The Heineken Ad: Our story is our power
Why this simple call to action is bold, not dangerous; wise, not stupid.
As I watched the short advertisement by Heineken (seen below) I began to tear up. I didn’t think of anything in particular. As I’m writing this now I’ve only watched it that one time and I’m holding on to the emotions that it provoked. I was touched by the simplicity. I was moved by the connection that was fostered. I was uplifted by the bravery of all involved. The ideas presented in this short clip are thoughts that have been circulating in my mind for months. We all, every human on earth, have shared experiences to build upon. Let’s start there.
As I watched the woman in the knit top tell her story of military experience and talk about her family I could see the man in blue relate to her in a very real way. He conveyed what might be his struggles with mental health. He had few preconceived notions and she had little information other than what she saw before her. It made me smile to see two people get to know each other. When I heard “We know each other better than most people should in just 10 minutes” I couldn’t help but think of the empowering experiences I’ve shared with relative strangers that have helped form bonds that have lasted decades.
The bald man in grey shared his struggles with homelessness and poverty. He shared his admiration for the black woman’s positivity and aura. He showed vulnerability. Each character seemed to share their truth in a genuine and honest way. By the end I was relating to every character. I was present in the moment, I allowed each interaction to speak independently and authentically. I was moved to tears.
Then I started to see the myriad dissenting opinions flood in from writers and bloggers, and all over social media. Some comparing it to the Pepsi ad from early this year, saying, “The Heineken ad is worse…you’re just too stupid to know it.” Others asserting, “It’s Dangerous” and some of my friends on social media were sharing their malcontent and rage. It took me by surprise. Then I started to see the trend.
Over the past few years there has been a growing sentiment among up and coming (read millennial, if you will) social justice warriors, that it is not the responsibility of the marginalized to “educate” the privileged. I shared another similar story about a year ago. One writer states, “She’s risking her mental and physical safety, volunteering for the hard emotional labor of arguing for her right to be a person.” Didi Delgado claims the ad “ends with everyone smiling and laughing over their bigotry and diminished humanity,” but it’s funny that she calls anyone who disagrees with her position, “too stupid” to know it’s bad. Maybe I’m crazy, but The DiDi Delgado doesn’t that kind of ableist name-calling diminish the humanity of your reader?
I cannot dismiss the responsibility of everyone involved in a dialogue to invest emotionally and do their due diligence to seek common ground. There is truth to what Audre Lorde calls the “drain of energy” as we, the oppressed seek to share our story with others. It is hard work. To do that over and over again with same players is exhausting. Activists and those speaking to the crowd are often drowned out. They do the hard work of telling the story of their community or their cause to create awareness. It’s taxing to repeat those talking points online, on social media, in blogs and papers, town halls and state houses, in congress and beyond.
But this is not what is happening in the Heineken ad.
These dissenting opinions conflate activism with individual relationships. They zoom out and regard the interactions as representative of entire swathes of humanity. They presumed that the feminist and trans woman we’re the only two being vulnerable. They neglect the stories of mental health struggles, homelessness, and poverty. They neglect the gift of presence in each moment. They neglect that this ad provides a glimpse into conversations had between two people. It really is that simple.
Interpersonal relationships require, yes require, mutual trust. If you refuse that, as these authors project, if you deny that, as they say should be done, then you refuse and deny that relationship and its potential. Our relationships build our communities. Our communities form coalitions between ideologically, philosophically, physically, or otherwise different groups, that in turn form the society we live in. Our society is built on the stories we know, understand, and share. If we can’t build relationships between two people of differing backgrounds and ideals then how can we build a functioning society?
Yes, we need to be wise. Yes, we have personal limits. It’s always OK to say no. It’s always essential to guard our personal security. But our individual story is our greatest asset for freedom and for expression and for progress. Our story is our power.
When we ask people outside our community to “educate themselves” we’re in effect shirking our opportunity to personalize and shape that learning experience. When we tell them “It’s not my job to educate you,” we’re erasing our story from their experience. Whether out of fear or exhaustion or a sense of self-preservation, our story isn’t told. We’re silencing ourselves and the great impact our story has to empower us personally, to inspire understanding and compassion in the listener, and to motivate the bystander to raise up their voice as well.
When we tell people to “educate themselves” we forget that someone before us had to share their beliefs, their heartaches, their struggles, their reality, their truth, their story in order for it to be made available today. We’re exhibiting our modern privilege in a time when the stories of so many pioneers of civil liberties, environmentalism, and progress are readily available. So saying that marginalized communities don’t have to educate others is inherently false. Because it was done by those who have gone before you, and at a much likely greater cost, does not negate your responsibility in the here and now. The beauty of this Heineken ad is its simplicity. It tells us to open our world. That’s inclusive, intersectional, a two-way dialogue.
Sharing our story is our right. It’s our privilege. It is our duty. Otherwise we abandon our voice. We make ourselves small, insignificant. If we all silence ourselves because educating others “isn’t our responsibility” then who will speak up?
When we have an agenda, even in the one on one relationship, that vulnerability and the emotional labor and educational homework is on us. No matter how real our belief is to us, the other’s belief is equally real to them. And though society is slowly evolving we can’t expect each and every human being to be evolving at the same pace. So let’s take it one conversation at a time. Let’s build relationships and get to know those who surround us.
We’re their neighbors, coworkers, restaurant servers, brothers, sisters, friends, cousins, their customers, their leaders, their mothers and fathers. We are their fellow citizens. We are all in this together. If we refuse to have the difficult and uncomfortable conversations that make our story real in their life, then how will they learn?
How will they know that they are hurting us?
If we refuse to tell them our story, how will they know the impact of their choices on our lives?
How will they know the impact of their words on our heart?
How will they know the impact of their vote on our families?
How will they know that we’re hurting if we don’t tell them?
If that Trump voter at the Piggly Wiggly’s doesn’t know that her favorite cashier is an immigrant lesbian single mom, how will she know of our kindness?
How can they understand the diversity of their very own community if we don’t allow them to see our beautiful and empowering differences?
How can they put a face to the pain we speak of when they don’t know we’re here?
We have to speak up, otherwise it’s too comfortable for them to continue along their path content in their perception. To quote Audre Lorde once more, “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
We’re witnessing an evolution of human history. We are the evolution of the human species. We are different from the previous generations. We are learning. Our inclusion in the daily human dialogue is new. Our LGBT or feminist story is not more important than the story of mental health rights or the injustice of homelessness and poverty. The story of every person of color does not negate the story of the white westerner. They are but pieces of our vast and diverse humanity. They are all stories that deserve their place in our intersectional history of the homo sapiens, the human anthology. Some of those stories that have long been silenced need to be heard now more than others. They must be told. It would be nice if society would just open their arms and love us but we’ve all still got a lot of work to do, we still have stories to tell.
It’s the reality of progress. It’s hard work. One or two leaders are often held up in reverie but the reality is that every voice forms the uprising in the crowd and that chorus cannot be unheard, it becomes the anthem of our history. Change demands every single voice; not just the Ghandis, Kings, Milks, and Anthonys. When we raise our voice, even whisper our truth the human experience grows richer and we have exacted our power and influence upon the story of our species.
So have that conversation. Sit down and have that beer. Share your truth. There’s a reason we’ve been telling stories since time can remember, our story is our power.