Peloton is problematic again. But this time the problem isn’t the company’s creepy ads, it’s the racial overtones of their instructors.
Tuesday, writer David Kaufman wrote a piece for NBC in which he said he enjoyed having the bike during the lockdown but had become concerned about some of the things the instructors were saying to the audience of riders. The subhead of the article really captures the tone of his piece: “The company wants to be #woke. But if I hear one more all-white 1980s playlist while a white coach uses black vernacular to encourage riders, I’ll scream.”
He’ll scream, people. This is serious.
The more I use my Peloton bicycle, the more I don’t feel so good about the company behind it. Because just as their now-infamous holiday-season ad last year convinced many people that the company had an unacknowledged gender problem, their video and music programming suggests to me — as an African American — that they also have an unrecognized race problem.
The “gender problem” is a reference to Peloton’s Christmas ad which was released last December. It showed a perfectly fit wife receiving one of the company’s bikes for Christmas. But something about the ad seemed off. The wife seemed afraid and eager to get her husband’s approval. The creep factor was so strong that, as Allahpundit put it at the time, it felt like a commercial length version of a Lifetime movie. In fact, Ryan Reynolds’ gin company made a follow-up commercial with the same actress which played like the final scene of the aforementioned Lifetime movie. She had left the terrible relationship with her controlling husband (or perhaps shot him during a third act home invasion, since that’s what usually happens in Lifetime movies) and now, having escaped the patriarchy, she was trying to recover her equilibrium with her girlfriends.
In any case, Kaufman says we’ve gone from gender problems to racial problems. He argues that the price of the bike (over $2k plus monthly subscription fees) means most of the people riding these bikes are upper-middle-class white people. He writes, “this upper middle class ‘whiteness’ informs everything I’ve experienced about Peloton’s almost cultish community.” So what has he experienced? Musical segregation, for starters:
Black instructors offer rides filled with typically “Black” music (rap, Caribbean or hip-hop) while white instructors offer ones with mostly “white” music (rock, pop and heavy metal) — though the thought that white people don’t work out to rap or hip-hop music and Black people don’t use rock or pop music to fuel their sessions in 2020 is laughable…
And, when Black music does appear, outside of hip-hop or rap used in regular playlists by instructors, it’s often part of a more specialized class category, such as the “Groove Ride.”
The “Groove Ride” does sound deeply problematic, but it gets worse. There’s also cultural appropriation going on:
Also curious — and curiously concerning — are the ways in which white Peloton instructors take on the affect of typical African American cultural tropes, using phrases like “go gurl,”or “yassss b—-es” to whip their riders into a frenzy. Yes, I realize that Black-inflected drag culture is now mainstream thanks to “Pose” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and that digital culture can often transcend traditional notions of race, but absent actual Black people, this type of cultural appropriation and tone-deafness feels woefully out of touch at a time when class and race-based inequalities are literally killing thousands.
I do get that people are dying from a pandemic and that’s a serious thing. I’m not sure what that has to do with instructors saying “go gurl!” in a spin classes. Are the deaths from COVID-19 any less tragic if they don’t say “go gurl”? But Kaufman isn’t done. Because he also has a problem with Peloton’s black instructors [emphasis added]:
What also concerns me is the way in which African American instructors — particularly African American male instructors — engage their mostly white audiences with a type of contrived “brother from another mother” banter that almost feels as if they’re trying to make those riders “Black by association.” It’s clearly playing into a certain kind of white fantasy, like when suburban white kids think they’re ‘hood because they can quote Jay-Z or fleece-wearing tech bros imagine themselves players because they worship Kobe and can afford front-row Lakers seats. White folks might fall for those coaches’ banter, but real brothers would destroy them for fronting — which is why I suspect they’d be less inclined to perform this way if more Peloton riders were actually Black.
I find this paragraph uncomfortable to read because of how unintentionally revealing it is about the author. Who is Kaufman mad at here? His complaint is directed at black instructors who he says are “fronting” by being too chummy with their white audience. Is that really a bad thing? Something we need to discourage?
But his real concern is that this friendliness with paying customers will play into a white fantasy that involves appropriating black culture like…Kobe Bryant and the NBA? I think there are a lot of white NBA fans out there who didn’t know this was a problem. Also, why use Kobe as an example when Kobe just died (and had been retired for several years before that)? Wasn’t Kaufman complaining about tone-deafness a minute ago? It’s like Kaufman is working out some old personal grievance he has had locked away for a few decades. He didn’t get front row seats to the 2002 playoffs or something. Damn you, Jack Nicholson!
All of this feels like the definition of first world problems. Maybe write an email to the company if you don’t like the music selection but the rest of it feels like woke one-upmanship. On the left, you get socially rewarded for finding problems with everything these days, even your over-priced stationary bike.