Like any good red-blooded American, I ate too much, drank too much, and screamed a whole lot on Super Bowl Sunday. Not only did this Jersey girl get to see the Eagles win for the first time (#FLYEAGLESFLY), but my inner Diversity Diva got pelted with one problematic ad after another. Lots of articles today are out about the “Do You Want to Feel Like a Good Person? Then Buy Stuff!” trope that most advertisers followed, but really, Sunday night serves as a perfect example of this nation’s perception on diversity — and why it’s so flawed.
For those that opted for the Puppy Bowl instead (yes, it’s a real thing), viewers saw:
T-Mobile go with babies of different races
Toyota opt for Paralympic athletes
Ram appropriate a speech by MLK to sell us trucks (which conveniently left out the part that slams capitalism).
CLICK TO SHARE AND TWEET: Spoiler alert: feel-good, diversity #SuperBowlAds show how flawed many companies’ perception of diversity is.
Watching these Super Bowl ads in a short time span elucidates how ridiculous corporate America can be on social issues, but the truth is these ads are heavily researched reflections of our culture. We know diversity is important, but can’t really explain why — other than to prove we’re not bigots. Celebrating “the others” (whether they’re people of color, differently abled, or LGBT) makes us feel good — as long as it doesn’t cost us anything. The problem is that we think of diversity as some generic value, not as a tool to combat inequality. Keeping it in the abstract has allowed, and continues to allow, corporate America to kill two birds with one stone: They come off as a force for good while simultaneously commodifying historically marginalized communities. They use this “diversity dressing” as a marketing tool to reassure buyers that we’re good people and ease the guilt of our role in furthering record inequality.
Companies have plenty of ways to use diversity as a tool to promote inclusion in their footprints. Not only do they have real impact, they end up driving innovation and benefiting the bottom line. Companies like Kaiser Permanente commit to supplier diversity, the practice of contracting with companies owned by people of color, women, veterans, and LGBTQ folks. Others like Intel pledge pay equity in their workforces. Sure, workforce and supplier diversity aren’t nearly as sexy as civil rights speeches and big-budget Super Bowl ads, but they do put dollars in the pockets of those who bear the brunt of inequality.
Let’s end by uplifting the one shining light last night (besides the Birds’ win of course). We saw the announcement of Blacture, an online platform to “showcase black excellence.” Blacture isn’t set to launch until the Spring, but I’m all here for its call to have black culture celebrated instead of tolerated. Something tells me they won’t use MLK to sell expensive trucks.
Danielle Beavers is Greenlining’s Diversity and Inclusion Director. Follow her on Twitter.