I tried to reach out and give them this advice in person, but a series of non-returned phone calls reminded me again that perhaps they see me as the enemy. But then again, it might be the case that seeing your critic as an enemy means that you’re still in denial, like the alcoholic who gets angry at a family intervention.
But either way, here are some quick thoughts on Pepsico:
1) Pepsico MUST Adjust its corporate culture: The fact that Pepsico was sued for millions for racially-discriminating against its employees is a firm reminder that there is a problem within the company. Releasing this ridiculous ad shortly thereafter clearly implies that the issue has not been resolved. A lack of diversity in senior management could be a problem, or there could be no diversity in perspective. Black faces don’t save you if they either a) do not have an authentic and intelligent voice, or b) are afraid to use that voice. Nearly every black person I know saw the ad and immediately wanted to vomit, so I’m sure someone within the firm felt the same way.
2) The company must do more authentic outreach to the black community: With all the millions that Pepsico/Mountain Dew were willing to give Lil Wayne to buy more sizzurp, I am hopeful that they can use a fraction of those dollars to pay for scholarships, community centers and educational opportunities for impoverished communities. Putting money into the pocket of a hip-hop artist, the Tom Joyner Morning Show or your favorite civil rights leader is not the same as showing support for the African American community. If you’re going to use us for our consumer dollars, you should be investing in the people, not in artificial figureheads.
3) Replace Lil Wayne and Tyler the Creator with artists who are doing positive things: I felt bad that Tyler the Creator lost his contract, since he is not nearly as toxic as the worst artists out there. I can’t say I felt the same way about Lil Wayne, who refused to even apologize for his Emmett Till flap until it was too late. But I hope that as Pepsico decides how to replace the crater in its marketing plan created by Lil Wayne’s removal, they will look at some of the stronger black artists out there who don’t always get deals with companies like PepsiCo. Names like Common, Immortal Technique, Jasiri X or Vigalantee come to mind, and even my friend Rhymefest. These artists should, in turn, be asked to use their platforms to benefit the broader community, so that everyone in black America has a full incentive to “Do the Dew.”
Until corporations learn to implement serious and substantive change to their strategies, tragedies like this are going to continue to happen. Pepsico has learned time and time again, that racism doesn’t pay. But for some reason, they keep going right back to the well of corporate irresponsibility, driven by an insidious addiction to structural racism that plagues the very fabric of the American socioeconomic infrastructure. Like any addiction, withdrawal is not a comfortable process, and we all know that to overcome that which ails us, we can’t always look for the easy way out.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series called Commercialized Hip-Hop, the Gospel of Self-Destruction.