"Coca-Cola Building" by anaxila is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For much of the latter half of the 20th Century, Coca-Cola was a bogeyman of the Left. To the old leftists, the company represented everything that is evil about capitalism, especially the expansion of Western consumerist culture. As Reinhold Wagnleieter sums up the argument in Coca-Colonization and the Cold War, “it stands without question that we are confronted with the most successful development so far of earlier forms of colonialism and imperialism”, and in his view, Coca-Cola is the epitome of that process.

Today, we do not need conquistadors to claim territories for a European monarchy as they did in the 16th Century; instead, colonialism works by substituting local products with American brands. Hence, Coca-Colonization.

These leftist critics overstated their case (what’s so bad about the global expansion of science, technology, democracy and rule of law, anyway?), but they did have a point — American cultural imperialism can at times be excessive. After all, worldwide consumption of excessive sugar is a problem, and diabetes is becoming a major health concern all over the world. Certainly, Coca-Cola has part of the blame.

Interestingly, we are now witnessing a new form of Coca-Colonization that the old breed of leftist critics never foresaw: wokeness.

It has now emerged that, as with many other major corporations, Coca-Cola is urging employees to undergo diversity training. Recently, it was alleged that in one mandatory course presented by Robin Di Angelo, the author of White Fragility, attendees were instructed to be “less white”.

The fact-checking website Snopes has clarified that, actually, such a course was not part of Coca-Cola’s diversity training, but rather, Coca-Cola employees could access the course on LinkedIn. So, the part in which employees are told to be “less white” was not mandatory, but Coca-Cola employees are solicited to undergo diversity training.

Be that as it may, the fact is that Coca-Cola has jumped on the bandwagon of diversity training, which is a foundation for woke ideology. This is yet another example of the bizarre phenomenon that some critics now call “woke capitalism”. As Hrishikesh Athalye explains, “woke capitalism refers to the capitalist, profit-driven approach followed by corporations—capitalising on the stir and popularity of social movements to achieve their ends.” 

Knowing in advance that the old left will charge against Coca-Cola, accusing it of being a major promoter of cultural imperialism, the company pre-emptively strikes by flashing new leftist credentials in the form of woke ideology. Coca-Cola is routinely accused of labour exploitation, but that can be brushed under the rug by hiring some self-proclaimed specialists to lecture employees about “systemic racism” and “implicit bias” (both concepts being very dubious, to say the least).

As it happens, this is not the first time Coca-Cola does something to that effect. Coca-Cola’s 1971 Hilltop commercial basically sent the message that, if everyone consumed their products, there would be world peace. In a Kumbaya mystique, people of all skin colours sing, “I’d love to buy the world a Coke”.

Wokeness is a new foundation of Coca-Colonization because woke ideology is itself colonialist. The United States is exporting to the rest of the world its guilt complex, and its obsession with race. But woke activists fail to understand that cultural and racial experiences are different in each country. The woke left is moulding the rest of the world to their own ethnocentric preferences, disregarding the local particularities of other cultures.

That is colonialist to the bone.

Very recently, French intellectuals have very clearly made that case. The French intelligentsia have long resented Disneyland Paris— with one critic famously calling it a “cultural Chernobyl”. But French intellectuals are now beginning to understand that, much more than a theme park about a talking mouse, the real imperialist force is woke ideology itself. As Macron’s education minister recently said, “there’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities”, as it erodes France’s intellectual and cultural heritage.

But French intellectuals should not be the only ones pushing against wokeness and the new forms of Coca-Colonization. Americans themselves need to understand the trick that is being played on them. This holds especially true for people of colour. Whereas African Americans do not suffer police brutality disproportionally (or, for that matter, discrimination at large), they are at greater risks of having diabetes— not surprising, given that they outpace other ethnic groups in consumption of sugary drinks.

The ball is now in progressives’ court: they could go back to their ideological roots, and confront capitalism at all levels; or they could be sell-outs who are captivated by the nonsense of people such as Robin Di Angelo, and become consumerists in woke capitalism. In that decision, the stakes are very high.

Gabriel Andrade

Gabriel Andrade is a university professor originally from Venezuela. He writes about politics, philosophy, history, religion and psychology.