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Lowe’s Muslim Publicity Gaffe Serves as Case Study of What Not to Do

Lowe's Storefront

The Florida Family Association (FFA), whose website states its mission as to “educate people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values,” mounted a campaign to convince corporate advertisers to stop advertising on TLC’s reality show “All-American Muslim.” Lowe’s and kayak.com were the only advertisers—out of 65 that FFA targeted—that caved in, according to numerous news sources. 

On its website, FFA charges that “the show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.”

After pulling its advertising, Lowe’s remained silent for several days as public outrage regarding its decision increased. Lowe’s then publicly explained its decision in a Facebook post on Saturday, saying: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lighting [sic] rod for many of those views … We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.” 

Unfortunately for Lowe’s, the equivocating Facebook comment received more than 28,000 comments—most of them bigoted, anti-Muslim statements or statements supporting the show. 

Shortly after Lowe’s posted its original Facebook comment and allowed the hateful responses to remain on its Facebook page, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)  asked the company to address the furor and to have a meeting with CAIR leaders. Lowe’s did not respond.

Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director, said in a statement: “If Lowe’s was concerned about spreading hate speech, you would think that they would filter and delete the worst [comments]. It’s hard to tell if leaving them up is intentional or not.” CAIR first sent Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock a letter Monday, noting the “tremendous controversy” that has been caused by its decisions. 

Lowe’s finally took down the offensive comments Wednesday and promised to monitor its page more. Lowe’s posted this apology: “We wanted to get back to you about our last post and the comments that followed. For several days, our Facebook page has become a forum of debate surrounding a TLC program—and to let us know how you feel. Many of the comments are specifically about Lowe’s advertising decision … many more are about broader political and social issues. Some of the comments have been sharp and disrespectful in tone, but out of respect for the transparency of social media, we let the debate continue. However, we have seen a large volume of comments become more pointed and hateful. As a result, we have taken the step of removing all previous posts and will more tightly filter future comments on this topic. You will be able to respond to this post, but in the spirit of social media, please keep your comments on this Facebook page respectful. We appreciate your understanding. Again, we offer our sincere apology to anyone offended by our advertising business decision or posts on this page.”

As of Thursday morning, more than 4,000 new comments were posted, the majority of them offensive to Muslims. 

What Went Wrong?

Lowe’s claims a commitment to diversity and inclusion, stating: “We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, across our workforce and our customers, and we’re proud of that longstanding commitment.” This must be viewed in light of what we can find on its website.

There is no mention of diversity on the Lowe’s homepage, and a search for “diversity” yields no results. Clicking on the “About Lowe’s” link on the homepage returns no information on diversity, and “diversity” does not appear in the corporate-citizenship, corporate-overview or media areas of their website. A search for the word “diversity” in that area also returns no responses. In the careers area, there are three paragraphs describing a “commitment” to diversity in the broadest and least specific ways. No goals, including any on supplier diversity, are mentioned, and there is no quote about diversity from their CEO.

Lowe’s has not participated in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey in the past nine years.

When asked for comment, Lowe’s responded to DiversityInc similarly to what it stated on Facebook. Additionally, Lowe’s 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 December 5.” DiversityInc cannot find evidence of “dozens of companies” canceling advertising.

In our opinion, by having no demonstrable understanding of diversity management practices and no stated clarity on its own values, Lowe’s was incapable of making good decisions. By bending to a hate group (the Florida Family Association), Lowe’s became their ally. It’s very difficult to escape repercussions of that kind of association, as Lowe’s learned when allied haters posted thousands of hate-filled comments on its Facebook page. In a misguided attempt to “respect the transparency of social media,” it abdicated its moral responsibility and offended millions of people—both Muslim and non-Muslim.

DiversityInc has two resources that lend clarity to this situation: DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti’s column “Decision Making, Clarity of Values & What Happens When It Goes Horribly Wrong” and a recent DiversityInc panel with two leading experts, “Muslims & Stereotypes: Do They Really Hate Us?

What are others saying?

Many commentators, civil-rights groups and elected officials also are urging Lowe’s to take more action. Here is what they are saying:

Lowe’s Criticized After Fleeing Muslim Reality Show
The first Muslim elected to Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, condemns Lowe’s for caving to anti-Muslim groups in this Chicago Tribune story.

Conyers Says Lowe’s Has ‘Un-American Values’
Rep. John Conyers, who represents the Dearborn community where the series is filmed, expresses his disappointment in Lowe’s. 

Video: CAIR Director on Lowe’s ‘All-American Muslim’ Controversy
CAIR’s director tells Channel 9 News Now that Lowe’s decision to pull advertising makes way for Muslim hatred to grow among Americans. 

25 Dumbest Comments On Lowe’s Facebook Page About “All-American Muslim”
Buzzfeed.com provides examples of the absurd bigotry that plagued comments on Lowe’s original Facebook post.

Muslims, Supporters Mobilize Against Lowes For TLC Ad Pull
MuslimMatters.org reports on the creation of the #LowesHatesMuslims hashtag on Twitter and ongoing commentary against Lowe’s decision on Twitter.

Don’t Cave to Anti-Muslim Bullies
This is an online petition form to tell Lowe’s CEO to reinstate the ads on “All-American Muslim.”

Lowe’s in Facebook Hell as Racist Comments Pile Up
Adweek reports on the Facebook controversy, providing a handful of examples of the anti-Muslim comments. 

Americans Should Know to Boycott Bigotry
An online opinion column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discusses Americans’ “cultural amnesia” toward Muslims and their contributions to modern society.

Russell Simmons Buys ‘All-American Muslim’ Ad Time Abandoned by Lowe’s
Metrotimes’ blog post discusses how the hip-hop mogul bought up Lowe’s space and is calling for a boycott of the company.

Protest Lowe’s Anti-Muslim Bigotry in Gaithersburg, MD
A Facebook event is being held to rally Lowe’s protesters Sunday in one Maryland town.

Lowe’s Faces Backlash Over Pulling Ads From ‘All-American Muslim’
The Los Angeles Times reports that California Sen. Ted Lieu urged Lowe’s to reverse its “bigoted” and “un-American” decision and actress Mia Farrow urged a boycott of Lowe’s via Twitter.

 

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8 Comments

  • My question is did some group “convince” Lowes to advertise on this program in the first place? It would seem that this would not be a program that Lowes would seek to advertise on given that they do not have much language in their policies to support diversity. It is painful to hear that many of the responses are hurtful on both sides of the issue. My suggestion would be to just shop or not shop at Lowes based upon your convictions. Toleration needs to be extended to people / businesses even if they act in ways you do not agree with as it should be a two way street.

  • I saw it just three days ago, and now FFA has removed all indicators of who has withdrawn their advertising.
    I am not surprised though, they are afraid of backlash for being divisive instead of inclusive.
    It was stunning to see. I wish I had saved it.
    My family and I have been actively involved in Interfaith activities in our town and state. With propaganda of organizations like FFA it sure seems like the uphill struggle continues.
    Knowing that my daughter has friends of all races and faiths, makes it all worthwhile.

    Thank you for keeping us all sharp.

  • The powers that be at Lowe’s folded. Any group that wishes to take the stand as FFA – are entitled to do so. This is after all America. Having said that, the only way to let any corporation know that you do not appreciate what they stand for, is simple – shop somewhere else. I will!

  • Moses Mendez

    I never shopped at Lowe’s before…but I will now!!! I like the fact that we live in America and we choose where we want to shop and where we want to advertise. I don’t allow others to dictate where and how I spend my money and I respect Companys that are not afraid to take a stand on any issue, whether I agree with it or not!!!

  • In regards to the statement “In our opinion, by having no demonstrable understanding of diversity management practices and no stated clarity on its own values, Lowe’s was incapable of making good decisions” all I can from my Chrsitian prospective is Amen!!!

  • Our family is very blended with Muslims and Christians. We live together in peace. There are so many similarities between our religions. But some people choose to live with ignorance which breeds fear.
    Disappointed that Lowes would act this way. It makes me wonder what what other religions, races, lgbt etc they are discriminating against under the business decision umbrella. Btw, wake up Lowes – we are a consumer driven culture, EVERYONE likes to shop!

  • I am confused who did wrong to whom and whether third party like FFA is at fault?

  • Steven Izard

    I agree with Krause Zein’s comment above that people can live together in peace, if they have different religious beliefs. My Catholic faith does not discriminate against any other religion, race or ethnicity, but some people believe that cultural differences drive their faith, which it does not in my belief. I have been in the Military and been in many areas of the world that I have experienced other cultures, but I respected their beliefs, while I was in their turf, which is the same way that people in America need to respect first the American culture, and then since America is the home to so many different cultures, respect those cultures as applicable, without detrimenting the American culture. After all, this is America!

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