! Kendall was so generous to give her a job like that. Don’t worry about sista-girl though, she’ll be fine. Plus Kendall fist bumps a black guy in sunglasses twenty seconds later so, trust me, she’s cool.
This sort of imagery deliberately reinforces the idea that black people should play the role of the obedient, docile, ever-patient negro in order to survive. This very rationale dwells inside minds and people see injustice and brutality and assume it is warranted. Posing officers as kind and gentle and merely needing to be befriended is deliberate as it is dangerous. It is not the job of civilians to earn a police offices respect, being an officer is not an identity, it is an occupation- there is no such thing as a ‘blue life’. The idea people on the front lines can just be a little more chipper, while fighting against the injustice posed against them, and be friends with police is false. Worse than merely white-washing activism and liberation work tirelessly done by black people this ad is completely shameless in its disgusting co-opting of activism for the sake of selling their brand. Pepsi boldly and unapologetic ally does all this merely to sell a soda, their premise of living boldly and without fear means absolutely nothing. There is no sincere effort to stop the injustices highlighted in the advertisement, Pepsi has no concern with how many people die by police brutality, how many women are raped and beaten by officers, how many people are disenfranchised and harassed by police terror, they have one objective- to sell soda. Never had Pepsi donated to Black Lives Matter or any other similar social justice organization for that matter. This is merely another facet of capitalism, pretending to care. Pepsi does not mind expending the amount of capital necessary to make it look like they give a rat’s ass about police brutality, but they’d never actually take those same dollars and invest in actual solutions or organizations aimed at combating oppression. Pepsi is not answer, they are a company and there interests always have and always will lie with themselves. It is not in their interest to donate to organizations they feel compromise their ability to make money, but by making an ad they can appeal to liberalism and retain the benefit as if they actually did care, this is disgusting, tasteless, and shameful and should be called out as such. Only serving to remind there is no such thing as a conscientious brand.
At this point in 2017 this level of tone-deafness is completely inexcusable. No one can maintain their ignorance or claim they just didn’t know. There is no ‘well we just weren’t aware. It’s bullshit. Pepsi is aware of organizations like Black Lives Matter, United We Dream, they are aware of police brutality and anti-blackness and state violence. Every cautionary tale about using minorities as props has been written and is being played out and and over again. Platforms like twitter and tumblr alike feature the voices of countless people speaking about these very issues, Pepsi is a billion dollar corporation with teams of people set to navigate their social media. There is no excuse. Only accountability.
Pepsi has since ‘apologized’ for their gross, tone-deaf, blunder in a public statement released to their twitter page, because nothing says sincere like tweeting an image it took a total of 5 minutes to craft.
Come on, who couldn’t trust that font! Would Calibri ever lie to you? This has all the hallmarks of your typical non-apology.
Translation: We are sorry (not really) you think we are racist. We assure you we are not racist, why would we be racist, then you wouldn’t buy our products. We want you to buy our products. Please believe us and continue to drink Pepsi Cola TM. Even though Kendall Jenner is 21 years old and a legal adult who signed a contract with us and willingly took part in all of this, do not blame her for her own actions. Our bad. -Pepsi.
Besides the glaring lack of accountability, is the framing of Kendall Jenner as an innocent victim. This is the norm, somehow white adults are not autonomous and capable of saying no or understanding right from wrong. Kendall was not ‘put’ in any position, she has full agency and chose to put herself in the position and take part in the advertisement. Her role cannot be absolved so she may be painted as the white hapless victim White women have often played the role of victim so as to shirk accountability in racism they perpetuate. At any moment Kendall could have declined and yet she didn’t both her and Pepsi are fully to blame for their own actions. They’ve since yanked the video, though it remains up on Kendall’s shared page with her sister.
Kendall has yet to comment.