08 August, 2007

“Mad Men” and the Writings of a Mad Black Woman

FLASHBACK – It’s last November (that’s November of 2006) and I was in New York at an Ad Week function where Mark Cuban was a keynote speaker. He asked how many in the assembled groupage of advertising executives had HDTV. When just a smattering of hands went up, he looked shocked. But not as shocked as I looked mere moments later when I turned around to see for myself and came to the sobering realization that I was the only African American in the room of about 100 people.

FAST FORWARD – July, 2007. AMC Network debuts their original series, Mad Men, which chronicles the exploits of Madison Avenue ad guys in the 1960s. A couple of things you’ll notice about that show, everybody smokes (sorry Disney), the clothes are awesome and there are no black people. Gee. I guess nothing’s changed in 40 years.

Now I know the ad industry has come under fire lately for the lack of minorities-- particularly blacks--at the executive level, but I wanted to do a little informal digging around as to why this is. I mean blacks have an estimated buying power of $679 billion so one would think the industry would be interested in having folks from that market represented in their boardrooms. So I started reading and making some calls. I talked to a friend who is the CEO of a black-owned agency in DC. He felt the onus for lack of black representation lay, in part, at the door of corporate racism.

Case in point. I found an article in Black Enterprise written by Brian Wright O’Connor in March of 1993 that quotes Charlie Rice, associate creative director with Caroline Jones Advertising Inc., a black-owned agency in New York. Reportedly, Mr. Rice had received dubious words of praise while employed at a general- market firm that, in essence, congratulated him for being able to think like a white man. On a scale of 1 to 10 on racist comments, this has got to be a 9. Not quite Imus worthy, but obviously showing a complete lack of understanding of the African American experience.

What the decision makers at general-market firms are slow to appreciate is that blacks have to know how to “think like a white man.” Now don’t start getting all ruffled, and think I’m going to get all militant on you, but it’s the truth. Successful African Americans in all fields have learned to maneuver in two different worlds. You could say that we are bi-cultural and even bi-lingual. We have to know how to talk the talk in the boardroom and we have to know how to “keep it real” in various parts of the African American community. How many Connecticut commuters could really hack it and feel comfortable at an all black function? Us black folks? We have to excel and do what we do even when we’re the only black person in the place.

Some people don’t understand why just the fact of being black makes our American experience so different. I came from a middle-class family. I went to private school. My mother sent me to Europe during my senior year in college. Some people might say that I come from a privileged background and I might agree, but even with that I have certainly experienced out-and-out racism, having been called the “N” word once and I’ve definitely encountered cultural insensitivity more times than I care to count. I say it’s more than time to turn the tables and expect Madison Avenue to better reflect the markets it sells to. Perhaps if we can encourage a more balanced atmosphere, companies like Intel won’t have to apologize for their sorry excuse for an ad (pictured left). And if you don’t get why that ad was an issue, and you’re in this industry, well… call me, and I’ll explain it to you.


--Gay Pinder, Director of Program Devlopment

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1 others 'fessed up:

shaun. August 22, 2008 at 1:57 PM  

amen. amen. amen.

i just added you to my blog roll.

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