Bizzy Emerson is a junior journalism major at MU. She writes about feminism and pop culture as an opinion columnist for The Maneater.
Is there a more talked-about model than Kendall Jenner? Some idolize her, praising her rise to the top of the modeling totem pole. Others, veteran supermodels included, deny Jenner the status of “supermodel,” crediting her success to her link to the infamous Kardashian family. Love her or hate her, Jenner has quickly become a household name in her short career, which is likely why Pepsi selected her as their spokesperson for their most recent advertising campaign.
The ad featured Jenner removing herself from the glamorous model narrative and joining protesters participating in a march, mirroring a Black Lives Matter protest. It ends with Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi and celebrating. The cop takes a sip and smugly shrugs, as if the Pepsi has erased his prejudice and he now understands the message of the protesters — because a thin, beautiful, white woman handed him a Pepsi.
The backlash was immediate. Taryn Finley, Huffington Post Black Voices associate editor, wrote on Twitter, “Kendall Jenner gives a Pepsi to a cop and rids the world of -isms. Y'all can go somewhere with this tone-deaf, shallow and over-produced ad.”
The ad also drew criticism for blatantly recreating the scene of a black female protester getting arrested in Baton Rouge following the death of Alton Sterling.
In response to these critiques, Pepsi made the decision to pull the ad. In a statement, Pepsi said “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”
As someone who was also floored by the insensitivity of Pepsi’s ad, I am neutral about this apology. I appreciate Pepsi’s quick action in removing the ad but wish they had done something more to promote the message they were initially trying to spread, such as making a donation to a progressive organization. However, my neutrality ends when the company also apologizes to Kendall Jenner. Activist DeRay Mckesson put it best on his Twitter: “It’s incredible that @pepsi apologized to Kendall. She chose to be a part of that ad. Pepsi needs to apologize to the protesters.”
I find it difficult to believe that Jenner didn’t understand the implications of the ad when reading the script, or furthermore, when filming. If she was so unaware of the “white savior” complex she was unintentionally pushing, the blame shouldn’t be placed on Pepsi — it should be due to her own ignorance.
For Jenner to not recognize the tone-deaf nature of this ad perpetuates the “white feminist” and “All Lives Matter” agendas that have been peddled by squad leader Taylor Swift. These are messages that promote all people simply standing as one, disregarding the complexities that people of color face every day and attempting to unjustly level the playing field.
Jenner’s lack of apology and silence in the wake of this ad shows a lack of concern for the people she may have insulted or hurt. If Jenner wants to be an activist and make statements in the fashion world, she should take accountability when she falters.