What this ad tells us about the state of racism today

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Ruby Hamad

The one and a half minute Jeep commercial that premiered during Sunday's Super Bowl features the usual sweeping shots of ...

The one and a half minute Jeep commercial that premiered during Sunday's Super Bowl features the usual sweeping shots of diverse landscapes, and equally diverse people.

The advertisement itself is not especially groundbreaking. Against the soundtrack of perennial American folk favourite, This Land Is Your Land, it is, if anything, rather typical of its genre, a sentimental Superbowl commercial. Wide in scope and patriotic in sentiment, the one and a half minute Jeep commercial that premiered during Sunday's Super Bowl features the usual sweeping shots of diverse landscapes, and equally diverse people.

Interestingly, it does veer off script a little to include lands other than America, incorporating representatives of other cultures and nations. These include Chinese peasants on river rafts (we could talk about patronising ethnic stereotypes here, but perhaps that's for another time); an Indian woman on the back of scooter, her long raven hair contrasting against her crimson sari, both of which are blowing wildly in the breeze; a young Muslim woman standing against a dry, desert backdrop, sporting a black hijab, smiling widely for the camera; kangaroos bounding across an Australian high-

Wait. Hold on. What? Let's backup for a second. Did you say a young Muslim woman in hijab smiling into the camera, in an American advertisement for an all-American car company that premiered on the all-American night of the all-American football final? An annual event that consistently draws in excess of 100 million viewers?

For those blissfully unaware of the cultural significance of the Super Bowl, let's start with this- a 30 second advertisement spot costs $US4.5 million. Advertisers premiere new commercials amidst great fanfare and anticipation. This is one television event where people watch as much for the commercials as for the actual sporting competition. All of the ads are dissected on social media. Legitimate media outlets recap them the next day.

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In others words, its a big deal. The biggest deal. So any company willing to fork out the cash would have put much thought into it. Not a frame would be included without a full consideration of its possible implications including any possibility of a social media backlash.

And backlash there was. Here is a small sample:

It's hard to believe that Jeep would not have been prepared for this. Not least because of a bigger backlash that greeted a (very) similar Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad last year, which, having the gumption to feature a soundtrack of America The Beautiful sung partly in Spanish and Arabic (and which also featured a hijabi looking into the camera) ignited quite the furore of the "Speak English!" variety.

It was an outrage that I find a little amusing given that both English and Spanish are colonialist tongues that have been spread by force and imposed on Indigenous cultures all over the world. But I digress. Given last year's Coca-Cola backlash, Jeep would have known that some degree of anger and discontent was not just possible but likely. But they did it anyway.

Of course there are other issues with this ad, not least the environmental impact of cars. So, while I am hesitant to heap too much praise on big corporations such as Jeep, and am particularly loathe to applaud anything to do with the gaudy, consumerist spectacle that is the Superbowl, there is one thing that the inclusion of the woman in hijab tells me. And that is, that despite the best efforts of Islamophobes and Islamist radicals, who are ostensibly diametrically opposed in ideology and worldview, and yet who are both equally adept at making the lives of Muslims in the west difficult at best, and unbearable at worst, Muslims are going mainstream in the west.

Yes, it was likely a deliberately controversial inclusion, but, given the stakes if Jeep had thought that there was even a chance that the angry backlash would be louder and more widespread than if not approval, then at least indifference to the inclusion of a smiling Muslim woman, then they would surely have scrapped it. On that note, the ad was welcomed by battle-weary Muslims relieved and amused at their mainstream inclusion. 

There will always be those who gnash their teeth and rage against any sign of social progress and who do their best to regress to a supposedly glorious past era which only really ever existed in their minds and perhaps on their television screens. But those people are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

For two years in a row, women in hijabs have been afforded a space in the most American of occasions. And those of us invested in challenging racism and bigotry can finally take heart. Our hard work is not for naught. Our attempts to humanise Muslims by overriding the negative messages and stereotypes is starting to pay off.

And if it takes something as tacky and over the top as the American Super Bowl to show us that, then so be it.