The Super Bowl is kind of awkward. I've never been a big football fan, and being a Canadian doesn’t help me enjoy more than the usual contact between sweaty American men and annoying Fox commentators. But the annual ads and teasers are universally exciting for sports fans and haters alike. While catching up on the ads myself (freaking out over Donald Glover in Star Wars and Infinity War), I came across an ad by Dodge, for new trucks. I was not having it, and eventually, neither was Black Twitter. The car company was advertising trucks while using a famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. There is a million and one reasons why this is an issue, but here are a few main points that should be addressed.
With the fall out from Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial, big companies should know by now that capitalizing on black issues and protest is not going to go over well with consumers. Using the plights of black people, and displaying black issues without pledging to help make a change is appropriation, cruel, and downright disrespectful. Secondly, the speech that they borrowed was -- wait for it -- a speech King wrote on the faults of capitalism. Oh boy. Makes you wonder if anyone at the offices of Dodge listened to the speech in full, let alone understood its context. To make matters worse, no one from Dr. King’s family or organization was asked permission to use his voice and words, which again, is inherently disrespectful. People fight long and hard to keep confederate statutes up, yet are hesitant to protect the likeness of an American hero. To add more insult to injury, 2016/2017 the NFL started to get political. With Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, questions surrounding “patriotism” and conversations regarding free speech started to arise. Kaepernick protested against systemic racism by taking a knee, and was blacklisted by the NFL. Instead of acknowledging the outrage Kaepernick was channelling, he was shamed by people of power in the NFL, and the current American President. Clearly Kaeprenick's messages weren't well received, but now Corporate America gets to use the voice of another famous protester to make money? Does America only love civil rights icons when they are dead?
To understand the frustration of many black people, one must understand the feverish attempts made by white liberals, centrists, and conservatives to dilute the actions and words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fox News repeatedly say things like “Dr. King would want you to protest differently” in response to groups like Black Lives Matter. Painting Dr. King as some hippie pastor who loved everyone instead of the anti-capitalist, pro-woman, pro-working class man that he was makes it easier for people to stay comfortable with the status quo and not question their own privilege.
The use of Black bodies to advertise, and the exploitation of civil rights icons isn’t anything new, but it can be racist. The problem with this racism is that it’s pretty and neat. It looks perfectly normal, and gives very silent permission to people in power to continue pulling things like this without any ramifications. To silence people like Kaepernick, and then use Dr. King's speech, is to the pitch the idea that black people are not good enough to do their own protesting. People like King are made to seem as if they are only good enough to be backdrops to commercials where we pretend that the heroes we use wouldn’t have a problem with using their likeness. Until corporations understand that civil rights icons are not there to sell things, and that black suffrage, like black culture, cannot be appropriated, we are sure to see more commercials like this sometime soon, which makes me sort of glad that the revolution will not be televised.
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