Your Country Of Origin Does Not Determine Your Humanity (Look At Us)

There are 54 countries on the continent of Africa with a population estimated at 1,273,131, 890.  There are 11,051,616 residents of Haiti  There are a total of 546,000 living in the United States. These 1,283,729,506 people, close to 20 percent of the world population, a group 4 times the population of the United States, cannot be dismissed with a single word.

Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?

–Donald Trump

Trump’s implication that people from countries Haiti and Africa and are undesirable while people from Norway are somehow deserving of immigration opportunities has the outrage machine working overtime, and rightfully so.  The President labels millions of people and dozens of countries with a single crass vulgarity, and once again, his comments clearly reinforce the same line of white supremacy he has drawn in the sand over and over.

It goes without saying, though Trump’s comments beg us to say it again:  Africa is a continent, huge and varied with every kind of climate, people of every color and faith. Haiti is a country that has made significant contributions to the world, including being the first country in the Western hemisphere to free itself from colonial rule (hmm, maybe that’s why he hates them…).

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What I’m not going to do is write a 1000 word defense of the countries he maligned.  Trump’s game of distraction and deflection sends us down the rabbit hole of racism every time he throws red meat to his base.  Haiti and Africa today, Mexico last year, some other country of black and brown people next month.  Instead, let’s question his underlying assumption–your country of origin determines your merit.

While different countries political and economic context certainly opens or closes opportunities and resources off for many, the humans in those countries are no less intelligent, capable or motivated to succeed.  When Trump maligns a whole people and when we line up to defend the countries he disrespects, we are debating whether a whole population, for good or bad, is deserving of opportunity.  Both sides of the argument are wrong: your country of birth does not determine your intelligence, your humanity, your potential or your ambition.

 

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Anders Breivik, neo-nazi terrorist killed 9 people in a bombing then went on to shoot 69 people in an armed attack on a children’s summer camp in Norway. 

 

No country on earth is made up of only good deserving smart people–even Norway.  There are killers and con men even in the greatest countries (side-eye, Don the con).  There are actual geniuses and super-rich people even in the most resource-strapped country.  When Trump’s comments are demonstrably not fact-based, we know we’re in coded-language territory. Trump’s latest comments are no more than just another racist do whistle in a long song of dog whistles he has been playing since he began his campaign. And me? I’m not running when he calls.

 

Dove: Diversity Done Wrong (and What to Do About It)

Dove caught those Twitter fingers again this weekend in a flurry of criticism unleashed by this facebook ad:

The ad was reposted again on Twitter. Well deserved criticism was followed by the predictable cycle of the ad being pulled, an apology, a promise to do better; I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw Dove announce some diversity initiative in the coming weeks with a press release entitled “We’re getting better”, or some such PR-speak.  Of course, this wasn’t Dove’s first round in the hot seat.

This 2015 ad caught heat for the not so subtle suggestion that lighter skin was better.  Dove is not alone in bad ads touting white as right.  This ad from Nivea was pulled for reasons that should have been obvious to the creative team before the ad went live.  What happened?

In a world of increasing diversity, advertising is also showing a rainbow of representation.  Everywhere you look are crowds carefully staged with one of each race, laughing over beer or nail polish.  These one-of-each ads are about catering to a variety of audience segments at once.  Diverse representation ensures consumers of any race can see themselves as potential users of the products. Too often these ads trivialize minorities, positioning them in ways that reinforce old stereotypes, or use them as background to the real focus. The presence of diversity alone does not mean the ads are better, or even that the people producing these ads know the best way to represent our multicultural landscape. Behind the ads we see, advertising is one of the whitest industries, and it’s struggling to adapt to a diverse consumer audience.

This may sound funny to say, but people that make ads are professional advertisers. They are not race and gender activists.  While some, of course, hold political and social positions that look towards justice, to appoint them arbiters of the new ways to represent race in a rapidly changing cultural context is a setup, at best.  Advertising is created by teams of creative professionals under budget constraints and deadline–do they all have the time, knowledge and resources to think deeply about how race is described and typified in the work they create?

Without diversity in the industry’s workforce and a priority in the creative process, it will be hard for brands to connect with their audience.  Millenials especially expect a level of racial sensitivity advertisers may not be used to. Who is in the room matters.  Increased diversity in the advertising industry will help brands stay sharp, and benefit from diverse perspectives before they put out some racist work that costs them brand appeal and cash.

Advertisers should spend a little to save a lot:  spend the energy to ensure their workforce is diverse; spend the afternoon it takes to engage in some education about what’s happening now–a lecture, a consultant, a TED talk, for god’s sake, to keep your ideas about who you are selling to current; and spend the resources to double check ads before they go out.  It’s 2017: that “we-forgot-to-not-be-racist” apology will get you canceled.  Just ask Dove.

Familiar Fruit: Nooses’ Return

Cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, Russian spies and soldiers, terrorists and freedom fighters:  the play of children mirrors the conflicts of their times.  Play fighting takes on the shape and character of the very real fights the adults are engaged in when they think the kids aren’t watching.

A young Biracial boy was lynched in Claremont, NH while his little sister watched.  The boy survived the attack and his mother posted pictures of his injury to social media in hopes of getting justice, which had been slow in coming from the small town’s police chief. Three teens were identified by the victims, but the police chief refused to release any information to the press in order to “protect the boys”, though I’m sure he did not mean he wished to protect a boy whose neck was sawed bloody with a rope that almost killed him.

Cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, Russian spies and soldiers, terrorists and freedom fighters:  the play of children mirrors the conflicts of their times.  Play is practice, takes on the shape and character of the very real fights the adults are engaged in when they think the kids aren’t watching.    With the year(s) America is having around race, it should be no surprise that kids might play at practice America’s oldest game: racism.  The noose has long been a symbol of terror for black people.  Lynching is not just history, it is American present.  Nooses are everywhere--playgrounds and schools, videos and news reports.  So what better way to practice playing power than to knot a noose?noose_1503672085342_3968413_ver1.0_640_360

That the incident was referred to as an accident is unbelievable. Like cocking a finger into a gun, these kids knew that a noose was a weapon, playtime or not.  That they’re being protected by the Cheif Chase seems unfair when we regularly see like-aged young black boys splayed on the street dead, cops hands washed clean by our justice system. But the concern that outing these boys could ruin their lives is also real in a world where infamy is instant and infinite, ruining lives in the blink of a black twitter dragging.  He’s not wrong that that one act could be enough to ruin the perpetrators’ lives forever. So should we just shut up about it?

Hell no. But let’s not go after the boys, let’s focus on the ideas that supercharged their behavior. Cheif Chase is protecting something else besides some boys old enough to know better.  He is protecting racist ideology, rendering it invisible in his “just some kids playing” approach. Far from just giving the kids cover, the police chief is covering for white supremacy itself.  This is where the real danger lies. As an actor of the state, the police chief has a responsibility to name a hate crime what it is and not try to pretty up the racism in his town. Instead, he chose to swerve and reject any calls of racism…until the state AG decided to open a case to investigate what was happening in the tiny town.

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Monuments and symbols of racism–nooses and ni**er, white hoods, Confederate flags–trickle down to all parts of the culture, including child’s play.  This is how the old racism that we always think is owned by the old racists alone is reproduced in the next generation, a virus fighting to stay alive by infecting young healthy hosts to carry racism for their long life.  In the fight for justice, no matter how many bad apples we cull, the bunch will be forever tainted until we remove the ideas that shape and govern racism.  Racists come and go but the American ideology of racism is as old as America itself.

North or south, kids or adults,  we say our towns are no place for hate but the fact of the matter is that racism is rampant in our country, and I’m quite sure Claremont, New Hampshire is no exception.  That’s not to say we aren’t in the fight, but make no mistake there are real racists, people weaponizing the old symbols of power and privilege for a new generation.  And those symbols of hate are everywhere these days.  To see such powerful symbols and reduce them to an accident is to render the very real, very modern ideology of white supremacy as just normal, a game children can play, ensuring that it will remain untreated in the body politic–and therefore live on to keep poisoning who we are and what we could become.

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We have to be clear in naming the symbols of terrorism that permeate our culture.  Think about the images of torches in Charlottesville. The Confederate flag, still flying all around the country even as activists try to excavate the monuments to racist rebels; the nooses hung in schoolyards (remember Jena?); the white hoods on the evening news:  these are not just throwback symbols, they are contemporary messages to black people to stay in their lane–or else.

Imagine then, HBO’s new show Confederate–a drama with a budget large enough to guarantee slick and powerful visuals.  The shows’ creators–the pair that brought you Game Of Thrones–announced that the show will present a world where slavery is still legal in the Confederacy.  Creating updated images of what slavery would look like is only likely to load the gun of ideology, remaking what we thought we had left in the past in our own present.  The images from the yet-to-be-made show may be shocking, or even transformative in the best case scenario, but what will they mean to boys like those in New Hampshire, out playing Confederate in a backyard?  What happens when we greenlight images central to perpetuating the legend of white supremacy?

The easy availability of racist images in our culture ensures another generation will continue our tradition of demonizing and demeaning people of color in this country.  The incident in Claremont reminds us that these images are not without consequence. Citizens of that small town came together for a vigil when the boy’s story came to light, but the work to eradicate racism and its symbols won’t be won in an evening of solidarity. And the work won’t get done with the outing of three boys.  Instead, the ideology of white supremacy must be plainly named and properly shamed, every time it appears.

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James M. Patterson/The Valley News, via Associated Press
When we pursue justice are we required to extend it to those who would not extend it to us? We must, or else any justice that we achieve will be seeded with the same inequality we are trying to eradicate. If we believe that racists are redeemable, especially if caught early, then we have to support the idea that these boys can learn from their actions and that healing and reconciliation can keep them from being lifelong racists who go one to hurt others.  But we can extend no mercy, give no quarter to the ideology of white supremacy in our towns or in our hearts.  This virus of a vision has been poisoning America from the beginning, blocking us from truly become the dream we dreamed ourselves to be.

Dedicated to my sister-in-law Barbara McDonald, who is from Claremont, NH and who is raising four badass woke kids

 

 

 

When White People Should Say N–

Once and for all I want to settle the controversy of White people using the n-word.  There actually is a rule and it’s very, very simple:

Never.

NEVER.

Say it with me….white people should never say N*gga, n*gger, or any permutation of the word.

No, Bill, I mean you too:

This woman running for local office who called police about “N– outside drinking Hennessy?  Heeeeelllllllllllllllllllll no, no matter what Eddie Murphy said.

How about stars who act like they’re cool with Black people? Nope.

But, wait, what about if you’re a teacher and you’re just trying to teach the youth about the N word with your old ass ideas saying the word over and over until you get checked? That’s on you, teach.

What if you have really good intentions, and you’re woke as fuck and you care about black people like you really love them and deeply care about black empowerment and you are committed to supporting black people in the struggle for justice?  Like you dedicate your life to ending racism and you work hard every day to make the world more just and every once in a while in love and solidarity you want to refer to your black friends as my n–?

Trick question–if you’re really woke af, you know white people shouldn’t say the n-word.

So no matter what you’ve heard, no matter how extensive you think your hood pass is, no matter how noble your intentions or how great your cultural knowledge, if you are white the rule stands.

Never.

 

Pepsi’s Not Tone Deaf, They’re Assholes

Last week in the can opening heard round the world, Kendell Jenner solved racism in Pepsi’s crap ad posted below–please watch at your own discretion and preferably not while you are eating.

The ad takes the markers of recent civil resistance and boils it down to some musical hipster millennials that conveniently come in a one-of-each variety pack.  As you can imagine, the internet, led by the beacon of black twitter, lost its mind and Pepsi pulled the ad off the air within 24 hours.  A flurry of news coverage and talk show segments roundly condemned the ad as tone deaf, as brilliantly portrayed in this skit on SNL (below).  The week ends with a bunch of high fives as we congratulate ourselves on a moment of shared outrage across racial lines.  We can all agree here–tone deaf.

But you know your girl here has a different opinion.  I disagree that Pepsi was tone deaf. And SNL’s skewering of the ad? It seems to portray the ad’s producers as hapless creatives who didn’t listen to their black friends–of course, they couldn’t be expected to see the problem on their own, and of course, there was no ill intention.  That’s not a skewering, that’s an excuse.

Pepsi has a long history off co-opting outsider youth culture and dragging it into the mainstream, redefining it for the masses in the process.  More than mere celebrity endorsements, Pepsi’s slogan of Pepsi Generation, and later Generation Next specifically seeks to align itself with and define youth culture. Ads like those starring Brittany Spears or Michael Jackson intentionally seeks to mirror a more mainstream, palatable and- profitable–version of whatever that year’s young people like.

Whether it is the hippies of the 70’s, the magic of Michael Jackson in the 80’s or even the girl power of the Spice Girls in the 2000’s Pepsi’s brand is all about creating a reductionist version of youth culture to sell to sugar water to the masses. Decade after decade, Pepsi has traded on what young people think is cool, targeting products at various youth subcultures–like Mountain Dew for motor-bikers.

What’s more, Pepsi also has a long history of targeting black consumers.  In the 1940’s Pepsi even had a negro marketing department, according to this fascinating article about how soda is racist af.   So no, Pepsi is not tone deaf, they are crafty, capitalizing on the very cultures they misrepresent and have been for decades.

And that brings us back to this latest disaster of social-justice-y porn.  In the Kendall Jenner ad, Pepsi hits every corner of a very diverse youth demographic–every race, a good mash up of random instruments and dance steps, a Muslim woman–enamored of course with Kendell’s stunning display of white feminism–hipsters with and without beards, gentrifiers with and without signs, and activism decidedly without any ideology. Pepsi sucked the life, passion and meaning out of the very real revolution happening in this moment of time and turned it into a moving stock photography image.  But taking the depth, meaning, and messiness out of life to sell product isn’t going to stop with this one ad getting taken down.  Look around you.  Everywhere advertisers are cashing in on our deepest feelings and most fervent hopes.  As altruism, connection, activism, and awareness have become trending ways of being, advertisers are increasingly using these most meaningful qualities to sell shit.

This State Farm ad is touching and heartwarming, and like the Pepsi ad features a diverse cast of characters starring a white savior with the power to transform the life of the poor, downtrodden, and brown.  While this ad is moving and inspiring as opposed to Pepsi’s abomination, both ads seek to use your positive feelings towards creating a better world to sell you product.  Both ads ignore any structural analysis of what social movements are seeking to disrupt.  Both ads put the power of individual white people as the simple answer that can eradicate widespread social injustice. Pepsi’s ad went too far and was condemned, but the State Farm ad was embraced

Ads selling us back the very essence of who we are are everywhere. When ads with social themes are done poorly, it’s good to see that consumer pushback can force advertiser accountability.  When they are done carefully, they make us smile, feel nice–and buy more.  In order to have broad appeal, the complex and controversial edges of life are sanded off in favor of a lighter, happier look at our world–one where products can often solve the worst problems in 30-60 seconds. Staying woke means making sure that you don’t allow capitalism to sell you back your fight against capitalism and other unfair systems.  Now that Pepsi has your twitter fingers warmed up, stay on the look out for capitalists in activists’ clothing.

 

 

 

 

 

Is This Sand Sculpture Racist?

Can you make a sandcastle racist? I didn’t think so, but then I went to the beach to see the amazing sand sculptures at Revere beach and I saw this one:

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Titled The Color’s In the Mind,Red Orange Green Blue Shiny Yellow Purple Too, it depicts an artist pallet of colors with an object for each color.  So cute, look at the frog and the–wait, what is that?

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Tucked between the fruit is the head of a policeman.  Okay, pretty odd to have a policeman’s head representing blue instead of fruit. And next to the cop’s head is an eggplant, sometimes used to symbolize black people in not so nice ways.

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A cop’s head and an eggplant.  Color’s in the mind.  I see a backhanded comment on BLM.  Is it me? Leave it in the comments!

The Most Interesting Whitewashed Character in Advertising

Like black men, the stereotype of Latino men boils down to this: hot in the sheets, shot in the streets.

Bon Voyage to the Most Interesting Man in the World. Loved by saints and sinners and far more than his fair share of women, he has played  with popes and wrestled with animals; he mastered the art of being the man. Mexican beer brand Dos Equis announced the retirement of the much-loved man-scot or, to be exact, they’ve announced the most interesting man is headed to another world on a one-way trip to Mars.

The Most Interesting Man in The World (MIMITW) has been a good look for the Mexican beer brand since 2006.  The introduction of the MIMITW has resulted in an appreciable uptick in sales and spawned a thousand memes.

Dos Equis decided it was time to update the brand, make it more modern and tighter fit with their upcoming sponsorship of college football, but at smntks, I suspect they decided to dump the undumpable MIMITW before fans woke up to this most agreeable of whitewashed characters.

Listen, how could you not love a guy that wrestles lions and charms queens?  But step too close and catch the faintest whiff of racism. In an industry with few opportunities for Latino actors, why is this juicy role whitewashed?

The MIMITW is actually played by Jonathon Goldsmith, a Jewish actor born in New York in 1938 who made the round of a number of popular 70’s and 80’s  shows including  Perry Mason and Dallas. How did he become the most recognizable Latino brand spokesperson?

That’s right, the spokesperson for Mexican beer is the one white guy in a room full of 500 Latino actors they decided was more Latino than any of the Latinos.  How could this be?  Goldsmith wasn’t being a latino in his audition–he played a Latino filtered through the white gaze: success! Goldsmith recounts the details in a 2012 Ad Age interview:

“Basically it was just a cattle call,” he said. “I got into the room, and there were hundreds of people and a big crowd waiting outside, and everybody looked like Juan Valdez. And I said “This is crazy—they are not looking for me.’ I went in when it was my turn and all I could think about was “My God, I’ve got to move my car by 4 o’clock or I’m going to get a massive ticket. “

Goldsmith says that he based the character of the most interesting man in the world on his close friend and famous Latin Lover actor Fernando Lamas.  You may not remember the actor in old movies like The Violent ones or this gem, Dangerous When Wet:

But you may remember the Saturday Night Live Skits based on the actor called Fernando’s hideaway.

All the hallmarks of the stereotypical latin lover are here:  sultry accent, swooning smooth talk, tall, dark and handsome. Way more machismo than the marrying type.  Doesn’t sound too terrible, being reduced to a man-whore, a literal Don Juan.  Yeah, no exoticizing there. Definitely better than the king kong stereotype, but a stereotype still.

Funny how in the movies the brown-skinned lover is seen as sexy and dangerous, but in real life they’re just seen as dangerous.  The hot fantasy of the latin lover is, like Jonathon Goldsmith’s latin lover pedigree, just a fantasy.  SImilar to stereotypes of black men, the stereotype of Latino men in American media boils down to this: hot in the sheets, shot in the streets.

Okay, okay, I’m not trying to rain beer on your Mars launch. Let me be the first to admit the MIMITW is a fantastic character.  The commercials are all hilarious.  …..You know what’s coming, though, right? His devil may care, love them and leave them fantasy man is as stinky a stereotype as Pepe le Pew.  Choosing the old stereotypical image of machsmo-mad latinos makes Dos Equis a little skunky too.  Sigh.  Something that is true, even if it makes you sad, is that sometimes stuff you think is funny is racist.

But it’s 2016, and in our increasingly diverse and woke world, whitewashing characters, not matter how well loved is no bueno. Woomp woomp, Most Interesting Man in the World–take your ass to mars.

Dos Equis reports that the campign isn’t dead, just being retooled. When casting, don’t forget the many talented and truly Latino actors–like The Strain’s Miguel Gomez–looking for a juicy role.  Do us a fovor, skip the Rico Suave stereotype and give us a crisp modern Latinx vibe–now that’s refreshing.