Recently a United States cargo ship has been named after César Chávez, a farm worker’s rights activist and unionizer. It’s ironic though since he told PBS that the worst two years of his life were spent in the Navy. However, this political tactic isn’t surprising — from Che Guevara to Malcolm X, Chávez is one of many racial minorities whose image or name has been used by the institutions they spent their lifetime fighting against.
One of the most iconic examples is Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Born in Argentina, Guevara was instrumental in overthrowing the Batista regime in Cuba and establishing the Communist state that still exists today. Guevara fought for a worldwide communist revolution — in particular in developing nations. Now, the infamous image of Guevara in his beret can be seen on clothing and accessories available for purchase from large capitalist corporations he despised.
Malcolm X is another example. Malcolm X fought against deep seeded racism in American society towards African-Americans, and advocated for the dismantling of the US government. In 1999, in honour of Black Heritage month, Malcolm X was featured on a US postage stamp and painted as an ‘enlightened’ patriot who wanted to fix the system as opposed to wanting to destroy it.
So why does ‘revolution sell’? Because it’s human nature. The public wants to feel as though they were a part of important social movements. However, there is a better way to understand what outspoken individuals fought for than buying a t-shirt with their face emblazoned on it. Perhaps by reading books they authored or listening to speeches they gave to find out what they truly believed in, and not what large institutions tell us they do.