Is This Racist Advertising?
Racism isn’t something I normally talk about. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood back in the fifties, conservative, civil, benign the way Christmas Parades are benign. It wasn’t until my family took me to Los Angeles that I heard a man refer to blacks as “n — rs.” My parents told me he wasn’t a very nice person. I didn’t think so, either. I was eight years old.
Throughout university and my early career, I rarely experienced racism. There was the news, obviously. I knew it existed, but not in the quiet domains of my life. I was untouched. Part of me even believed I’d remain untouched until one night, coming home on the subway, a black woman tried to sit down next to an elderly white woman. The elderly woman jumped up and said, “I won’t sit next to a n — r.” I remember she slurred her words. Someone told her to go find a white car.
I still convinced myself it was an aberration. We were too far along, too far advanced. The stalwarts, the faded southern belles, the rednecks mashing beer cans against their foreheads, they were an anomaly. Surely we were beyond can mashers, right wing nihilists and tent evangelists?
I had black friends, learned that black — at least Caribbean black — could be “one of many people.” These were mulattos, octoroons and quadroons. They didn’t like being called “African American.” That was too far back in their lineage. Even being called the n-word didn’t apply.
When I hear people say that racism is still endemic, that we haven’t advanced, I think back to my early years in advertising. This was the late seventies. I was working for a big agency. Maybe I still felt untouched, or maybe there were things I didn’t want to