The Capitalism-ization of Diversity

Recently in the L-train subway a new set of subway ads have gone up marketing a Muslim-specific dating app.

I guess this is sort of a good thing, in the sense that Muslims in New York deserve as much as others to participate in the quagmire-hellhole that is online dating. Anything less would smack of inequality of opportunity! But online-dating-culture gripes aside, this feels like it’s part of a growing trend that I’ll ungracefully call “the capitalism-ization of diversity.”

Broadly, it seems like the market has figured out that it can extract value from relatively untapped markets by targeting minority groups with culturally specific marketing and product. Big banks change their logos for Pride or Black History Month, Marvel movies like Shang-Chi and Black Panther get made, and dating apps expand their market to Muslims and Mormons.

Back in the early days of television and mass media all the commentators were worried about mass media causing the homogenization of society. The idea was that it would be easier for advertisers and corporations to sell to a larger group of more similar consumers. Since advertisers and corporations controlled the media, we would naturally see a shift toward social and cultural homogenization. Given this, the capitalism-ization of diversity seems surprising, since we’re seeing what looks like a celebration and highlighting of social and cultural diversity instead. Mass media culture largely ignored alternative culture; certainly, you would never see a subway ad in the early 2000s (well, for a lot of different reasons) that opened with “Halal! Inshallah!”

But another view is that it’s really all just homogenization under the hood; a way to capture and bend even more people to a dominant meta-culture where one expresses themselves primarily through media and product consumption. I think this inherent hypocrisy/subterfuge is what makes this trend so strangely discomforting. There’s no real celebration of counter-culture1, merely a perverse reflection of neoliberalist hegemony into different skin tones.

Congratulations, now insert marginalized community here gets to writhe under the thumb of late stage capitalism and desperately consume to fill the void in their souls just as much as everyone else.

  1. I am using cultural/racial diversity, counter-culture, and alternative culture to all reference the same thing in this short piece. They technically refer to pretty different things, but I think one of the most important features of diversity and the whole point of “respecting” or learning about other cultures is that they offer meaningfully different ways of life from each other. The capitalism-ization of diversity threatens to erase those differences and reduce them to surface level traits. DAE muslim??? Halal!!! 


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