Do you remember that time when the ESPN sports anchor said that the White player could run fast for a White guy? Or that time that Ebony Magazine had to apologize because they had the only White child in a photo spread dressed in a Ritz Cracker costume in October’s Halloween edition? Or that time the that famous Black makeup artist told the White model that she was pretty to be so pale? What about when that clothing company started by Sarah Yoo, a Chinese American fashion designer, created a shirt that said, “future school-bomber” and had a White 13-year-old wear it in their fashion show during fashion week?
Of course, you don’t remember those things because they never happened. White people haven’t been maligned in advertising campaigns. Even small and mid-sized companies with small budgets and one-person marketing departments seem to be able to create marketing campaigns that don’t offend white people; however huge companies like H&M put a Black boy in sweatshirt with a monkey on it; Gap had a white girl lean on a Black girl’s head as if she was a piece of furniture; Pepsi had Kendall Jenner mimic a Black Lives Matter activist; and Adidas splashed the word “Predator” in large red letters over a Black soccer player’s face.
Why don’t we hear of people of color or minority-owned companies making offensive, discriminatory marketing mistakes? One word: Power. Those companies know that they can’t afford to insult White people because typically White people have the power to dramatically damage if not shut down their businesses. Even businesses that rely primarily on Black customers, such as a beauty salon, restaurant, or a night club most likely have a White landlord, banking officer, city official or other entity that could make things difficult for them.
On the other hand, these large companies, such as H&M, Adidas and Gap don’t care; or rather, don’t care enough. No one else will say it; but I will: most large companies do not care enough about diversity, inclusivity, and/or offending their employees and customers because when they do offend, it rarely affects them negatively. They are the ones in power.
If these large companies were concerned about offending others because of unconscious bias or worried about the impact that their offense could have; they would check and recheck with targeted focus groups, their diversity and inclusivity officers and other constituents to ensure that their ads are culturally sensitive. Be clear, they have the money and resources to prevent these incidents from happening. In the H&M case, the affront is prevalent and undeniable: the animalization of Black people is long and well-documented. It is steeped in slavery (selling Black people for profit was deemed justifiable because they were seen as less than human); and continues today (bananas thrown at player at soccer games, high school students making ape noises when a Black player is taking a foul shot, and even the President of the United States was repeatedly depicted as an ape). That this add was approved by multiple people is more than concerning.
Notice that these companies do well at being culturally appropriate to the LGBTQ community, the Jewish community, and the Catholic church, etc. — so they are capable of doing it; they just aren’t motivated enough to do it.
These companies will continue to be sloppy in their management of diversity and cultural sensitivity in reference to Black people, until a pain threshold – particularly an economic one – is breached.
Until then, we will be left to be offended with nothing more than canned, perfunctory and disingenuous apologies.