Why Kendall Jenner Should Give A Pepsi to the Dove Ad Team

by Madeline Anscombe

First it was Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Ad, and now it’s Dove. Advertisements serve as some of the clearest ways in which America still falls critically short in understanding race and intersectionality in the modern age. If you didn’t get a chance to catch the Pepsi ad, it featured Keeping up with the Kardashians star-turned-model Kendall Jenner who was on set modeling until she saw what looked like a Black Lives Matter protest. In order to solve any tension between the police and the participants, she handed an officer a Pepsi and joined the march as the champion for all.

Viewers flocked to Twitter, commenting how problematic the notion was that a privileged white girl could come in from her photo shoot with a can of Pepsi and solve the incredibly dangerous relationship between young people of color and the police. This is obviously not the solution to a problem that has cost the lives of so many sons and brothers throughout the country. The oversimplification of this problem raised the same questions that we are now posing to the makers of a new Dove ad: who is making these commercials and what aren’t they understanding?

This past week, Dove published a Facebook ad campaign showing different women of various ethnicities taking off shirts matching their pigmentation. As the video progressed the skin got lighter, appearing as if with their product someone would become “cleaner” and whiter. Like the Pepsi commercial, I don’t know whether to nervously laugh at the idiocy of the campaign or cringe over the blatant oversight and lack of understanding of what the image was portraying. Quite literally a black woman becomes white with the use of a body wash. While both the model and Dove have spoken out about the ad since the controversy started (and Dove has rescinded the ad), I find that their claimed intentions and messaging are completely misaligned. When watching either of these commercials it is blatantly obvious the misrepresentations that drive negative stereotypes of people of color.

As a white woman, I have actively tried to educate myself on how the difficult circumstances I may endure are completely different than those endured by people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, different religious communities and socioeconomic backgrounds. These differences are particularly poignant where multiple of these identities intersect, for example, black trans women experience the highest rates of hate crime in the country. Being cognizant of the ways in which I am privileged-- my race, my sexuality, my socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, all play a large part in how I am able to perceive the world and what it is that I am exposed to. Intersectional feminism champions the voices of every gender identity, religion, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and socioeconomic background and says that each one of us deserves to have the same rights and respect as our counterpart. It is not “hating white people” or “man-hating” but rather an effort  to make conversations more inclusive and representative of the communities we are a part of.

Advertisements like these paint vivid examples of why we need intersectionality. There is no doubt that the media is a powerful outlet that affects our perception of the world. Things that appear on our TV and our computers shift our worldview often more than we notice. Exposure to these types of images send subliminal messages to any and all consumers of the media. Imagine being a young black girl and seeing an advertisement like the Dove commercial which showed someone who looked like them and ended up white being broadcast as the sign of a good product. That could stick with you for a lifetime, and media consumption often plays a large role in how many black women in particular have trouble understanding their own beauty. With privilege, these messages are increasingly difficult to be acutely aware of. In what was likely an all white male boardroom, the concept of showing women of different colors or a handing over a Pepsi in a time of protest might feel like a progressive take on pop culture. When the people making decisions all look the same, they may fail to grasp the perspective of those not in the room. This makes sense; even with the best intentions and a developed sense of cultural awareness, we may fall short. It took two minutes for Facebook to see a problem with what Dove likely took months developing. Both of these commercials serve as perfect examples of why we need to diversify the workforce and the media we service.

Without taking the time to properly educate myself, I might be largely unaware of how the Dove and Pepsi commercials portrayed people of color in a negative way. Even though I consider myself to be fairly educated, there is a lot I have left to learn about the world and the people around me. Intersectionality should be a priority for all of us, and we should each strive to be more cognizant of the messages we relay to the world. Diversity is a beautiful thing and should be celebrated and championed by everyone from the high powered white executive to the kids we babysit. We all have something to learn and offer one another, be it insight, experience or ideas.

Still, there is a beacon of hope amidst such problematic campaigns. Both the Pepsi commercial and the Dove ad have been rescinded due to the backlash they have received. This shows that people are aware of the media they are being fed rather than allowing it to further disseminate. Despite problematic commercials, we are also seeing some positivity, such as the Always  #LikeAGirl campaign which shows that we are more readily accepting progressive messaging than ever before. As aforementioned, we very clearly have a long way to go. Our places of work must strive to be more representative of the people they aim to serve and individuals must take it upon themselves to understand how to be intersectional. For the time being though, hopefully Kendall has a few extra of those Pepsis because it seems like Dove could really use one about now.