Recently I was betrayed by my favourite soda. Pepsi’s incredibly offensive ad campaign starring Kendall Jenner made headlines around the world. The ad uses the Black Lives Matter movement, racial stereotypes, current political unrest, themes of police brutality as well as attractive extras and a Kardashian adjacent family member to sell soda. It was a neat culmination of everything wrong with the commercial world today. Even the most apolitical commentators joined in on the conversation, which went something like: “Who the fuck let this happen?”
I have to admit I wasn’t shocked by the warped fetishisation of race politics in the ad. I see diversity sold off like an in-demand Comme des Garçons wallet almost everyday. What was shocking was how brazen Pepsi were to team brown bodies with brown soda in order to gain social capital.
While Pepsi did a horrible job of feigning progressiveness they certainly aren’t the only ones guilty of this. Black, brown, Asian, queer, fat, trans, and disabled bodies are often used as tokens by tolerant “allies”. Our names, that once made even the most liberal of whites tremble with fear finally has currency (at least for now).
“Isn’t this what you’ve been complaining about wanting all these years?” an imaginary white man yells in my head, mimicking so many real white men I’ve come across in my life. But no, it really isn’t.
People, corporations, brands, festivals, nightclubs, publications, designers, and labels all seem on board with promoting, supporting and fighting for minorities. Gender-neutral clothing lines, inclusive nightclub policies, and POC friendly publications fill up our timelines—but it all feels suspiciously nefarious.
If your festival, event, or nightclub boasts inclusivity—a ‘safe space’ for all to enjoy—but you can’t do the bare minimum of booking anyone but white men on the line up, you’re not woke. Printing 10-cent posters at Officeworks that read “we welcome all” doesn’t mean you’re making a difference. Failing to police behaviours that put LGBTQI people at risk of harm doesn’t earn you a participation award. The only thing you’ve really succeeded at is using the systemic disadvantages of others to sell $60 tickets to an event that ultimately stands for nothing. (Are the drink cards you hand out good for one Pepsi?)
If you just released a line of pale pink hoodies that you had the inspired idea of printing “Girl Power” on the front of but you’re a man—back away from the Gildan now. It doesn’t matter if you identify as a male feminist and you’ve done your homework, from reading Clementine Ford to tattooing Oprah’s face on your lower back. Despite all that ‘great work’, exploiting the very arduous and ongoing fight for women’s rights to make enough money to fund your sneaker addiction isn’t okay. If you really do believe that an oversized pastel jumper is what feminism needs then involve women at a grass roots level, involve black women, women of colour, trans women and gender non-conforming people. And no, the Instagram model in your campaign that you paid in exposure doesn’t count.
It’s cool that you decided to start a publication that showcases diverse voices especially considering you did a lot of hard work to get funding and organising a launch to get money, for things like printing, paying your writers, the usual stuff. Except you avoided paying your writers. The reason you even have a zine are your contributors and they aren’t getting compensated for their work? Those diverse voices aren’t symbols—they’re real people who have real bills to pay.
I noticed you have “#BlackLivesMatter” in your Twitter bio. I also noticed you share a lot of alt-right memes but not in a bad racist way. You just think right-wing conservatives are outrageous and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Except black people, people of colour, Muslims, queer, and trans people all find this legitimately terrifying. The gag is they’re scared because the threat of being killed at the hand of this sort of ignorance is very real. If sharing these memes is necessary to blow off steam between procrastinating your thesis and drinking $10 jugs of beer, guess what? Your support is fake.
Your feminism is harmful if you’re still icing vagina shaped cupcakes for a rally. Your allyship is destructive if you let your friend make racist jokes because you don’t want to ruin the mood. Your company can’t proclaim they promote equality and inclusivity if everyone is white. Minorities aren’t trend pieces to mix and match how you see fit so why is my skin your marketing tool?
It goes without saying good intentions don’t necessarily yield good outcomes. So how do you support disenfranchised people without being tokenistic? There’s one simple rule: recognise your privilege. Privilege has become a dirty word, but if you have a hefty amount of it try using it for good and not for evil.
Want to throw an inclusive club night that everyone feels good about? Ask a black person to help you book the line-up. Want to start a gender-neutral clothing line? Talk to a GNC person and get them involved in the process. Want your magazine to showcase diversity? Hire black, brown, trans, and disabled writers, pay them as much as you’d pay your white writers (and stop asking them to write articles about their trauma).
People are more than their skin colour, gender identity, or disability. It’s time to stop using people as though they aren’t. And if any of this is hitting too close to home, I have only one things to say; in the words of Charlamagne Tha God, “the subtweets you think are about you say a lot about you.”