Are some commercial depictions of multiracial families sending the wrong message?
Avoiding the proliferation of television commercials starring white men leading black families is hard to avoid. The commercials are, of course, intended to sell products ranging from automobiles to insurance to snacks. Still, portraying scenes of intimacy that focus on white men in Black life can spark painful memories of historical experiences.
Such commercials can become instruments for destructive role models in the black mind. You can codify a new symbol of white male dominance under the pretext of diversity – especially when the reality of multiracial marriage is that black men and white women far surpass the scenes advertised in the commercials.
For example, the 2017 Pew Center report, Trends and Patterns in Intermarriage, found that “black men are twice as likely as black women to have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity (24 percent versus 12 percent). This gender gap has existed for a long time – in 1980, 8 percent of recently married black men and 3 percent of their female counterparts were married to a different race or ethnicity. “
As such, the commercials appear to be aimed at marketing an image with some degree of political manipulation. Unfortunately, the Black Democrats seem unprepared to question the role of advertising in influencing the impressions of black youth. Few Washington politicians are pushing for commercials that sell products and enhance images of black pride, love, and self-determination.
One might wonder if Democrats – and black lawmakers in particular – have a role to play on this issue. According to the First Amendment, advertising is clearly protected as “commercial speech”. However, the Federal Trade Commission has authority to review advertisements that are found to be untrue, misleading, or unfair. Typically, critics of problematic reports turn to the courts for complaints; In the past, the courts have upheld commercial speaking rights with limited exceptions such as pornography. This problem does not rise to this level.
However, Democrats may have a personal interest in the cultural implications of advertising and racial representations. Those sitting on relevant congressional committees can ask questions and gather facts about the intent of the advertising campaigns. By showing interest, they can succeed in getting advertisers to reimagine the broader message in the campaigns.
The silence is especially noticeable when you consider that the commercials are aired in time slots with high visibility for black youth. Pringles, for example, shows a young white man sitting at a kitchen table while a black father comments on how well his daughter kisses; Hyundai shows a black woman and two children in a car that a white father drives to buy beef jerky; Nissan has a black woman behind the wheel with two children and a white father who speed through the frozen tundra and other extreme locations.
Clearblue, which makes a home pregnancy test, had a black woman with a white man when she discovered a positive test result. Vicks NyQuil shows a black woman with a cold in bed with a white man who turns to her and says “sweetheart” referring to a cold medicine.
In contrast, Progressive shows a meek white woman in an apartment building laundry room interested in meeting a new black tenant. When the man approaches to show mutual interest, the character of “Flo” interferes with the tenant insurance and prevents the two from talking to each other.
Such commercials can tap into unconscious myths in American racial and cultural history. Myths include the white man as the savior of the “Great Father”, the black woman as sexually available, the black man as absent or without authority in his own home, and the white woman as precious and in need of protection from black men.
One has to think about the mindset of the advertising managers when creating the marketing campaigns. The problem would be less noticeable if it weren’t for the blatant lack of commercials depicting loving relationships between black men and women – much less by blacks in intimate spaces with friends and spouses of other non-white groups. Do these representations not sell products – and if so, why?
The potential for the corrosive effects of the representations has been explored by social psychologists in recent years. Obviously, the commercials sell more than just products; they also market images of economic power, values of racial and color preferences, and understanding of social hierarchy.
Social psychologist Joy DeGruy examined the psychological implications in her book, Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Permanent Injury and Healing. Her work examined the long-standing violations of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and structural racism: “The legacy of trauma is reflected in many of our behaviors and beliefs; Behaviors and beliefs that were once necessary for survival but now undermine our ability to be successful. ”
In addition, Michael Halloran examined the effects in “African American Health and Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome: A Terror Management Theory Account”. His work was published in the October 2018 issue of the Journal of Black Studies and examined how blacks suffered when their culture no longer had a “buffer against basic fear and insecurity”.
A consequence of this has been susceptibility to anxiety-related illnesses, poor health outcomes, and destructive social experiences. Author Brian Resnick highlighted such findings in The Atlantic November 2013 article, “Poverty Is Stamped In DNA in Childhood – And Stays There.” He wrote that “poorer upbringing increases people’s susceptibility to colds later in life, something they cannot shake off even as they climb the socio-economic ladder”.
There is an increasing body of research in this area. Social psychologists have recommended steps toward healing from the injuries of multigenerational oppression. These include programs that focus on restoring self-esteem, reducing stress and health problems, promoting social justice, and making amends for past exploitation.
A step forward would be promoting commercials that do more to validate positive experiences, accomplishments, loving relationships, and male role models in the black community – the exact opposite of how the current flurry of interracial TV ads can socialize viewers .
Roger House, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of American Studies at Emerson College, Boston and the author of Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy. Since 2014 he has published VictoryStride.com, a curated website on African American history and culture.