Assumptions, we all have them and we all contribute to the widely accepted stereotypes with each of our words and actions. Assumptions can cause people to make generalizations. They can cause people to perpetuate falsehoods, and if we aren’t careful they can do severe harm to a whole group of people, based on someone’s limited experience with just a small sample. When we look at our assumptions closely, we can start to see them for what they are, just that, and begin undoing, one piece at a time, the centuries of abuse against one another. It is in our conscious efforts to confront our assumptions and intentionally correct them, that creates progress in society. When your aim is to heal, intention matters. When deciding on a method to correct a wrong you have to think about what you want the end result to be. In order to combat the negative effects of centuries of unfair, inaccurate, harmful and shameful representations of people of color (POC), is important to make a conscious effort to place POC in the forefront in media to represent the truth.
Upon the release of the recent scandalous Pepsi and Shea Moisture ads, I started to question how such large companies could miss the mark and fail to capture the hearts, spirits and minds of their demographics. If you are unfamiliar with these ads and the controversies that followed, see below.
If after watching these videos, you still don’t grasp why they were hurtful or damaging, please keep reading, this is written specifically for you.
To my surprise and delight, the majority of Americans seemed to recognize quickly how tone deaf the Pepsi ad was. It was so bad, that after receiving the feedback and outrage, Pepsi quickly pulled the ad. The intention to bring people together over social issues was there (debatable, but still there), but the execution of the ad was a major fail.
A single can of Pepsi cannot unify the nation. Pepsi cannot solve racism. It is silly and socially irresponsible to exploit this idea in an advertisement, when these social problems are very real. It was a major fail for the company and a huge display of how many Americans, despite their best intentions, are missing the point.
Some are exempt from deep understanding because they don’t deal with these issues in their own lives and don’t seek out understanding on their own. The proliferation of racism and other -isms is the result of ignorance. I recognize that we are all capable of making socially insensitive mistakes, which is why it is important to educate, not berate.
I wont focus on how problematic it was that Kendall Jenner was used as the “advocate” unifying the police with the protesters. If interested, Google “white savior complex”. With tropes such as this displayed on the regular, it is vital to make a intentional effort to do the opposite.
Moving on… to Shea Moisture. It is important to provide context in order to fully understand the problem at hand. Shea Moisture is a hair care company that has been a staple for black naturalistas since the rebirth of black women wearing their natural hair texture about 10 years ago. It was one of the first hair care products I chose, 9 years ago, when I made the transition from chemically straightening my hair, to wearing my naturally curly tresses. I was in love with the socially conscious company, for their fair trade agreement and for bringing carefully formulated hair care products to black women at affordable prices. I was also excited that the products were borne out of the beautiful legacy that their grandmother, Sofi Tucker, began long ago in Sierra Leone.
The story spoke to me and I appreciated how they represented the absence of black hair care products in big box stores like Target. Of course, black hair care products have been available for a long time in stores like Walmart and Target, but they were typically targeted at straightened hair and were very limited, despite the numerous products available for other hair types. It was always frustrating searching high and low to find products that were appropriate for my hair needs, let alone actually promoting my hair health. Shea Moisture became a huge support in letting my curls shine in a world that expected me to have straightened hair.
Many women in the “natural hair community”, have experienced what Shea Moisture coined as “hair hate”. In the black community, “hair hate” started with the pressure to conform to Euro-centric beauty standards. It became a huge source of shame for black women as they were told repeatedly, subtly and overtly, that their hair was undesirable. There is a long history of kinky hair being considered bad, and black women being ashamed of having hair that resembled anything close to kinky. With Shea Moisture’s help, myself and many other naturally curlies were empowered to let our kinks, coils, and curls shine for the first time.
With all of that history, and the fact that black women with hair ranging from curly to kinky, have been using Shea Moisture since inception, it felt like a slap in the face to watch white women represent the brand and discuss their experiences with hair hate. Keep in mind, it isn’t very often that black women have an opportunity to represent any brand, since there is still a lot of discrimination in the industry. This would have been the perfect opportunity to give black women the spotlight to talk about an issue that is very sensitive and deep-seated, while also highlighting their beauty.
I see this controversy with two eyes. First, the issue is hugely important for black women considering the long history. It felt to me that Shea Moisture had neglected to include their base demographic, black women with kinky hair, who don’t have many opportunities to appear in beauty ads, and have been loyal to the company since the beginning. Second, since inception Shea Moisture has expanded their product line to include products for all hair types, which is honorable. It’s also not a common practice for non- professional hair care companies to make products for all hair types. With that being said, Shea Moisture has to let all potential customers know that they have products for their hair too.
I have mixed feelings about how the ad was carried out and I feel disappointed that Shea Moisture hurt so many loyal customers in an effort to be inclusive. I wish they would have rolled out several versions of the ad with models of varying ethnicities at the same time. This would have included representation for all loyal customers and future customers of all ethnicities.
CHECK YOUR INTENT
It’s a sad fact that in 2017 we still have to grapple with issues of racism, sexism, and other -isms, rather than being on equal footing in all regards. One of the problems preventing us from correcting our long history of inequality, is intention. As a nation we have not yet fully acknowledged, apologized for or made permanent action towards correcting the extremely harmful effects of slavery and racist Jim Crow laws. We still don’t talk honestly about the severe affects of our long history of racism. We still don’t teach children in schools about the serious ramifications of that history, or how not to repeat the past. Our children are more conscious but, truly a lot more can be done to intentionally right the atrocities of the past.
When you have a sincere heart, and understand the weight of the damage you have done, you work hard to correct it. When you feel really horribly about having mistreated someone, you work really diligently to make sure they know how much you value them. You work to intentionally build up the trust in the relationship. That kind of action has not taken place in white mainstream America on a widespread basis. We as a nation, have not intentionally undone the years of raping black and brown people of their humanity.
It is time for us to acknowledge and put to shame the history that we have lived through. So much of what we learn about each other is driven by what the media feeds us. In order to change that perception, the media has to intentionally make people of color visible in the media in a positive way. Place a POC in the forefront on purpose and don’t publish it until the narrative feels fair and does not remind us of the tropes of our past. Our future is created by intention.