That Heineken Ad Isn’t Sweet; It’s Dangerous

It’s supposed to be heartwarming. Strangers work together on a project and get to know one another, not knowing anything about each other’s politics. Then they watch videos of each other describing their views, and they’re given a choice — leave, or sit down and discuss over a beer. They choose the beer and connection, and all goes swimmingly.

Look, I get the premise. Build bridges, see each other as people, talk through the discomfort, etc. Kumbaya all around.

But here’s the problem. With the exception of the two white men who disagree about climate change, the participants in the experiment are not on equal footing. The trans woman is being asked to have a beer with a white man who thinks her existence is wrong and she is disgusting. The Black woman is supposed to empathize with a white man who thinks women should “have our babies.” In those pairings, one party is being asked to sit down with someone who denies their humanity and basic rights.

This is the danger of the feel-good “let’s just talk to each other” approach. It’s just a more cuddly version of that horrible bothsidesism that equates being called a racist with actual racism as reasons for hurt and anger. Both sides are not the same. The transphobe who agrees to have a beer with the trans woman is sacrificing nothing. She, on the other hand, is giving up a certain amount of dignity by breaking bread with someone who thinks she shouldn’t have the right to exist. She’s risking her mental and physical safety, volunteering for the hard emotional labor of arguing for her right to be a person. And with ads like this, that labor is being demanded of her with no consideration of how much it may cost. Worse, it’s heavily implied that if she were to walk away, it would make her just as intolerant as the bigot who views her with disgust.

Not all viewpoints are equal. Not all olive branches are earned. And it is not in the service of justice to demand emotional labor of marginalized people while praising bigots for doing the bare minimum to act like humans on a single occasion.

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