Model Minority Realized

Back in October I posted Kenneth Cole’s casting call for Sikh models. Just yesterday my brother-in-law texted me with a photo of the ad which covers the entire storefront of their 5th Ave flagship store, so the model is almost 20 feet tall. The model in the ad is Sonny Caberwal, a Duke and Georgetown Law grad who runs Tavalon, a high-end hipster tea “lounge” whose opening we covered earlier. Both the ad and the video below are from the Kenneth Cole website.

Here’s the blurb for the ad campaign:

Kenneth Cole, one of the world’s leading fashion designers, has launched a worldwide campaign to mark the brand’s 25th anniversary. The focus of his ad campaign is that “we all walk in different shoes”. [Link]

Most of the reaction to it in the Sikh blogosphere has been … well, positively gleeful (chortle, kvell, rejoicing). The one hesitant note comes from the new Sikh group blog The Langar Hall which wonders:

Something else makes me uncomfortable about this ad. Is something that’s supposed to be a symbol of high ideals, if not sacred itself (a sardar’s appearance), being commodified? If it is, is it inevitable that everything will one day be commodified?… [Link]





To Reema, I reply – ooooh baby, exotify me, commodify me. I can handle it . [And actually, as somebody who has been photographed a fair amount for similar reasons, I will admit it gets weird at times, but c'mon, doesn't Sonny look fly 20 feet tall in Rockefeller Center?]

59 thoughts on “Model Minority Realized

  1. Am I the only one who found the “Hey, we’re monotheistic” and “Don’t hurt us, we’re not THEM” insertions/subtext troublesome? I bring it up because the delineation and separation from Muslims has been front and center in almost all the responses to hate crimes on Sikhs in the past 5 years, and while it is natural, it is a bit disappointing.

    Rahul, you’re not the only one who finds it troubling. I got the impression that he was speaking off the cuff and didn’t really get to wordsmith everything (but who knows how much was left on the cutting room floor?)

    There has been outcry re: the treatment of Muslims in the Sikh community (i.e., “People mistake us for Muslims, and even if we were Muslims it is WRONG to target them for violence”), but news outlets don’t tend to pick up the second part of the argument. I think the initial reaction was “but we’re not Muslims.” I don’t think that was meant to legitimize hate violence against Muslims; I think folks did not know how to respond and were genuinely confused/confounded. As the Sikh advocacy community matures we’re getting more savvy about our framing. We’re not as organized as other communities have been, and despite generations of violence, we’re still pretty new to this.

  2. For those who aren’t familiar with Punjabi nicknames, Sonny is super common, along with Baby, Buntu/Bunty, Bunny, Billoo, Dimple, Jolly, Lovely, Happy, etc., etc. Get a group of Punjus together, and it’s like the 7 Dwarves.

    Hey – don’t forget Rosy and Pinky…

  3. Rahul,

    I am sorry if I misrepresented things, but I was going off of a few statements that I’d seen.

    Brother, I can only speak for myself but I don’t think you need to apologize. I’ve heard other people say the same thing as you have and I think Camille may have hit upon a explanation, how the issue has been framed by the press and how the message has been lost.

    Let me add my own mea culpa of sorts though I haven’t been called for it, I reread my earlier post and (as usual) there were a few things that made me wince. One of the more important things, I would rather have deleted the last 2 lines in the 3rd para. I just don’t feel comfortable judging anyone for choices they make in how they practice their religion especially since I don’t view myself a paragon of religion let alone of all things sikhi (for many reasons, including kesh) and I’d rather not cast anything resembling a stone.

  4. Uh, isn’t this basically Benetton’s ad campaign for, like, twenty years or so? Or is it just that ‘The United Colors of Benetton’ is so iconic a marketing plan, everything else looks like it? Am I just old and cranky? (Don’t answer)

    Still, sharp looking ad.

  5. USSR, from guru Nanakdevji maharaz to guru Govindsinghji maharaz they all were hindu. Govindsinghji got the sikh religion from Shivbhagwan. The sikh he made were his paanch pyare, the rest like selfcrowned sikhs. GB.

  6. 29 and #36 Amitabh and Narayan,

    Caberwal, a last name, the proper pronounciation is (cub-er-wal) but the other used version is (kab-er-wal), thus it is also spelled Kaberwal which has no association, whatsoever with the totally different last name, Sabharwal.

  7. I think this add exemplifies how great the United States is as a Country and its willingness to accept different people. I really don’t believe portraying a sadar as fashionable or chic would occur in India and I am saddened to say that it would probably never occur in Punjab. As a sadar myself, it makes me swell up with pride when I see Sonny 20 ft tall in the Mecca of pop culture. It just boggles my mind just thinking about it.

  8. I just past Kenneth COle in downtown CHI, and saw this guy’s poster. It’s not as big as the 20 ft ad in NY though.