Below is the paper I wrote for my Identity, Power and Difference class at Iliff School of Theology. I am pursuing my MDiv partly because I am struggling with my gifts and how I am using them. I love my creative and dynamic job. But I am basically helping the biggest companies in the world come up with new products that make more money for themselves, and in some cases, are directly in contrast with the values that I hold dear.
The first class you have to take at Iliff is on Identity, Power and Different. I love Iliff for this–that they believe that you have to understand how power struggles, race, oppression and colonialism play into our society before we can look at anything theologically. My understanding of the world took a quantum leap through that class in ways that I could never articulate, but basically I “get it” more now–and I know there is oh so much more that I don’t understand.
As a final paper, I decided to write on this tension between my new learning and my current job. I haven’t figured out what to do about it yet, but I recognize that the tension is real and demands action on my part.
The video above is an all-too-real depiction of this tension.
Identity, Power and Difference—Final Paper
Christine Dance, November 17, 2015
A Seminarian, recently made more aware of racism, power and oppression, walks into a corporate global strategy session…
What is a marketing and innovation consultant to do when the last fifteen years of her career has been spent helping global companies come up with new products and furthering their capitalistic goals of furthering the reach of their global brands—and then solidly confirming her fears that her efforts are actually harming the world and creating more inequality and oppression?
For this paper, I am discussing globalization in the context of corporations expanding their brands across the globe as a manifestation of capitalization. This globalization is primarily an economic movement, but it has also been studied for its sociological and international political implications. But what are we to make of the THEOLOGY of globalization? What are the moral and theological implications of globalization and what is our duty to our fellow human beings (and earth) in this global conquest?
The Link Between Globalization and Oppression
After several weeks to consider the impact of our learning during Gathering Days, I have found myself mostly dwelling on my understanding of how globalization and oppression are linked.
- Settler Colonialism created a mindset and structure of oppression of any people who were seen as different than the race of the settlers.
- The United States is the ultimate super power in dictating what the “ideal” is in consumer experiences and products. And, despite marketers’ efforts to show more diversity in their communications, the ideal is still that which belongs to white, heterosexual, cis consumers. Anything else is seen as “less than.”
- This sense of “less than” creates a sense of otherness and an unequal sense of worth. This, combined with the pursuit of power and greed, furthers the environment for oppression on top of the historical and cultural layers that already exist.
- Because consumers in other countries around the world want to adopt more of the United States’ brands, lifestyle, and living standards, global companies are in a unique position to both take advantage of this unequal power dynamic and to further it at the same time.
My Realities of Globalization
I have a very unique vantage point of globalization as an innovation consultant for global Fortune 500 companies. I work on one brand at a time to help them create new products that they can introduce to their global marketplace, but I can also see the trends that have been happening over the last few years:
GLOBAL STRUCTURES: Companies are setting up more Global structures. Where they used to be organized by market (US, Europe, Asia, etc.) and each market was targeted independently, companies are looking for efficiencies by combining efforts and creating more “one-size-fits-all” efforts. While this is a difficult task for them, it will result in more homogenous products that have less and less of the market-specific relevance.
SHOW ME THE MONEY: At the end of the day, it comes down to money—absolutely and completely. While companies speak of corporate responsibility, diversity and human capital, their end goal has been and will be to make more money. They are looking to “grow market share,” and “increase penetration.” The Upper Management gives aggressive growth goals and the people under them know that they need to meet them, no matter what.
PEOPLE BEHIND THE MORALITY: The individual people who are making the decisions that lead to unequal treatment, economic bifurcation of the rich and the poor and further oppression here in the US and beyond are decent people. There is not a person I have met at any level of an organization that does not think they are a good and moral person. This, I believe, is at the root of my understanding and of the problem. These are just ordinary Americans who go to work everyday, do their best to accomplish the organization’s objectives and get a paycheck to support their family and live the American Dream. There is a real disconnect between the objectives that the company tells them (determine how to sell people more stuff) and the moral implications of those objectives. Like many issues of racism and power, the fact that the individuals don’t recognize that a problem exists is the first and biggest hurdle. And, even if they did, the majority of employees don’t feel empowered to do anything about it. Therefore, the system will be furthered without an extreme structure shift. The challenge goes beyond the inherent greediness of capitalization. The hierarchical structure of corporations leads to a competition for power. Indeed, the definition of success in the corporate world is getting promoted and making more money. And how do individuals do that? By demonstrating that they can make more money for the corporation than their counterparts.
Social Marketing Doesn’t Mean Squat
The landscape looks like it is changing because of the preponderance of social marketing efforts. The overabundance of breast cancer efforts is just one example—wearing pink for breast cancer has been one of the most prolific social marketing efforts in history. This has made a difference as breast cancer was something that was taboo just a few decades ago. But the initiative has become so prolific that it is now almost cliché. Just recently, support for GLBT issues has become more acceptable. One of my clients, Frito Lay, just had a promotion supporting GLBT efforts with their Doritos brand. I know this wouldn’t have happened without data showing that this promotion would increase brand support—it is done for marketing reasons rather than theological or moral reasons. Unfortunately, there are no brands that are standing up against racism and #BlackLivesMatter. This is too controversial of a topic for brands to even contemplate touching. When they do, we will know that the tides are turning, but they will not be the ones initiating it; they will follow the popular opinion. Others will have to do the heavy lifting like the #BlackLivesMatter protest at the Mall of America last December or the protest of Shell at the Belgium Grand Prix.
There have been some improvements over the last 15 years that I have been in this business. There are many more women in positions of power in organizations (although not in the very top positions) and companies are striving to hire more diverse employees into their workforce (although the white male culture of corporations makes it exponentially more difficult for them to ascend the ladder). But overall, my hope that the system can change is very bleak. Despite some of our politicians determining that corporations are people, corporations lack a soul. They have no moral compass and don’t feel any real obligation to serve our fellow human beings. That sense of morality is a uniquely human attribute that only works on an individual level; once humans are lumped together collectively then that moral compass disappears. Changing that feels like trying to roll a rock up from the bottom of the ocean.
My biggest emotions after our live IPD classes were along the lines of “So what do we do?” and “How can I change this?” I did learn that it is absurd and even a sign of my privilege to think that I can change it. Nonetheless, I can’t help but have the same feeling when I think of Globalization and Oppression. I did some reading to see what other perspectives are being discussed.
In a fascinating article, V. Spike Peterson says the key to changing the oppressive nature of globalization is to understand the gender roles that corporations have systematized. He says that it is not exclusively men who have been elevated, it is the masculine behavior that has become the governing code for corporations. Masculine behaviors like reason and agency are seen as having value and feminine behaviors like emotion and dependence are devalued. We have normalized masculine behavior so that it is pervasive and we don’t even notice it anymore. Furthermore, we have taken any minorities and “feminized” them as a way to devalue them. This applies to blacks, Hispanics, gays, and of course, women.
In a collection of essays “Globalization and Race” explores how blackness is being redefined around the globe. The common theme of many of these essays is the marketing of culture—primarily American culture—as a way for other cultures to redefine what it means to be black.
So What Is a Seminarian/Marketer To Do?
First of all, like the race issue, I need to let go of the idea that I need to DO anything about globalization. Most importantly, I need to understand that it is and be aware of the impact of it on me and others around me. However, as a Unitarian Universalist, I feel strongly that it is my role to recognize where systems are unjust and to speak up about them. Furthermore, I believe that my position as a future minister with such a rich and varied background in global marketing and innovation, I have a unique perspective and therefore an opportunity and obligation to raise awareness and promote change. Some of the things—big and small—that I think I can offer are:
- Write sermons to raise awareness of the link between how corporations act and the issues of racism and oppression.
- Give my perspective of what efforts have an impact on corporate behavior (public demonstrations, letter writing, government pressure, social media) and which ones don’t (personal boycotts, bumper stickers).
- Empower teams that come through my innovation processes to be aware of the power that they wield in subtle ways. For example, to talk about the masculinization of the corporate structure with the women I work with to have them recognize the inequitable power structures. Also to tell my story of my perceived lack of power and how I realized that I did have the power to make moral decisions.
- When I eventually leave my job, to freely tell my clients why I am leaving (without disparaging my employer). My marketing skills are very valued and for my clients to see that my conscience is the reason I’m walking away from a very lucrative career will definitely have an impact.
A Seminarian, recently made more aware of racism, power and oppression, walks out of the global strategy business….
I believe, when my time at Seminary is over, I will look back at this class and see it as a seminal point in my transformation into a Unitarian Universalist minister. I decided that I wanted to pursue seminary because I was finding it harder and harder to reconcile my values with the corporate projects that bring me income. Through this class, I understood the conflict better while at the same time the conflict itself was intensified. But it also helped put it in perspective. And, despite my sense that both racism and the negative effects of globalization are very difficult to change, my resolve to do my small part to change them is now solidly set in motion.
Clarke, Kamari Maxie and Deborah A. Thomas, editors. Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.
Peterson, V. Spike. “Interactive and Intersectional Analytics of Globalization.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 2009, Vol 30, Issue 1, p 31-40.
“Greenpeace Protest at Shell Belgian F1 Grand Prix Event—video.” The Guardian. August 27th, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2013/aug/27/shell-belgian-f-1-grand-prix-greenpeace-protest