Something for everyone?

Pepsi’s new commercial featuring Kendall Jenner has sparked enough controversy that Pepsi has pulled the ad.  In the commercial, Jenner is seen walking through a crowd of happy-looking protesters to hand a police officer a can of soda.  When the officer opens and drinks the Pepsi, the protesters cheer.  Pepsi has been accused of trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement (see the article and commercial here).

Pepsi is hardly the first company to release an ad perceived to be racist or trivializing race.  Nivea, a skin-care company, recently released an ad for deodorant with the slogan “White is Purity.”  The ad was quickly pulled after much complaining on social media, and after some white supremacists praised the ad. (Nivea ran into a similar problem six years ago.  See the article here.)  And going back slightly more than a decade, you may remember Sony’s 2006 ad for the PSP White.  This ad featured a white woman dressed in white grabbing a black woman dressed in black by her face next to the slogan “Playstation Portable White is coming.” (See the ad here.)  I think you get the picture.

Meanwhile, in “real life,” white suspects and non-white suspects received different legal treatment and media coverage.  Some examples:

February 26, 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin:

Trayvon Martin was suspended three times from school” (U.S. News)

I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin‘s death as much as George Zimmerman was” (Geraldo Rivera on FOX News)

Trayvon Martin: Typical teen or troublemaker?” (USA Today)


February 26, 2012 Ohio school shooting:

Sister: Teen suspect in Ohio school shooting ‘not a monster’” (AP story on NBC site)

Teens describe suspected shooter, T.J. Lane, as quiet yet ‘sweet’ loner” (NY Daily News)

Alleged Ohio gunman rarely spoke about ‘trouble’ at home” (CNN)


July 20, 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting:

Background of Colorado shooting suspect full of contrasts” (CNN)

Is James Holmes a psychotic or an evil, calculating sociopath?” (Psychology Today)

Colorado Mass Shooting Suspect Described As ‘Recluse’” (NPR)


June 10, 2014 Oregon school shooting:

Gunman Jared Michael Padgett known as serious student with interest in military” (The Oregonian)

Oregon school shooting suspect fascinated with guns but was a devoted Mormon” (FOX News)

Oregon shooting suspect called aspiring serviceman” (San Diego Union-Tribune)


August 9, 2014 shooting of Michael Brown:

It’s a horrible thing that he was killed, but he could have avoided that if he’d have behaved like something other than a thug.” (Mike Huckabee on Newsmax TV)

Michael Brown was not a boy, he was a ‘demon’” (Al Jazeera English)

Chief: Officer noticed Brown carrying suspected stolen cigars” (USA Today)


November 22, 2014 shooting of Tamir Rice:

Officer in Tamir Rice shooting: ‘He gave me no choice’” (USA Today)

Miami Police Union President Calls Tamir Rice a ‘Thug’” (Miami New Times)

Tamir Rice’s father has history of domestic violence” (


2015 Brock Turner rape case:

In Stanford Rape Case, Brock Turner Blamed Drinking and Promiscuity” (NY Times)

All-American swimmer pleads not guilty in Stanford rape case” (NY Daily News)

Judge who sentenced Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, 20, to six months for rape will hand down three year sentence to Latino man, 32, charged with nearly identical crime” (Daily Mail)


September 16, 2016 shooting of Terence Crutcher:

Autopsy: Terence Crutcher had PCP in system when he was shot by Tulsa police” (Chicago Tribune)

Tulsa cop who killed Terence Crutcher says he caused his own death, blames shooting on Crutcher’s drug-induced behavior” (NY Daily News)

I can continue on and on, but again, you get the picture.  I’m not saying that there aren’t any “good” headlines or comments on these stories, but I believe there is a problem with the headlines and quotes listed above, and with the outcomes of some of the cases.  Is the problem with the media?  With the legal system? With society? With our institutions? With people who are “privileged” enough to ignore racism? Is racism so ingrained in our culture that people are not consciously aware that people – specifically white people – aren’t even consciously aware of it?

Photo taken by the author.

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