What do you see when…
Published 6:01 am Saturday, September 29, 2018
Have you noticed commercials on mainstream television and advertisements in major publications?
Are you aware that almost always there are people of color being featured?
Are you paying attention to the same-sex couples who are being portrayed?
And what about the depiction of people of color in relationships with Anglos – whites?
Then there are family gatherings around the dining room table, and heaven forbid, both those of color and whites seem to be enjoying being together. If you haven’t noticed this, know that Thanksgiving is just around the corner.
And what about those backyard parties?
Let’s now look at Congress and the makeup of high-ranking committees when over half the U.S. population is female. Let’s look at corporate boards. There might be the token woman whose spouse has died and she has inherited that spot on the board.
Do you see all those white men in suits who had their fortieth birthday parties some time ago, so long ago that they fail to remember their high school or college days when just maybe they harassed or sexually assaulted one or more females? Believe me, the women might not remember the precise day, but they recall vividly the fear and humiliation they experienced not only that week but for months and years afterwards.
Twenty years ago I was chancellor of St. Louis Community College, and I spent a part of one day at a meeting with men in powerful positions in corporate America. We had gathered together to hear a speaker teach us about changing American demographics and the ways in which successful companies needed to be aware of those changes and reflect that in their marketing.
The facilitator was giving one-hundred-dollar bills to participants who would respond to his questions as he attempted to make it an interactive seminar (No candy bars tossed around to responders in this elite group). After I answered his first two questions as well his third, I was two hundred dollars richer and in possession of a book he had written on preparing to market to the new faces of America. Then I shut my mouth, too embarrassed to continue expressing my opinions.
I had spent time as a CEO of colleges in Kentucky, Texas and California, so I was aware of the need for inclusion. Yes, inclusion. I, however, had known about the importance of this word long before, beginning with my singing in the nursery of the church I attended as a young child, “Jesus loves the little children/all the children of the world; Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
My awareness was value-based, an ethical/spiritual rationale. Of course, I also understood the need to diversify the employee profile at the colleges I headed as well as the need to work regularly and candidly with minority advisors in the communities I served in order to provide the access that is critical to the community college’s mission (community college writ large).
Companies in the U.S. are now aware of who has dollars to spend on a host of goods, and they are responding by the decisions they are making with their branding. Is it an ethical issue for them? Who knows? I tend to think it’s probably more of a pragmatic decision as I look at some members of Congress and a president ready to make decisions in many areas to take us back to an earlier time when racism was more rampant than it is today. And, believe me, so many are more comfortable in touting their racist views now than they were two years ago.
In conclusion, I’m going to reveal a little personal history. I have two African American third cousins, Silas and Elsie. Are they adopted? Yes. Would I love them any more if they weren’t? Absolutely not. They are so young, and I want their lives to be rich, fulfilling. I want them to live in an inclusive world, a world I can only dream of now.
Dr. Vivian Blevins is a Harlan County native. She has taught undergraduate and graduate students as well as prison inmates, and now teaches communication and American literature classes at Edison State Community College in Ohio. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.