The recent Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad spawned a deluge of tweets, Facebook comments, and articles expressing both praise and outrage. The short one-minute ad features people of multiple backgrounds and apparent religious affiliations singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages. There are people of all colors. There are yarmulkes. There are also hijabs.
Now I’m not here to talk about the bigots. Should we really be shocked that racist retrogrades and right-wing pundits are uncomfortable watching this commercial when it aggravates their white homogenous perception of American language and culture? No we shouldn’t.
What should surprise us are those who laud Coca-Cola and its proclaimed ingenuous attempt to portray America’s rich diversity. Coco-Cola’s appropriation of diversity as a prop for corporate sales is an affront to the hard work, pain, and suffering of minority and immigrant groups in this country. Coca-Cola is a multibillion dollar corporate giant that like most massive conglomerates has contributed to critical health issues and ruthless environmental devastation. It has also employed unfair labor practices. We must remember that for corporations humanity is a mere detour on the roadmap to unlimited profits.
Adding insult to injury, Coca-Cola feasts on our naiveté to skyrocket corporate sales. No doubt, this advertisement works as a clever marketing scheme. It dips the company in the limelight just long enough to increase profit. Does this mean we should give Coca-Cola a pat on the back for using the songs of patriotism to make a mockery of our nation’s waning beauty? More importantly, do we really need Coca-Cola to tell us how diverse we are and legitimize our “Americanness”?
Here, I turn my attention, particularly, to my fellow Muslims. A couple of hijabis appear in a national Coca-Cola advertisement and suddenly we’re applauding the beverage company for representing us? Perhaps the advertisement dismantles stereotypes by presenting us Muslims as unequivocally American. Perhaps we feel a little triumphant by finally being accepted into a society and culture we belong to and identify with.
But we seem to be missing the larger point.
Impeded by our own insecurities, we have trouble understanding how problematic it is to feel valorized by a corporate company that, let’s be honest, goes against the grain of our Islamic ethics and values. In 2013, Gap featured a Sikh model in its “Make Love” holiday ad campaign. Many members of the South Asian community beamed with pride at having a Sikh man’s face plastered on billboards throughout the U.S. It seems we, as minority groups, look to multicultural marketing techniques as the benchmark for our arrival into society and in so doing, we divest our inherent beliefs and values of meaning.
I don’t intend to underestimate the effect mainstream media can have in confronting racism and intolerance. But we don’t need capitalist corporations like Coca-Cola to recognize or reinforce our Muslim American identity. If anything, the beverage company’s exploitation of our identity should leave a sour taste in our mouths.
To support or boycott Coca-Cola is not necessarily the question. The question is: who do we seek to validate us?