Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Conservatives to Lowe’s: Never stop bending over

You’d think that when a company faces an uphill fight against its competition, that company would do everything it could to attract business, to take every opportunity to make people feel welcome, regardless of color or ethnicity or religious choice.

But the folks at Lowe’s Home Improvement would beg to differ.

The North Carolina-based company is pushing back against below-par same-store sales performance compared to rival Home Depot, and despite analysts’ preference for Home Depot. Reuters reported last month that sales at Home Depot stores open a year or more have cleaned Lowe’s clock for nine straight quarters.

So it goes without saying that Lowe’s needs all the friends — and business — it can get. A just-made decision by the company won’t help that happen.

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Lowe's has withdrawn its advertising from “All-American Muslim,” a new reality show about American Muslims now airing on the TLC channel. The show, which premiered in November, charts the lives of five families from Dearborn, Mich., a Detroit suburb with a large Muslim and Arab-American population.

What makes the show so unique is its willingness to play against the popular expectation of the Muslim experience. The lives of the featured families are shown in a more or less average American context: family pressures, joys, successes and challenges are revealed in a way that strips away our preconceived notions about what it means to be a Muslim in America 2011.

Lowe’s pulled the ads on Dec. 5 after a conservative group known as the Florida Family Association complained, complaining that the program was "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."

“ ‘All-American Muslim’ is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law,” the group said in a statement.

The FFA is seeking to get other companies to withdraw advertising from the show. The Tampa Bay-based group claims that 65 other companies have yanked ads from the show, including Bank of America, Campbell Soup, Dell, General Motors, Goodyear, McDonalds and Wal-Mart.

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The sycophants at Lowe's issued a statement on Saturday, apologizing for having “managed to make some people very unhappy.”

“Lowe’s has received a significant amount of communication on this program, from every perspective possible. Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lighting rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.”

Suehaila Amen, whose family is part of the "All-American Muslim" program, told The Detroit News on Sunday she was “saddened that any place of business would succumb to bigots and people trying to perpetuate their negative views on an entire community.”

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is Muslim and a Detroit Democrat, expressed her outrage to the company via fax. "I could not believe a company that has been in existence for 60 years would make the decision to listen to a minority of voices promoting hate," she told The Detroit News.

The Daily Beast nailed the situation: “For all its construction wherewithal, Lowe’s Home Improvement isn’t very good at building bridges.”

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So Lowe’s issued a tweak of Saturday’s apology on Monday: “As you know, the TLC program ‘All-American Muslim’ has become a lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives – political, social and otherwise,” the company said.

“Following this development, dozens of companies removed their advertising from the program beginning in late November. Lowe’s made the decision to discontinue our advertising on Dec. 5. As we shared yesterday, we have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, and we’re proud of that longstanding commitment. If we have made anyone question that commitment, we apologize.”

If that strikes you as being clear as mud, you’re not alone. Translated, it basically means that Lowe’s caved and is deeply apologetic if it makes you feel bad. End of story.

Implicit in Lowe’s reaction is its endorsement of the other, uglier and more socially problematic train of thinking by the Florida Family Association and those who support it: How dare they? How dare TLC refuse to buy into the meme of Muslim-as-Other! How dare TLC depict Muslim Americans without the central casting fiction of Muslims as bearded, exotic, inscrutable and shadowy presumptive terrorists? To show them as citizens with lives and hopes and dreams and concerns! As ordinary people! The very idea!

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A California state senator is weighing the idea of a boycott of Lowe’s stores. Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, told The Associated Press that he’d consider pursuing legislative action if Lowe's doesn't apologize to Muslims. The senator, who condemned the Lowe's action as "un-American" and "naked religious bigotry," fired off a letter to Lowe's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Niblock, AP reported.

"The show is about what it's like to be a Muslim in America, and it touches on the discrimination they sometimes face. And that kind of discrimination is exactly what's happening here with Lowe's," Lieu said.

And on Monday, hip-hop impresario and entrepreneur Russell Simmons stepped up to the plate, announcing on his Twitter page that he would buy up the “All-American Muslim” ad air time previously bought by Lowe’s for the next week.

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Maybe there are other, more direct ways to let Lowe’s know how out of plumb with reality and corporate independence this decision really is. Maybe a letter to Chairman and CEO Robert Niblock at Lowe’s Companies Inc., 1000 Lowe’s Boulevard, Mooresville, N.C. 28117.

Or a fax: (336) 658-4766.

Or maybe a phone call: (704) 758-2084.

Or, more immediately still, maybe an e-mail: robert.a.niblock@lowes.com (according to consumerist.com)

There must be some way to get that point across. Because this is bigger than tidy corporate stopgap solutions to deep, potentially seismic national problems. It’s bigger and smaller than that. It’s as small and as real as the Muslim women who work, long and hard and professionally, in various positions at Lowe’s Store 0004 at 2700 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle, Wash. 98144.

It’s a matter as small, and big, and real, as everyday people engaged in the dreadfully terroristic act of trying to stay alive.

Lowe’s has made home makeovers its bread and butter, and early this month announced plans for store makeovers in a bid to win more customers.

Apparently the company management itself could use a serious makeover of its heart. And its head. And its guts.

Image credits: Lowe’s logo: © 2011 Lowe’s Companies. All-American Muslim title card: TLC/Discovery. Florida Family Assn. logo detail: FFA. Robert Niblock: via consumerist.com.

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