You would expect New York City—one of the nation’s most diverse cities, in which more than a third of its 8 million residents are born in a foreign country—to be a haven for tolerance. But, a recent incident of subway graffiti would indicate otherwise.
On Sunday, as I was monitoring my social media feeds, I noticed a striking photograph of a Gap Inc. subway clothing advertisement taken by a friend and NYC photographer, Robert Gerhardt, which he took on the “downtown platform on the 6 train at the Buhre Avenue stop in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx” in New York City just a few days prior.
The Gap subway clothing advertisement in question depicted a turbaned Indian Sikh-American, Waris Ahluwahlia, an actor and fashion designer, next to a female model with the caption “Make Love.” followed by the Gap logo.
Some racist idiots decided to scratch out “Make Love” and replace it with “Make Bombs.” Another genius decided to use a black Sharpie to write “Please stop driving taxis” under the advertisement’s caption, as well.
As a media commentator (and person of color) who regularly talks about issues related to race, ethnicity and identity issues on a daily basis, I could not sit on my hands and do nothing. So when I saw this GAP subway advertisement defaced by vandals with racist messages, I wanted the world to see how millions of brown people are viewed in American today.
So I proceeded to post this photograph to my 40,000+ Twitter and Facebook followers and asked them to share this photograph with their friends to try and create some social media buzz and overall awareness.
After hundreds of re-tweets and Facebook shares by people of all colors and backgrounds around the country, there was so much social media buzz in less than one day that Gap contacted me directly after hearing about its vandalized advertisement and wanted to know the exact location.
In addition to Gap’s rocket-fast attempt to find out more details about the situation, I have to say that the best part about the company’s response to this social media campaign is that it currently has the Sikh model as their current Twitter background photo below.
More than anything else, though, the moral of this story is to prove yet again that we certainly do not yet live in a “post-racial America” since minorities like South Asians (or other brown folks perceived to be Muslim or Arab) cannot even grace fashion advertisements without having nasty racial epithets hurled their way.
But companies like Gap are doing a great job forging a path for minority and under-represented fashion models (like Waris Ahluwahlia above) who do not conveniently fit into our traditional American notions of beauty and actually challenge how we have superficially defined those terms since our country’s existence.
Because, as the year 2014 inches closer to us, I want to live in an America where a fashion model can be a handsome, bearded brown dude in a turban who is considered as beautiful as a busty blonde-haired white girl in see-through lingerie.