I wrote my first blog post last week. Yay me! And in it, I explained the importance for communication professionals to develop a level of comfortability to talk about diversity, inclusion and representation. I had explained that it is everyone’s responsibility because when we don’t talk about it, the biases come out in our work. In fact, we’ve seen this repeatedly over the last decade. When I conceived this blog, I didn’t actually think I would have enough examples. Well I was sorely mistaken. Here are some of this decade’s memorable media blunders relating to race and representation that are forever etched in my mind.
2019 has contributed more than its fair share of racially insensitive media moments for this decade. If there is one thing I took away from this year, it’s that people really like to do blackface and the revelation of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s enthusiasm for it proves this. I have to admit that politics aside, I wasn’t surprised but I was and still am hurt by this news. Unfortunately, the truth is Justin Trudeau isn’t the only one who has done it. He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last. We all know someone who knows someone who has done blackface or something equally offensive. Remember Julianne Hough’s 2014 ‘Crazy Eyes’ Halloween costume?
And just a few days ago, photos from Kim Kardashian West’s 7Hollywood Magazine shoot were published. One image in particular had people turning heads and asking what in the Diana Ross Beyonce Diahann Carroll is going on? While the debate is still ongoing for some as to whether this is actually blackface, the fact that we even have to ask is worrisome.
Racially insensitive, but make it FASHUN!
It seems that in this decade, racism is a dish best served with a side of fashion. Let’s take a walk down memory lane. Most recently, Prada released a black turtleneck balaclava embellished with red lips. Aside from wondering who in their right mind would call this fashionable, I also wonder why the addition of antiquated imagery was considered necessary to complete the look?
In 2018, Gucci also released a line of blackface inspired accessories that were quickly pulled from their online stores. That same year, Dolce and Gabbana cancelled a large production fashion show after promotional ads for the event stirred controversy for their racially insensitive undertones directed at chinese women.
Speaking of fashion shows, in 2016, Marc Jacobs sent his predominantly white cast of models down the runway with multi-coloured dreadlocks and received criticism for cultural appropriation. In early 2018, fast-fashion brand H&M thought it was a good idea to feature a little black boy wearing a hoodie with the saying “coolest monkey in the jungle”.
Oh the memories!!! And it’s not just the brands. When it comes to cultural appropriation, we the people have been perpetrators too. Coachella comes to mind here. How about we stop wearing traditional Aboriginal attire without specific invitation and understanding of its meaning in 2020?
Who approved that? Advertising gone wrong
When it comes to advertising this decade, there have been too many “who approved that?” moments to count. Remember 2017’s Dove lotion campaign? The ad featured women from different backgrounds and transitioned between them as they took their tops off to reveal the woman inside, after having supposedly used Dove lotion. This concept alone was bizarre, however the sequencing which made it appear as though the black woman was turning into a white woman enraged consumers. For a company that has been vague on it’s position on race and beauty by pushing the “everyone is beautiful” message in North America while promoting skin lightening products in Asia and Africa, the 2017 ad was a questionable choice. However, given that this ad was intended for a North American audience, we can assume Dove didn’t intend to convey a “lighter is better” message. So this left me wondering, how did this ad get out, who approved it, what were the conversations behind closed doors and was there a lonely black person on the team that might have noticed the mistake but didn’t feel empowered to speak up? I wonder, because I’ve been that person many times. It’s a very hard position to be in when you haven’t strengthened your voice.
Another commercial I can’t go without mentioning is Pepsi’s infamous ad that featured Kendall Jenner while pulling inspiration from the #BlackLivesMatter movement? The thought of that combination still perplexes me to this day. In addition to ending Skip Marley’s career before it had a chance to start, this commercial saddened me for so many reasons. As a person who has worked in various creative corporate spaces, I know that ideas for commercials of this caliber go through multiple rounds of brainstorming, pitching and approvals. Getting that kind of work out the door is a long and arduous process. So I’m saddened by how easily this commercial and the people behind it trivialized such a significant time in modern history where people put their lives and safety on the line to protest the realities of police brutality. On a personal note, this commercial, helped me understand the importance of the role I can play as a content creator. It also pushed me to accept the fact that I should never quiet my voice if I have so much as a hunch that a piece of work could possibly be culturally insensitive. As I previously mentioned, I haven’t always felt comfortable speaking up, but I take the responsibility very seriously now. Now I push myself to do so no matter how scared I am. So to all my peers who brainstorm, pitch and approve creative, know that the responsibility is yours regardless of cultural background, to think about inclusion, representation and cultural sensitivity. Because when you don’t take that responsibility seriously, you run the risk of producing a commercial featuring Kendall Jenner leading a protest and solving the world’s problems by handing a police officer a can of Pepsi.
During the 2010’s we saw many viral trends. One of them was Youtube’s “Shit People Say” meme. Many versions of this video were made but unfortunately we never got to see the “Shit Racists Say” version. If it was to be made in 2019, I’m sure it would have included reenactments of former L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s 2014 request that his mistress not bring black people to his games. It would also include newly impeached U.S President Donald Trump’s 2018 comments on “shithole countries” and Don Cherry’s multiple insensitive rants including his 2019 “you people” comment that got him fired from Sportsnet. Let’s just hope for the sake of anyone else whose name is Donald that this is just a coincidence.
I could go on and on, but this blogpost would turn into a novel. Honourable mentions from the decade go to the backlash Disney received casting black singer/actress Halle Bailey as the next Ariel in the Little Mermaid, Guiliana Rancic’s ‘patchouli oil and weed’ comment about Zendaya’s 2014 Oscars dreadlock hairstyle, the exclusion that lead to #OScarsSoWhite and all the firsts visible minorities celebrated this decade that were long overdue from the awarding institution. Vogue I’m looking at you.
I’ll leave it at that for now but I’m sure you can think of many more moments from this decade that are worth noting. If so, share them in the comments. And as you remember these moments, try to think about how we can improve upon them in the upcoming 20s.