Every quarter, some well-paid executives sit in black leather chairs circled around an oval, wooden conference table in a room with dark blue carpet, a screen, wall projector and white board and make dumb-ass decisions about how to market to Black folks. There are several meetings like this, as each idea must be blessed by different departments until finally the most powerful person gives final approval.
The scary thing is that it isn’t just one person responsible for making these ignorant marketing decisions. No. There are teams of people responsible for designing, creating, and executing every costly national advertising campaign. When the ad rolls out, some of these same people gather back in that same conference room and watch the commercial on the projector on the far end of the room, smile, feel prideful and congratulate each other on their brilliance. They may even have champagne and turkey sandwiches from the deli up the street.
Then the ad airs; and Black social media tears them apart like a kid does string cheese. They then must apologize (which most do a terrible job with) and pull the ad that was a significant part of their advertising budget (not to mention all of the man-hours now wasted in creating the ad). The next day, there’s another meeting in the same conference room around the same oval, wooden table and the same most powerful person who signed-off on the ad, wants to know “what in the hell happened.”
Let’s stop the madness. To avoid similar debacles in the future, firms should follow to these four steps:
- Acknowledge that you don’t know a damn thing about Black people, not really. This does not mean that you don’t like Black people. It does not erase your Black friend in high school, your love for rap, or that you give to the NAACP every year. It just means that you can’t speak intelligently, or fully understand our culture. I’m unfamiliar with other cultures too. It’s okay.
- Hire Black people. You can’t engage and appeal to a world that your company doesn’t reflect.
- Don’t “Stacey Dash” your diversity efforts. Look, we all like to be around people who make us feel comfortable. We are most comfortable with people who are the most like us. Accordingly, Black people who get hired the most quickly typically mirror the majority culture. You can’t hire Ben Carson or Stacey Dash and get “Black credit.” You’ve got to hire culturally-in-tune Black people – not tokens. Hire Leah, with the long braids, who graduated with a 4.0 from an historically Black college; hire DeAndre, with a sweet Southern drawl who graduated from Princeton (the first in his family to graduate from college).
- After you have created a diverse team; you must ensure that you have also created an inclusive environment. Every night, hundreds of thousands of Black people come home from their jobs and complain about some culturally-ignorant shit that was said or done at work. Rarely, does anyone speak up for fear of being labeled difficult, fear of being dropped from the team, fear of being further alienated in a company where we are usually one of a few or in many instances the only. Too often these dynamics cause Black people to fade — to try to blend — in corporate America. Your challenge is to make Black people, all people for that matter, feel comfortable enough to bring their uniqueness, and their diverse ideas to that wooden conference room table.
It’s that uniqueness – and those ideas – that will keep you out of trouble the next time.