When Jim Crow Drank Coke


THE opposition by the New York State chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s restrictions on sugary soda caught many Americans by surprise. But it shouldn’t: though the organization argues it is standing up for consumer choice and minority business owners, who it claims would be hurt, this is also a favor for a stalwart ally — Coca-Cola alone has given generously to support N.A.A.C.P. initiatives over the years.

This is more than a story of mutual back-scratching, though. It is the latest episode in the long and often fractious history of soft drinks, prohibition laws and race.


One thought on “When Jim Crow Drank Coke

  1. Ravenna Napp-Shapiro

    I’d like to disagree with the second to last paragraph of this article that states, “It took time, but the new tack worked: today the racial line between the soda companies, even in the South, is a dim memory, and the soft-drink industry is on good terms with one of its largest demographic markets: African-Americans.” There may not be a racial line between soad companies but that’s not really what matters. What actually matters is that the soft-drink industry is not on good or bad terms with African Americans but that the relationship is complex (like everything else).

    Reading the part of the article that talks about the Pepsi chief executive hiring “a team of 12 African-American men to create a “negro markets” department,” raises questions surrounding the idea of intention. When writing our white caucus mission statement in class I remember a classmate responding to my proposal of putting something like “We as the white caucus at Prescott College intend to …” and promptly changing my understanding of the word. Although I can’t recall their exact words, I know that their main point was that anti-racist work is really not about intention but about outcome. Someone can be very good intentioned but at the end of the day their actions either make the wounds of oppression a little deeper or contribute to the healing of those wounds.

    I return to this lesson (which I am very grateful for) in relation to this article because it makes me wonder: Can bad intentions work in the opposite way? For example, when Coca Cola finally realized that Pepsi’s attack on Coca Cola’s “racist” agenda was going to cost them significantly and in response began giving money to the N.A.A.C.P., did that help or hurt those wounds of oppression? Of course both soda company’s intentions were not rooted in an anti-racist struggle, pursuit for collective liberation, or fight for the revolution. They did it for money. Both companies are included in the top ten companies that rule the world, both companies are present in prisons and schools, and both companies have video advertisements in which their canned beverages do “the Harlem Shake.”

    My question after reading this article about the intertwined history of soda companies and race is can their (soda company’s) capitalist agenda be useful in the struggle for racial justice?


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