Is there anything more quintessentially American than Coca-Cola?
If you were a cynic, you could probably answer “frivolous lawsuits and cash grabs.”
It looks like one pair of urban pastors apparently thinks so. They’re leading a lawsuit against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association. Their claim is that Coke is unfairly targeting and — you guessed it — killing black people.
“William Lamar, the senior pastor at D.C.’s historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, is tired of presiding over funerals for parishioners who died of heart disease, diabetes and stroke,” reported The Washington Post.
That frustration is reasonable at first glance. After all, no pastor would want to watch his congregation struggle with health issues.
However, the lawsuit goes beyond simple health concerns and throws race directly into the mix.
“Lamar and Delman Coates, the pastor at Maryland’s Mount Ennon Baptist Church, claim soda marketing has made it more difficult for them to protect the health of their largely black, D.C.-based parishioners,” continued The Post.
Their claim is that so-called “people of color” — a vague term at best — have higher instances of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease than white Americans. Beverage makers target blacks, and especially black children, with advertising that turns childhood consumption of soda into a lifelong habit — with consequences for the health.
“There’s a health crisis in the U.S., especially in our communities, and especially among children,” explained Xavier Morales, the executive director of the “social change” organization the “Praxis Project,” which is joining the pastors in the lawsuit.
“They [cola companies] target our communities with their marketing. We’re going into those communities trying to save lives, and they’re going out and erasing our message,” Morales declared.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control backs up the claim that black and Hispanic citizens have higher rates of obesity and diabetes than whites. The second part of the lawsuit’s claim is much harder to back up.
The crux of the argument is that black people are specifically targeted by cola advertising, and are influenced against their will to drink unhealthy sugary beverages.
“It’s become really clear to me that we’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets,” stated Coates. The pastor cited instances members of his congregation giving bottles filled with soda drink to their infants.
“There’s a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think that’s largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns,” he continued, according to the Post.
Unsurprisingly, Coca-Cola dismissed the allegations and quickly defended the product.
“The allegations here are likewise legally and factually meritless, and we will vigorously defend against them,” the company said in a statement. “The Coca-Cola Company understands that we have a role to play in helping people reduce their sugar consumption.“
The American Beverage Association, which is one of the defendants in the lawsuit, echoed Coke’s response.
“Beverages are not driving obesity rates,” the organization said. “Obesity has been going up steadily for years while soda consumption has been going down steadily. Shouldn’t obesity rates have gone down with the reduction in soda consumption if the two are connected?”
At the end of the day, both sides of the debate have valid points.
Black communities certainly do have a problem with preventable healthcare challenges — and in the era of “Black Lives Matter,” fighting obesity and heart disease would go dramatically further in increasing African American life expectancy than holding signs or blaming guns.
With that said, there’s something quietly unsettling about linking Coca-Cola with minority health issues. To borrow a term, it is “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
In other words, it is borderline racist to believe that a black person is somehow unable to resist the siren call of sugary or fattening foods. Presumably, African-Americans are just as able to make healthy choices and put down the soft drinks as people of any other race or color.
If Coke is so unhealthy, the solution is painfully simple: Don’t put it in your mouth. That simple decision would be far more effective and less distasteful than yet another frivolous lawsuit.
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