Tuesday, February 4, 2014

'America the Beautiful'? The Superbowl, the White Right, and Coca-Cola's History of Racism

White nativists and the present day heirs of the Know-Nothing Party in the GOP--to the degree they can be separated from one another--are upset about Coca-Cola's "America the Beautiful" commercial during the Superbowl. 

Their anger reflects a fear about a changing America where mediocre white people such as themselves are "losing" their country to "undeserving" black and brown folks.

Of course, it is obligatory that the White Right has deployed buckdancing, right-wing, self-hating, political black face performers such as Allen West to serve as mouthpieces for their racist sentiments about Coca-Cola's recent "America the Beautiful" commercial.

History laughs at us all; she does this both for sport and because of her own mercurial nature.

Jim and Jane Crow America was not limited to the iconic visuals of public memory such as segregated water fountains and discriminatory seating in buses. White supremacy was a total social order, one that extended even to soda consumption, and its marketing, in the United States.

The New York Times explored this in a recent piece by the historian Grace Elizabeth Hale:
Candler began marketing the drink as “refreshing” rather than medicinal, and managed to survive the controversy. But concerns exploded again after the company pioneered its distinctive glass bottles in 1899, which moved Coke out of the segregated spaces of the soda fountain. Anyone with a nickel, black or white, could now drink the cocaine-infused beverage.
Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to what they saw as exploding cocaine use among African-Americans. Southern newspapers reported that “negro cocaine fiends” were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them. By 1903, Candler had bowed to white fears (and a wave of anti-narcotics legislation), removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine.

Coke’s recipe wasn’t the only thing influenced by white supremacy: through the 1920s and ’30s, it studiously ignored the African-American market. Promotional material appeared in segregated locations that served both races, but rarely in those that catered to African-Americans alone.

Consequently, Coca-Cola was transformed into the white man's drink during the early part of the twentieth century. Likewise, Pepsi was slurred as "nigger Coke" because of its efforts to reach out to the African-American community in order to profit maximize by filling a market niche.
Stupidity often triumphs despite itself. On occasion, stupidity also wins because of how persistent willpower pays dividends in many areas of life.

To point. The Right-wing troglodytes who are upset about Coca-Cola's use of the song "America the Beautiful", which was written by a woman with populist leanings who happened to be a lesbian, are retrograde actors who want to pull Coca-Cola backwards and not forwards in terms of the company's racial politics.

And what is lost in all of this desperate performance by the White Right in their opposition to the company's multilingual performance of the song "America the Beautiful"? Coca-Cola is a multinational, global company, one that has no loyalty to either the United States or the White Right's antiquated notions of "real America".

Coca-Cola does not care about the White Right. It is beholden to the stockholders. Profits trump people. Of course, as is the habit of the Republican Party in the post civil rights era, white racial identity politics are preferred as a default strategy to avoid discussing how white racism and xenophobia hurts all Americans across the color line.


JGreyden said...

I remember reading an archived N.Y times article about negro cocaine fiend in which some white jerk went homicidal in some black guy's home and was upset about the number of bullets he had to use since his defenseless target seemed insensitive to pain. That was sheer madness.

And the guy was as affected as if it were some live action dungeon crawling video game and not some home invasion and murder in cold blood.

ANd i'm reading the same surreal detachment and the same eagerness to control black bodies in those comments in that link you gave..

And it just doesn't make sense to me, since they have empirically proven times and times again that they just do not have the necessary minimum empathy to just do a good business about this whole control for "our own good".

Myshkin the Idiot said...

There are a number of other reasons people could be boycotting Coca Cola Corporation. Aside from personal health reasons, Coca Cola happens to benefit from the executions of its workers who happen to be trying to unionize.


Coca Cola also over-consumes water resources in poor communities around the world. Coca Cola also generates a large amount of waste at its plants around the world.


The truly sickening aspect of their multicultural America the Beautiful is that despite all of that, they can get people to sing a song in their home language praising a company and a nation that has contributed to their destruction.

chauncey devega said...

Spot on. But what to do about the "real Americans" whose feelings have been hurt?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Call em bigots and tell em to shut the hell up.

I like the dissection you've offered since it happened of past American xenophobia and the present nativism anti-multiculturalism of conservatives.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I'm just recalling, I think i have heard that slur for Pepsi... it would have been my stepdad who said it if my memory is right. I think he was born in the late forties, for a timeline there...

lioness said...

a changing America where mediocre white people such as themselves are
"losing" their country to "undeserving" black and brown folks.

And to think I'd given up finding someone who actually understood The Bell Curve.

DanF said...

The good news is that I'm sure Coke market tested the crap out of this ad and knew there would be significant right-wing belching, but decided to go ahead and air it during the very 'Murkin! Super Bowl. This tells me that corporate America sees these haters as dead-enders. As you pointed out, Coke doesn't really give a crap about anything but the bottom line, and the bottom line now favors more tolerance and acceptance. That's a win.

DanF said...

Admittedly, I'm more than a glass is half-full kinda guy. I look at a glass of water and am amazed that we live on a planet that not only has liquid water, but evolved life forms sophisticated enough to make a see-through vessel for holding it. AND our brains are large enough to make analogies about life-perceptions based upon it being full or not! Nothing short of amazing when you consider our humble beginnings as single-celled organisms. Time and pressure do amazing things.

Gable1111 said...

And I would imagine Coke also saw how Cheerios actually benefited from not being cowed by the same set of bigots who howled over the multi racial family in one of their ads, and realized there is a market to be made in provoking the ugly underbelly of America. People not only want to be associated with the positive, but increasingly see positive as not siding with irrational bigotry.

Gable1111 said...

Just like with the Cheerios ad, this Coke ad was yet another Rorschach test for the "we've come along way and done enough on race set. They see ugly when in reality its their own reflection staring back at them.

wawoo said...

And another way Coca Cola discriminated. The town I was born in, Quincy, Florida has long been part of a predominately African-American swath of Florida from Jefferson County, Monitcello, to the east to Jackson County, Marianna, to the west that was an artifact of the ante bellum slave based agricultural plantation economy that comtinued after the Civil War with a heavy handed dose of Jim Crow. One of the two banks in Quicy was owned by a cousin of the President and Chairman of Coca Cola. From after WWI, 1919, until the early 1950's but especailly from 1919 to 1940 if a favored white farmer got a loan from the bank the banker would suggest they also borrow to buy some Coca Cola stock. The end result being over 20 families that became quite wealthy, some in excess of $50 million and all in excess of $10 million. No African-American farmers were so favored.