One of my favorite college professors from my time at The University of Texas posted an op-ed piece recently published to USA Today titled, “Don't pit slavery descendants against black immigrants. Racism doesn't know the difference.”
In the article, he talks about the identity breakdown of black people in America. And the destructive divisiveness of pitting slavery decedents against black immigrants, because, put plainly, racism doesn’t know the difference.
In his post on LinkedIn, he said he “hope[s] it starts/continues an important conversation.” And to do just that I want to bring the conversation into my world of marketing and advertising.
The accuracy of this article is what presents a confusing problem for many marketers who may not be privy to the nuanced complexities of identity politics that exist amongst not only Black Americans (African Americans, Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, Afro-Latinos, etc.) but all people of color.
As Dr. Cokely Stated, “racism doesn’t know the difference” and when we as marketers also fail to acknowledge not only the cultural differences but the cultural nuances in our target audiences we directly play into that racist construct. (Yup, it’s racist.)
As the younger generations come up some say we are getting rid of labels, but the reality is we are creating more labels. In this day-in-age, we are more connected to our individual cultural identities. We are finally recognizing that we are the sum of all of our parts, and for too long we have turned the volume down on many of our most important elements. We no longer accept being lumped into one big category but look to see every part of our identities reflected in our media consumption.
“While multiracial adults share some things in common, they cannot be easily categorized. Their experiences and attitudes differ significantly depending on the races that make up their background and how the world sees them” - Multiracial in America. Pew Social Trends, 2015
What we are looking at is marketing with nuance. This is the idea that when you represent the cultural nuances of a community in your advertising efforts you begin to build authentic and thoughtful connections to your audience.
Shedding light on a nuanced problem, habit, or behavior of a community without exploitation allows your audience to feel seen as uniquely individual and not a monolith. Thus making them a fan. A fan of your brand and the way your brand thinks about them as a person.
It’s doing the work to learn the inside joke, without someone having to explain it to you. Ask the questions and do the research to know what the community is talking about and you won’t have to fake laugh your way in. They will welcome you into the tribe because put simply, “you know what’s up.” That's how you get your invite to the barbeque. (An inside joke for the reader I'm talking to.)
While I am speaking on the nuances that exist within racial differences, this easily applies to sexual orientation, geographic location, age, or any of those big demographic categories we like to use to make our jobs easier. We are in a sensitive time where our individuality is being used as a divisive tool for separation. But advertising and marketing have the power to rally the tribes and bring people together. But to do so effectively we must embrace the similarities that connect us, while also respecting the cultural nuances of our uniqueness. I’m talking to all my marketing and advertising people out there, but I want to specifically call out my creatives and my producers. As creatives, we must integrate cultural nuances into the storytelling of our ideas, and producers, we can’t let tight budgets result in generic executions. (Because, remember, if you don’t know the difference…well, that’s... ya know.)