As controversy surrounding the now infamous Mountain Dew ad created by Odd Future front-man, Tyler, The Creator, gained in intensity, in large part due to my friend and colleague, Dr. Boyce Watkins, labeling it “the most racist ad in history,” the many varied and nuanced responses to it began to form their own separate story.
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the fact that a woman appeared to have been violently raped has warranted little more than a dismissive mention in this post-deconstruction phase, pushed to the back in favor of debating the accuracy — of lack thereof — of distilling racism from a commercial featuring a talking goat.
After Mountain Dew pulled the ad, offering a flippant mea culpa on par with Lil Wayne‘s and Rick Ross‘ last-ditch efforts to appease their corporate
masters sponsors, a Facebook friend of mine asked me how I felt about the ad and I gave him the abbreviated version:
Mountain Dew, a PepsCo company, may have taken away Tyler’s piggy bank and dapped it out with Black men offended by the police line-up trigger — because they “perceived” it to be racist — but there has still been little to no mention of the fact that a mockery was made of a woman being assaulted and raped to increase the product’s attractiveness to young men.
“You shoulda gave me some more, I’m nasty,” said Felicia, the Goat in a raspy voice. “”Keep ya mouth shut, I’m going to get out of here and Dew you up!”
I acknowledge that one-dimensional concern about the safety and well-being of women –regardless of ethnicity or race — may be beyond the scope of concern for some men, especially those who justifiably see clear manifestations of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy embedded in a police line-up. But the obvious intersectionality of race and rape culture in this one ad is just too glaring to miss.
First, we have a goat, who is clearly a conduit for cultural onomatopoeia. Spouting “gangsta” Hip-Hop catch phrases, from “you better not snitch on a playa” to ” snitches get stitches,” he is clearly intended to embody the stereotypical, hardcore, sinister, animalistic, barbaric, aggressive, Black man who forces innocent white women to clutch their pearls and move to the edge of a sidewalk wide enough to fit 20 people.
That’s the obvious racism, but there’s much more — less visible to the myopic eye, but embedded in the very fabric of this nation and the literature that we teach our children.
- Tom Robinson, a Black man in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, was tried in the court of public opinion and faced being executed for allegedly raping a white woman.
- Bigger Thomas, a Black man in Richard Wright’s Native Son, was so afraid that people would think that he raped a white woman that he accidentally murdered her instead.
- In a tragic twist of irony, Emmett Till, the Chicago teen who was brutally murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman, and who was at the center of Lil Wayne’s own Mountain Dew controversy, is the ultimate example of why a malignant joke about a Black man — albeit one in muppet form — raping a white woman is the height of offensiveness and cultural insensitivity.
But to even peel back that layer, one must grant the sole woman in the ad a grain of importance. One must feel that her victimization matters before one can even begin to dissect the bloated racial symbolism.
But she didn’t. We don’t. Not to corporate America and not in a patriarchal society where it doesn’t matter if a woman has been raped as long as the police line-up has some diversity.
I spoke with Dr. Boyce — who deserves credit for taking note that the woman appeared to have been sexually assaulted – to get his take on the lack of concern as it pertained to the misogyny in the ad. I wanted to know why, as a man, and as a black man in particular, the racially charged gender dynamic did not resonate with him as much as the police line-up and his response was extremely interesting:
“On one hand, we could say that this was just a person who’d been beaten by a goat. Goats aren’t usually accused of domestic violence,” Dr. Boyce said. “But if you look more deeply at what is going on, you realize that the goal fits right in with the scary-looking black men around him, and carries the spirit and voice of a black man (Tyler, The Creator) who, at times, has shown a degree of immaturity when it comes to sexism. It’s not a stretch to imagine a man who made a song called, “Bitch Suck Dick,” might be a wee bit insensitive to the issues being brought up in this ad.
“As a father of daughters myself, I admit that it takes a very long time to unlearn the sexism that is taught in our society.”
But what about the fact that the misogyny was considered a secondary offense at best, and ignored at worst in a dialogue focused on patriarchal racism? Is it because one-dimensional race issues are considered by some to be a “man’s” issue that takes precedence over a “woman’s” issue?
“I wouldn’t say that it was ignored and I can only speak of my own response,” said Dr. Boyce. “Personally, I wrote about racism because I believe that most of us response to the societal ailments that affect us the most. I’ve rarely been a victim of sexism, other than when my daughters force to play Trey Songz on the radio when I want to listen to Ice Cube.
“But to your point, ignorance is not always a crime, as long as your mind is open for being educated. Once someone (i.e. Kirsten WS) made me aware of other things going on in this ad, I too supported efforts to speak to those matters as well.”
No, ignorance isn’t always a crime, but in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
We live in a “molly” culture where even the sexual assault prevention chief for the United States Air Force has been charged with sexual assault. In this rape culture, sixty percent of African-American girls have experienced sexual abuse before the age of eighteen. One-in-six white women reports their rape, while only one-in-sixteen African-American women report their assaults.
That speaks volumes in a community where it’s not only male “snitches who get stitches.”
Saying, “Hey, we apologize if we offended you, Black guys!” is not even in the vicinity of enough.
Women deserve an apology, and that should not be an optional afterthought. If we don’t hold PepsiCo and Mountain Dew — and their voluntary Hip-Hop scapegoats — accountable for being complicit in the glorification of sexual violence against women, then pulling the ad will be remembered as an incomplete victory.
Follow Kirsten West Savali on Twitter at @KWestSavali.