Black creators have been watched, mimicked, repackaged, diluted and presented to American audiences for years and not given due credit.
In the wake of America’s newfound wokeness as it crashes into cancel culture sees public outrage as a form of monetization. But with so much happening in the world, this outrage is temporary. A brief dip in market share by a limited target group that may not even represent active consumers of the brand is often ineffective.
At the end of the day, “All press is good press” has been repackaged as “We’re edgy!” Peta is the latest company to monetize the black experience for its benefit, and I’m wondering why we’re still asking how this keeps happening.
Below are my thoughts on the logic and themes that keep us from being agencies with agency. Perhaps being aware of these ideas will allow us to make changes moving ahead.
Appropriation starts with fascination
We have been programmed to see something, like it and do our own version of it as opposed to investing in the person who created it. While America is known as a melting pot, “being American” has been synonymous with assimilation for years. Jordan Peele was able to make a whole movie about how black people were literally stolen because they were admired, and it was scary because it felt too true to our experiences.
Toeing the line
As a black woman, I have personally sat in many brainstorms and meetings where people were outright offensive. When I’ve taken the time to explain the offense, coworkers schooled me with examples of how being edgy paid off for a brand. Trading black pain for green dollars is not OK, and we need to get to a place where we humanize our companies and campaigns.
Edginess, when done right, has many benefits, and many times in these rooms I’ve heard something and had my own Eddie Murphy/Barbershop aha moment. However, my stance is that if you are benefiting at the expense of an oppressed and marginalized group of people, you are no better than those directly oppressing them.
Diversity hires alone don’t change company culture
Issues with race are structural, so companies need to re-examine leadership, policy and training to address them. There are various forms of diversity, and it seems to be more of a speaking point than an action point. Many leaders don’t think they are racist, so they don’t think they have a diversity issue at their company. Mid-level and entry-level diversity hires put a great burden on those individuals to be representative of their cultures and risk their reputations. Diversity needs to start with someone at leadership level who has the power to analyze and take on corporate challenges.
Redemption is a storyline
We live in a world where ignorance is readily accepted, public apologies are standard and redemption is a powerful storyline. Our collective memory is short for scandal, and we have been desensitized to being human.
As advertisers, we spend a lot of time learning our specific consumers for our specific target for our specific ad campaign. While that’s helpful information, we should invest more time in learning about cultural experiences as a part of our strategies.
Let’s be proactive in the various cultures that live here as opposed to placing the burden on one person of color to represent a whole ethnic experience. Someone at every company has seen the cycle of a tone-deaf ad, the social media backlash of not having the proper creatives at the table and thought to themselves that the work does not speak to them. Rethinking the way we run our advertising requires a shift in the way we think about building our companies, redefining the information we gather during strategy and looking at our executions beyond our own eyes through the experiences of consumers.
Your new chief diversity officer may be able to find you amazing and diverse talent, but your culture is what is required to keep them there. If you give someone a seat at a table that was not built with them in mind, they will knock that seat over and build their own seat—or move on to a seat better suited for them.