When is Black History Month 2022?
Black History Month originated in the USA to celebrate African American communities, and takes place during the month of February. However, if you live in the UK, Black History Month will last from 1 October 2022 to 31 October 2022.
Black History Month is a significant time of the year that aims to remember the lives and achievements of Black people. Black history is often omitted from school textbooks and educational materials, so it’s crucial that the importance of Black culture is celebrated within the UK. As valuable as it is to celebrate Black History Month, this is just one small step towards a bigger change.
Why is Black History Month in October?
So, why is Black History Month in October in the UK? The answer dates back to October 1987, when activist Akyaaba Addai-Sebo arranged the first ever Black History Month. He decided that October would become the UK’s Black History Month because he believed it was the time of year that would ‘engage most the minds of children and youth in the UK’.
Why is it important for marketers to consider race beyond BHM?
We’ve all seen our fair share of marketing blunders when it comes to race. From H&M to Pepsi, some of the biggest brands in the world have failed to understand the nuances of race and marketing at some point. Mistakes like these damage much more than brand image; such oversights contribute to an ongoing culture of racism that’s especially rife in the media. Instead of simply apologising for insensitive campaigns after receiving bad press, brands should listen to Black voices all year round – not just during Black History Month.
If you’re willing to learn and grow your digital marketing strategy so that it’s inclusive of all communities, here are some ways that you can consider race beyond Black History Month.
Representation in marketing can be considered from two perspectives; employment and content. Not only should brands work towards building a diverse and inclusive workplace, but the materials and campaigns published should consider audiences of all races.
Representation in the workplace
It’s no secret that most industries in the UK are predominantly white, upper class, and male dominated – the world of marketing is no different. Unfortunately, Marketing Week’s 2020 Career and Salary Survey found that only 2% of its 3,883 respondents were Black, and this statistic obviously can’t be remedied in the short space of a month. Employers such as the BBC have made steps towards trying to rectify this issue by disallowing all-white shortlists for top jobs. Good company policy for any marketing firm should always consider inclusivity, and it may be useful to enforce diversity quotas when hiring.
While it’s essential to hire a diverse workforce, you should also create an inclusive and safe space for your existing team. This is especially important for employees who belong to minorities, as microaggressions are still common in the workplace. As well as celebrating Black History Month as an organisation, you should ensure that your workplace has a zero tolerance policy for any and all discrimination. Black employees should feel appreciated all year round, not just during BHM.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or under the sea – you’ll have seen news about Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, starring Halle Bailey. Disney’s newest remake has received a huge amount of racist backlash regarding the casting of a Black woman as Ariel – despite the fact that Ariel herself is a fictional character. However, parents around the world have been uploading heartwarming Tik Tok videos of young Black children in absolute awe of the trailer. Reactions like these highlight the need for more representation in the media that will inspire and uplift Black children, which was a key motivator for establishing Black History Month in the UK.
One of the key criticisms of Disney’s choice to include a Black mermaid was that it “didn’t make sense”. However, this is why representation is so important – Blackness in marketing does not need to serve a purpose or contribute to a plot. Organisations like BRiM (Black Representation in Marketing) work to make meaningful change to improve the representation of Black people in marketing. When marketing firms run campaigns, they should challenge the misconception that white is the normative race and avoid choosing white skin tones as default.
Another important facet of Black representation is colourism. While brands and campaigns may be applauded for the inclusion of Black faces and representatives, it’s not uncommon for them to favour light skin tones over dark. An article in the Harvard Business Review notes that although we may see more Black presence in marketing now, white beauty standards are still upheld in many ads. So, if you’re thinking about Black representation in your campaigns, don’t ignore the presence of colourism.
When marketers lack knowledge about certain cultures, it can be the start of a downward spiral towards applying offensive stereotypes. Stereotypes and prejudice often work on a subconscious level, so marketers need to be aware of how their campaigns portray different minorities down to the smallest detail.
For example, one study asked participants to answer ‘no’ when presented with a photograph of a Black person alongside associated stereotypes. The study found that by invalidating negative stereotypes and affirming positive traits, the participants’ levels of prejudice against Black people were drastically reduced. This provides a valuable insight as to how marketing can influence the beliefs of the everyday person, and stresses the importance of avoiding stereotypes.
Challenging these stereotypes in marketing can save lives, which is indeed a shocking reality check for marketers who hold a strong influence over the wider public.
Don’t trivialise important issues
One of the biggest examples of brands trivialising Black issues is Pepsi’s ‘Live For Now’ commercial that aired in 2017. The ad showed white model, Kendall Jenner, breaking up a protest by handing a Pepsi to a police officer. At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, the clear implication from Pepsi’s ad was that these protests could be solved with a can of fizzy drink. Martin Luther King Jr’s daughter, Bernice King, commented: ‘If only Daddy had known about the power of #Pepsi’. It’s paramount that marketers take care not to trivialise racial issues, never mind attempting to capitalise on them too. If you want to draw awareness to an important cause, don’t do it in a way that’s transparently money grabbing.
Mishaps like these only further emphasise the need for Black representation within marketing firms. Allegedly, all six people involved in creating Pepsi’s ad were white. Perhaps if just one employee from a racial minority had been consulted during the process, then it would’ve been clear to Pepsi why this ad was inappropriate.
We’ve spoken about Black representation in marketing, but there are also ways for this to backfire if your motives are insincere. Tokenism can be including one Black person among a campaign full of white people, or hiring just one racial minority employee at a firm. Basically, if you’re doing the bare minimum in order to appear racially progressive as a company, it’s not going to cut it.
The issue of tokenism has been around for years – cult favourite ‘Not Another Teen Movie’ hilariously calls out the prevalence of tokenism in Hollywood films. The film’s ‘token black guy’, Malik, says:
Sure, why not? I am the token black guy. I’m just supposed to smile and stay out of the conversation and say things like; “Damn,” “Shit,” and “That is whack.”
These sorts of Black characters populate advertisements and other media even today – and such characters were self aware back in 2001. Malik’s character is a blunt reminder of how one-dimensional and stereotypical Black representation often is. Here’s a top tip for marketers: including a ‘token black guy’ is never the right call, and everyone will see straight through it. Don’t just throw in Black representation willy nilly to appear PC – it’s simply not enough to create fictional Black people who’re ‘just supposed to smile and stay out of the conversation’.
There’s one incredibly simple way to avoid putting out offensive marketing campaigns. The solution? Listening to Black employees and the wider Black community. Consider Pepsi’s all-white marketing team who delivered one of the most slated advertising campaigns out there. It’s all well and good to announce your solidarity once a year when Black History Month comes around, but it means nothing if you don’t act on it all year round. As well as avoiding insensitive campaigns, communicating with and hearing the Black community will allow you to actually make a valuable contribution.
A moving example of marketing done right is Procter & Gamble’s ‘The Talk’ – the advertisement that went on to win an Emmy. Awards and praise aside, the ad was so well-received because it showed the realities of Black mothers and the struggle of educating their children about racism. The ad aimed to make a real change, and was incredibly well-executed by the brand’s Global Communications Director, Damon Jones.
The world of digital marketing still has a long way to go when it comes to inclusivity and diversity. It’s important that we talk about the imbalances in the industry so that the right steps can be taken to rectify these problems. It won’t happen overnight, but your brand can contribute to these efforts by being considerate and listening to those around you.
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