The Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial of various “diverse” (read: not white) Americans singing in different languages and the ensuing controversy it sparked is making the rounds in the mainstream media, and, as it follows, in the liberal, feminist, social justice and pop culture social networking world and blogosphere.
Many people have rightfully lampooned the xenophobia and racism for what it is. A lot of people have unilaterally blamed the Right and Conservatives, and they’ve definitely been saying some ignorant nonsense amid this frenzy, obviously. All of this leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. There’s so much more going on here that even “progressives,” “Feminists” and “Anti-Racists” are not seeing or addressing.
1. The backlash against the commercial is disgusting, ignorant, hateful, and awful, but NOT surprising. I chuckled to myself as the only people I saw being “Aghast” and “Blown away” were non-immigrant, American white people — the one group of people in this country who never have had to deal with or face racialized xenophobia in the first place. So, naturally, the few times in their lives they are ever exposed to it, they’re completely thrown for a loop. “How lucky and privileged you are,” I thought to myself a bit bitterly.
However, If you’re an immigrant (or the first few generations after), specifically more so if you’re an immigrant of color, or Native American, none of this is new. This idea that you do not belong here, that you’re the “Other” infringing on the good White English-Speaking masses, is drilled into your head and pushed in your face at all times. I do not get a break from this. The xenophobic racism people espoused is NOT news to me, because it isn’t a new phenomena. Rather, it is one that has been lying below the surface of the veneer of a “Free, Just, and Democratic Melting Pot” that is anything but, and occasionally boils to the surface and becomes visible to white people, which is to say, “NOW it’s a problem! This makes me look bad!”
2. The backlash should NOT merely be put away, ignored, or dismissed as “just stupid” and not dealt with. We have to face what this backlash means about racial attitudes and strife in this country. The fact that SO many people got upset enough to cause a controversy is a huge deal, and it speaks volumes about where we are as far as racial politics. Let’s talk about it. Let’s engage it. Let’s do something beyond clutching pearls and gasping, “I can’t BELIEVE people are this hateful.” Because they are, they’re showing us they are, and it is high time we addressed it.
We also have to face that the other days of the year, people of color who face this hatred get ignored or told they deserve it, or are making a big deal out of nothing, or are being “radical,” “PC,” “paranoid,” “angry,” or “reverse racist.” But the moment it becomes visible or salient for white people, as in a few Conservatives are called “Tea Baggers” on Twitter, they start to care. NEWSFLASH– This isn’t about you looking good and hip with it because you’re a liberal, or your country being a “Diverse Melting Pot.” This is about what this kind of hate and violence does to communities of color, the implications and the damaging results, their roots, and their context. We exist and experience these things and talk about them when there aren’t Coke commercials bringing these issues to the forefront — where are all of you then?
3. These sentiments are NOT espoused by just Conservatives and “idiots.” We have to stop outsourcing this country’s race issues to the people we don’t like in such an intellectually faulty, classist, and ableist manner. The lines are drawn across race, not political affiliation or mental or physical ability. Most of the xenophobes, settler-mentality-having racists I currently know are “well-educated,” neurotypical, “able-bodied” progressives and liberals. It was one of them who rudely interrupted and told me while I spoke of my Spanish-only speaking Abuela that she had “better not expect anyone here to understand or interact with her,” like making this country bilingual is SUCH a burden or an infringement on her rights as a white person. I know many New Age holistic crunchy-dreadlocks-having white people who daily take part in the violent co-option of the cultural and religious identities and habits of Indigenous, African, and Asian people. These people are gentrifiers and vocal uncritical supporters of one of the most imperialistic and anti-immigration presidents we’ve had to date. I could go on, but the point is, trust me, ya’ll have things you’ve got to face and address just as much as the next Western White person.
4. Ultimately, Coke is a multi-billion dollar corporation with an awful track record for real solidarity with marginalized communities here and across the globe, historically and in the current day, and exploits those communities for a profit. Like Simon Maloy said in his Salon piece about the controversy, “As for Coca-Cola, its role as agent of cultural change in this instance seems to be a bit inflated. The heated reaction notwithstanding, the ad wasn’t that provocative, and it certainly didn’t make any grand political statement. Coca-Cola doesn’t want you to speak Spanish. It wants you to buy Coke.”
The commercial merely tokenized a few people of color and immigrants to a nationalistic, jingoist, capitalist end, which is to say “for violence.” Coca-Cola does not stand in solidarity or care much about people of color and marginalized communities and the issues of xenophobia and Nativism and immigration that we face. It is a corporate entity trying to gain a profit and has done so by any means necessary: through neoliberalism and at the detriment of the environment and non-Western people of color here and abroad.
We should not elevate and praise capitalism because it put on a socially progressive face to stir the pot and therefore make more money. Even if they were sincere about wanting to show that they accept that the racial and cultural landscape of this country is vast and varied, they only do so hoping that we’ll buy in and support their brand. “I’ll scratch you’re back, just let me make a buck off of yours!” And it has worked– so many people have been saying they’re “Buying more Coke” and calling them showing their support, and it’s all I can do to pull my hair out of my head.
I don’t want to continue my consumer support of Coke anymore. I don’t want them speaking for me, using me and my community to their ends. Yes, visibility in the media is important, as the Spanglish-speaking first generation daughter of ESL speaking Dominican immigrants, I can speak at length about the importance of the visibility of both immigrants and Natives of color in the American landscape. But I can’t ignore the other things happening here, especially when a lot of Coke’s neoliberalist violence happens in the Latin Americas, and has even gotten the name “Agua Negra Del Imperialismo Gringo” or “Black waters of White Imperialism.”
I refused to tokenized, objectified, and ignored. I don’t want to be used for a liberal, Conservative, or capitalist agenda. I want my real identity as a radical progressive of color — along with my needs, desires, and beliefs and those of my community and others of color — respected, addressed, and adhered to, which inevitably puts me at odds with the folks at Coke and many people in this country. But I can’t be concerned with that. I have to speak my truth.