In 1967, millions of American and Vietnamese citizens would end up dead in a war that hundreds of thousands of people didn’t want to be in. People took to the streets armed in outrage and anger. An iconic photo emerged between the flower children of the 60’s and the National Guard outside the Pentagon. The spirit captured by Mar Riboud, showed a woman offering the riot gear armored guards a daisy and then flinging her arms open in defiance, threatening the guard to shoot. This photo captured the anger of the youth and the spirit of the movement.
Flash forward to 2016, when leshia Evans went face-to-face with the Louisiana State Police department in protest of the excessive force Baton Rouge police used when trying to corral Black protestors. She was one of 102 people arrested that day for ‘obstructing a highway’ as an act of civil disobedience.
Which brings us to today: a time in history when our Black brothers and sisters are being shot on the street, our Brown brothers and sisters are being deported, Trans women of color are being murdered in record numbers, and we are once again taking to the streets to voice our anger that our lives and our bodies are still at stake.
It’s hard to imagine how a billion dollar company claiming to be the “choice of new generation” decided it was a good idea to profit off the backs and lives of our movement, casting a privileged White model as our savior.
But that’s exactly what Pepsi did when they released their commercial starring Kendall Jenner as a model on set when a sea of protesters straight out of central casting carrying generic, non-controversial signs reading “Join the conversation,” “Voice,” “Love,” and “Unity” pass by her shoot. Kendall is so moved by the moment that she rips off her blonde wig, wipes off her vampy lipstick and “jumps in” (per the title of the ad) to join the protest. She lithely marches alongside the perfectly-cast young folks, dancing in the streets towards a police line. Then, when things get “tense,” she instinctively grabs a can of Pepsi and hands it to the cop in front of her while a Muslim woman snaps a photograph. The cop takes the Pepsi. He drinks it. He turns to his riot clad counterparts and smiles. And just like magic, peace is stuck and the all the protestors (with Kendall front and center) scream and jump up and down to celebrate.
If only protesters and victims of police violence from Malcolm X to Eric Garner knew that all that stood between them and freedom was a can of Pepsi.
The commercial was tone-deaf at best, and an insulting display of appropriation at worst. Immediately after it aired, a wave of outrage struck Twitter — and rightly so. And about two hours after that, Pepsi released an official statement (which they obviously didn’t care enough about to spell-check) defending the ad:
On Wednesday, the company decided to pull the ad, astonishingly choosing to apologize to Kendall Jenner rather than the millions they insulted and slighted:
Despite their decision to back out of this particular conversation, Pepsi is still going to profit bigly off all this controversy because it’s free advertisement (how long before the “Make America Great Again” can comes out?). Even still, I’m compelled to write about it because the commercialization of our movement, our rights, our lives, our bodies, and our deaths has got to stop.
Companies capitalizing on things that should never be up for grabs — our rights to free assembly, our rights to civil disobedience in times of political and social injustice, our rights to the spirit of our own movement— has got to stop.
Our resistance is not for sale. Our anger will not be commodified. Our revolution will not be televised. And our movement will not be Kardashianized.
We the people of the movement see through your lame tone-deaf attempts of White harmony that benefits your stock brokers and investors. We see through how much you want to celebrate global diversity by putting the fate of our movement in the hands of a White woman.
And we see your latest attempt to stay relevant by trivializing the very real threats we have faced just walking down the street in a hoodie, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just like we’ve seen the gun used to kill us sold to the highest bidder on eBay. And now you want us to just sit back and watch as the threats we face are magically resolved in a fairytale world where a can of Pepsi can save and unify us all?
F*ck that and f*ck you.