Not So Sweet
Why Dunkin' Donuts shouldn't have caved in the controversy over Rachael Ray's 'kaffiyeh' scarf.
By Lorraine Ali | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Dunkin' Donuts and Mideast politics go together like … Well, they don't, and that seems to be the problem of late. First, the doughnut franchise served as a hideout for Lebanese Army troops and a CNN correspondent when violence erupted in Beirut last month. Then this week the company found itself smack dab in the center of more political tumult. A recent ad by the doughnut giant was deemed dangerous by a handful of conservative bloggers because of its potential ties to the Arab world. The bloggers went on the attack when they saw spokesgal Rachael Ray wearing what they felt was a kaffiyeh, or Arab headdress, as a neck scarf. It was in fact a black and white paisley scarf, not traditional Arab garb, but that didn't matter when blogger Pam Geller posted the following under the header "Rachel [sic] Ray: Dunkin Donuts Jihad Tool": "Have you seen Rachel [sic] Ray wearing the icon of Yasser Arafatbastard and the bloody Islamic jihad. This is part of the cultural jihad," wrote Geller.
Despite the fact that the kaffiyeh is worn by millions, including Middle Eastern men, arty college students, tourists, Kanye West and even U.S. troops, who use it to keep the sand and dust at bay, the bloggers jumped on the case, exposing what they saw as the latest Mideast threat to freedom and democracy—this time in the insidious form of an iced-coffee ad. Dunkin' Donuts panicked and pulled the image from its own Web site and other commercial sites. In a written statement senior vice president of communications for Dunkin' Donuts brands, Margie Myers, said, "Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, as of this past weekend, we are no longer using the online ad because the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee."
Shouldn't we be more offended that Ray was shilling their weak iced coffee, a beverage that should be criticized for impersonating, well, iced coffee. But cries of "Bad java!" just don't seem to catch the attention the way racist rhetoric against Arabs and Muslims does. This ad was pulled because anti-Arab bloggers saw it as promoting a culture they love to hate, and they used the terrorism card to push their agenda through. The amazing part is that Dunkin' Donuts caved. They should be ashamed, and not just because Krispy Kreme offers a superior glazed cruller but because they validated the warped idea that the mere existence of a race—and anything worn by its people—can be controversial. It's doubtful the ad would have been pulled if a handful of critics found Ray's garb too Hispanic or too African-American. The groups themselves would have been dismissed as bigoted or insane. Anti-racism organizations such as ANSWER have called for a "worldwide boycott of Dunkin' Donuts." According to ANSWER's spokesperson, Ben Becker, more than 7,300 letters have been sent to Dunkin' Donuts since they called for a boycott yesterday.
Let's face it, the real danger here is not the girly scarf charged with being a kaffiyeh, or that jihadists are purportedly using Dunkin' Donuts as a backdoor into America's malleable consciousness. It's that the cries of a few commentators indulging in the worst form of racial stereotyping—and their demonization of an entire culture—was enough to spook a giant corporation. As for dangers lurking beyond the kaffiyeh controversy? Beware of Dunkin's Blueberry Cake Donut. At 290 calories with 16 grams of fat, it's more deadly than a paisley scarf in spring.