One of the most worrying aspects of our society is the extraordinary racism and sexism that continues to permeate it. Look around you—look at the UNC poster on the wall or the picture of Kim Kardashian’s birthday party from the Instagram feed on your phone.
Beneath the message they consciously display—that you like the Heels or that you’re in tune with pop-culture trends—can lie a more sinister one. Notice that the poster shows a black person who is famous for playing basketball while the Instagram post shows a white person who is famous for being famous.
This racial disparity is just one of the many forms of discrimination in our society today; others include the gender pay-gap or the intensely-negative sentiments towards Muslims.
However, more dangerous than just the existence of this discrimination is the way that it is perpetuated. Discrimination is peddled not only by bigots with orange faces, but also by the defining facet of our American society: commercialism.
Beyond various other material issues that this system creates, the far and-away worst part of commercialism is its ability to perpetuate cultural norms that are—very unfortunately— xenophobic, racist or sexist.
The genius of modern commercialism is advertising. The best advertisements have always been the ones that appeal to their audience on a subconscious level—they appeal to desires that I myself may not even realize I have.
It isn’t until I see my favorite rapper wearing Vans that—on a subconscious level—I realize I want a pair. While this subconscious marketing does fit into our increasingly globalized and capitalist world—a world that brings some marked upsides—it has some distinct downsides.
The negative side of advertising can also be seen in the Vans example; Vans uses Black rappers to market their shoes, preying upon the societal expectation that there is something cool about being black and making music to drive up sales. Black rappers aren’t often seen in advertisements for things that imply a more settled, suburban or white lifestyle—things like cleaning products or groceries.
This race-based divide in advertising is just one example of a plethora of discriminatory undertones perpetuated by commercialism. The effects of these undertones can be characterized only as extremely negative, and it’s something that I’ve recently begun to notice more and more in my daily life.
However, advertising isn’t the only industry guilty of perpetuating those aforementioned attitudes through certain undertones.
Hollywood executives will often point to the monetary advantages of sticking with their tried-and-tested formats for white male-led movies, but what they’re actually talking about there is the very cycle that reinforces this archaic discrimination. Because films with white male leads have been successful, their success is mostly ensured just by pop-culture inertia. Therefore, executives who are just looking to turn a profit have very little motivation to try an alternative film format—perhaps one with female or non-white leads.
Don’t take this as an attack on capitalism or Hollywood, though. In most cases (I would hope), companies don’t even know beforehand that their products, content or advertisements are having such a negative impact on the national consciousness.
Instead, all the companies see is the easiest way to extract the most profit. And without regulations or incentives to make or market their products in any other way, there’s simply no reason for anything to change—especially when their current methods are working so well.
The United States’ GDP in 2013 was sixteen trillion dollars (World Bank). around 65 percent, or ten trillion dollars, of that was consumer spending (Bureau of Economic Analysis).
If we assume that discriminatory attitudes permeate even half of the consumer products in the US, then the pure immenseness of this problem could create disillusionment with our country’s ability to combat it.
But any small progress counts.
The biggest action I’ve taken in my personal battle against misogyny and racism is pointing out instances of these discriminatory feelings, in the hope that by consciously acknowledging the feelings, I will be better able to not perpetuate them through my own actions.
My confidence in our country—and in turn the rest of the world—in overcoming these issues stems from seeing an advent of conversations around sexism, racism and many other pressing issues in the past few years. No progress in fixing something can be made before the problems are acknowledged and diagnosed, and that’s the stage I’m at now.
Now, of course, it’s easy to just talk about fixing something; the hard part remains ahead, in actually implementing definitive and meaningful measures to end these problems, likely in the form of legislation. That stage represents the true challenge and is something that we should all hope to be a part of.