Performative Activism

by Jenin Mannaa

In the road to true allyship with the Black Lives Matter movement, each individual has a role to play.

In 2014, Eric Garner’s death at the hands of a police officer was one of several key impetuses that led to the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. Inspired by the wave of political activism that swept the Millennial generation, PepsiCo released an advertisement with Kendall Jenner in April of 2017. A demonstration that emulates a Black Lives Matter protest is featured, culminating when Kendall Jenner comes forth to the police—who are blocking the streets—and hands one of them a can of soda.

The Kendall Jenner/PepsiCo commercial is a prime example of performative activism, which is “a form of activism used to increase one’s social capital or personal gain rather than genuine support towards a movement, issues, or causes” (Ira). The PepsiCo commercial disrespects the Black Lives Matter movement through their mockery of a protest and their inclusion of something referred to as a “white savior.”

After viewing the PepsiCo commercial, the members of the Black Lives Matter movement took to Twitter to articulate their incredulity. A poignant tweet came from Taryn Finley, the editor of HuffPost’s Black Voices, who posted, “The gleeful celebration over the fact that the police officer takes a sip of the Pepsi Jenner offers him is absurd. This scene makes it seem as if the price for positive social change in this country is as cheap as a can of soda” (via Dozé). PepsiCo naively depicts a Black Lives Matter protest as jubilant, which undermines the reality of systemic racism in America and the difficulty in terminating it.

There is also a lot of controversy surrounding the final scene of the commercial, which resembles one of the defining images of the Black Lives Matter movement: a photograph of Ieshia Evans, a 28-year old nurse being detained in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Smith). Kendall Jenner’s ability to confront a police officer fearlessly indicates her white privilege. The implication that she can exterminate systemic racism in America as a rich white woman—and as someone that our society traditionally deems as attractive—establishes a white savior complex. Incorporating a pivotal moment in the Black Lives Matter movement into an advertisement for a beverage is disrespectful in nature and reveals how a snack and beverage company does not have the ethos to make political commentary. The commercial approximately cost $2 million dollars for production alone. Investing in a BLM organization would have sufficed if PepsiCo truly wanted to pay their respects to the Black community.

With the wave of political activism sweeping the nation from 2020 to 2021, it is vital to learn from PepsiCo’s mistakes and make sure we are genuine in our allyship. The first maneuver in genuine allyship is recognizingyour privilege and sparking constructive conversations. The foundation of change is acknowledging when one of your family members, friends, or acquaintances is in the wrong and taking the time to educate them on their racist conduct. Another example of genuine allyship is confronting and unlearning your own implicit bias. You may not recognize your own prejudiced tendencies, which can be amended with continuous education and open conversation (Ira). It all starts with each individual in the pathway to achieving liberty and justice for all.

About Jenin Mannaa

Jenin Mannaa is a rising senior at Dunlap High School. Her stellar academic performance has granted her entrance to the National Honors Society at her school. Jenin has expressed her love for advocacy through her involvement on the Dunlap Speech Team as Junior and Senior Captain. Within speech, her primary goal has been expressing her identity as a Muslim American woman. Jenin attended IHSA State for Oratorical Declamation her junior year of high school. Within her speech team, she was also awarded Sophomore and Junior MVP. Jenin’s passion for the arts is evident through her involvement in Stage 323, where she was inducted in the International Thespian Society. She has also been involved in Concert Choir, Women’s Chorale, and Show Choir throughout her high school career. Moreover, her devotion to garnering support for ethnic minorities motivated Jenin to create Dunlap’s UNICEF Club, which educates students about the tribulations of underprivileged individuals in impoverished countries. Within UNICEF, she leads fundraisers, and within the first few months of the club she raised approximately $500. During her summers, Jenin has spent over 200 hours volunteering at the Unity-Point Methodist Hospital within the daycare or shadowing various doctors within Peoria.

About Sophie Liu 

Sophie Liu is a senior at Dunlap High School who has won numerous art prizes such as the Scholastic Art and Writing Gold Key Award and several honorable mentions. As someone who also values academics, business, and volunteering, she has participated in and led many activities in her community. Her volunteering contribution has awarded her the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award. She is one of the club leaders of her school’s Interact Volunteering Club. During her summers, Liu has participated in several business camps such as Kelley Business’s Young Women’s Institute, where she has gained knowledge and experience in her passion. She also runs her own online art business where she creates commissioned art pieces and gains firsthand business experience. Liu plans to continue her love of business, volunteering, and art in college, where she will major in either Marketing or Business Analytics and minor in art.