I think, by this point, we can all agree that Pepsi’s latest commercial was not a good idea. The Kendall Jenner-led ad, which co-opted some of the most prevalent and charged social justice movements of the past year, caused me to wonder how this even happened.
After the social media backlash against what will go down as one of the biggest marketing fails of the year, the company issued the following statement:
But this apology acts as if Jenner, a wealthy, white supermodel, is the victim in this scenario — not the marginalized communities whose struggles they have commodified. It snuffs out the cries of those who actually are targeted simply for being who they are.
I mean, Pepsi certainly thought this was a clever idea — a way to appeal to all of the hip activists in 2017. And their supporting cast featured plenty of people of color to help convey that message.
I’ll tell you what Pepsi forgot to put in their commercial, though.
They forgot to insert the very real images of women like Ieshia Evans, who stood her ground against armed policemen, in full SWAT gear, during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2016.
If they are going to reduce lost lives and the eradication of human rights down to a marketing ploy, than Pepsi should have done better to reveal their source material.
Let’s include footage of families that were unsure of whether or not their loved ones would be allowed into this country because of how they worship, or insert the vitriolic language used against anyone who isn’t cisgender and heteronormative.
A commercial like this is the reason why so many women of color scoffed at the idea of a Women’s March — because it appeared, once again, that women’s rights only became a national issue when white women’s rights were threatened. It’s the reason why intersectionality remains an abstract concept, because we continue to tell the narratives of struggle through colorblind eyes. It’s the reason why I fear for the lives of the men in my family. It’s the reason why I code switch, and it’s the reason why so many marginalized people feel powerless.
What seemed like a rallying cry for unity upon first glance turned into a solemn reminder that, as a woman of color, I will always be one step behind. I will always be putting on a performance, playing the ever-so-helpful black woman holding Jenner’s wig. I will be forced to play into stereotypes for all of my life.
This commercial did not make me feel empowered. It made me feel triggered.
If I ever came face to face with the police, the odds would never be in my favor.
It was a reminder that society places me in a rigid box. My culture — and what it means to exist in this skin — is constantly exploited or exoticized. It reminded me that so many of us could never save ourselves in the face of police violence, because we will never know the privilege of being white. This commercial told me to take up less space, to remember my role, and to remain silent until my oppression gets its spotlight.
The solution to social injustice and the end of suffering does not lie within an aluminum can and 27 grams of sugar.
And in an attempt to lump various fights for justice together, ad executives chose to place a wealthy, white woman at the center — which remains questionable and upsetting.
Not only was the mark utterly and completely missed, but it minimized real-life struggles — replacing them with smiling faces, tap-dancing people of color, and a white woman who saves the day.
Black women are missing, black men are dying, transgender people are being persecuted, women are being assaulted, and it seems as if some part of society refuses to acknowledge the humanity of anyone who is not white.
Popping open a can of Pepsi will not save a life that was never valued to begin with. Fighting for your right to exist is made that much harder by these microaggressions, by these irresponsible mistakes that paint social justice movements as no more than a trend.