Thursday, January 10, 2008

Acceptably black, my ass...

A bitch has spent many a year working in the advertising industry with agencies and business owners. Years ago I worked directly with minority advertising agencies and I hoped, and still hope, that minority marketing done by minorities will better represent who we are to the world and to ourselves.

Having said that, advertising is still riding a big fucking F on the diversity report card. Agencies and vendors struggle to recruit minority talent even as they struggle to develop campaigns that appeal to a population that is diverse and more willing than ever to embrace our individual diversity.

Unlike other industries where small minded fools can debate the benefit of a diverse workforce as relates to the shit their company does, advertising really demands workforce representation. It doesn’t get it, but it needs it…big time. Even so-called general market agencies would benefit from having a workforce that reflects, well…the general market, which is not exclusively young straight white snarky Volkswagen driving indie band adoring desperate to set an international trend and win that coveted Addie award men.


Hell, just look at the ads that offend you and you can bet your ass “you” weren’t in the room when that shit got the green light for production. Or, if “you” were, you were shot down due to lack of research to prove what you know to be true about your own damn culture.

Anyhoo, industry publications like Ad Age have been moaning about the challenge of recruiting diverse talent…and they have danced around any real examination of why agencies still struggle. Personally, I think agencies may want to look at the ad people in the mirror and I present this piece of shit article as an example of why.

Oh no…uh, uh…you really need to read this shit before you continue reading my post.

Pause to allow time for reading (wink).

Alrighty then!

I could go into detail about the unbelievable bullshit that is the phrase “acceptably black”. Who the fuck gave Bob fucking Garfield the anointed power to determine what about my blackness is acceptable and what isn’t? And since when do we validate the notion that society has the privilege to level that distinction on some and deny it to others?

And this, my brothers and sisters, is the twisted freak ad critic who influences the ad creators who then deliver the image of “blackness” for clients.

Think about that as I move on to Garfield’s “Halle Berry and Denzel Washington are acceptably black. Your local news anchors are acceptably black. Tupac was not.”

Mmmmhmm, it made my Afro hurt too.

Anyhoo, I could easily explore the disturbing glee with which Garfield drops the “N” word in his article. A bitch is pretty sure he was semi-aroused by the process and got an adrenaline rush when his rancid ass hit send. “Fuck yeah,” he probably sighed, “that’s Gonzo as a motherfucker, right?”


That was pathetic.

But this Ad Age article is a rare gem of a find…a look inside the mind of The Ad Man and how they justify their thinking.
Garfield wrote this shit.

Ad Age published it.

And this bitch can’t believe anyone at a general market ad agency is still trying to figure out why Black people…LGBT people…Hispanic people…Native American people...Asian people…women who would like to achieve something greater than middle management and a pat on the head…or the disabled take a pass on their trifling stereotype obsessed industry whilst cruising

Heaven to hell and back again, the answer to that shit is probably sitting next to you in a conference room arguing passionately about how board X is better because the images shown are “acceptably black” and not “threatening”.

People of color and other minorities aren’t martyrs to the cause of an industry’s diversity initiative. There’s a limit to what anyone is willing to put themselves through and, now that other industries have made advances, those industries that are still trapped in 1954 will not be able to compete.

The other thing this article makes very clear is that the imaging of black people is deliberate. That imaging perpetuates stereotypes…influences society…and often has a negative impact on how we see ourselves. Acceptable or Tupac...successful or dead…appealing even to racists or un-electable? We simply can not continue to allow The Man to define that shit and part of the definition begins with marketing.

I’m not arguing that the concept of “acceptable blackness” doesn’t exit. Advertising is a powerful medium and decades of marketing have had the desired affect.

But I’m sure as shit not ready to declare the mountaintop achieved because Bob Garfield predicts that even a racist would feel comfortable voting for Obama.
C’mon, Bob…even Tiger Woods (the ultimate marketing creation of man of color acceptability) has a white woman casually calling for his ass to be lynched without advertisers running from the television channel she works for.

That ain’t progress…this shit is not acceptable …and Bob Garfield sure ain’t slick.






Anonymous said...

Hmm. Okay, just for fun, how about what it means to be "acceptably white?"

That multicultural beer/pizza ad where three guys are flopped around the TV set toasting their team with Coors Light? One of them is a black man, sure. But here's the thing - the two white guys are yuppiefied metrosexuals, one dirty blond and one with dark brown hair and careful stubble; all three are dressed in J.Crew, and the living room they are sitting in is suspiciously tidy. If there is a token girl in the group she is tanned-but-anglo with long medium-brown hair and the girlie version of the J.Crew garb.

Advertisers don't reflect "who we are" in their ads - they reflect "who we wish we were," including just how comfortable viewers are as it relates to diversity. That's why "President Palmer" is shilling for Allstate instead of the fat slob from "Knocked Up."

Anonymous said...

Okay, besides the fact that the idea of "acceptably black" is a bunch of racist bullshit...Garfield's point doesn't even make any sense, since finding "acceptably black" people is all about appearance, and nobody sees you pull the ballot lever. Racists going around hoping to seem otherwise by finding "acceptably black" people might say they like Obama in a poll, but they're sure as hell not voting for him when no one is looking.

Saskia said...

Feel free to call me naive, but was Garfield critiquing the concept of "acceptable blackness" or endorsing it? Or was he weirdly doing both -- saying the concept exists (bad), so we might as well use it in advertising and getting people to vote for Obama (good)?

bitchphd said...

1. Of COURSE an article like that is going to use the N word. That's the entire fucking point of articles like that.

2. Your ass is acceptably black? (Sorry, couldn't help it.)

Yankee, Transferred said...

Sing it, Shark-Fu!

Shark-Fu said...

Rileysdtr... I feel you but I'm concerned with who is generating the who we wish we were for people of color. I think she's hot, but I don't wish to be Halle Berry (wink).

Anon...mmmhmmm for sure.

Saskia... maybe both but I think he just wanted to drop the N word and manifest his resentment. He's a

Bitchphd... How it is, girlfriend? Anyhoo, as regards my too fine like good wine ass its black and that's more than acceptable for me (wink)!

Its also going to be 35 years old in about a month.


Anonymous said...

I just read the first paragraph of that and I want to make you sit in the corner for making me click on that link. Sit. IN THE CORNER!

Hugs and kisses, Delux

Anonymous said...


I'm a white middle-aged female with presumably more purchasing power than the hip 20-somethings that seem to be the target market for damn near everything these days.

Hell, my only guess is that the hip 20-somethings are running the Marketing agencies these days and they're selling stuff to themselves.

With half the stuff I see that's for sale, I just ask myself rhetorically: "Do they think we're stupid."

We must be.

Ghost Lurker

Bob Garfield said...

since you don't quibble with the concept of "acceptable blackness," i sure don't understand the rest of your ad hominem tirade.

you can impute whatever ridiculous motives to me article you wish (even though it was completely straightforward), but DON'T CALL ME AN AD MAN.

i've never been one. i'm a journalist. period.

you know, all you ranting and raving and logic leaps (what does the tiger woods/lynching episode gave to do with anything i wrote?) undercut the small portion of your post that qualifies as argument.
-- bob garfield

Shark-Fu said...


Shall we?

#1 - Not denying that there is such a sad thing as "acceptable blackness" is far from embracing it or finding comfort in it. My rant relates to your defense of acceptable blackness which I find disturbing.

#2 - You're right. You're not an ad're a critic of the work that ad men do. But the article in question didn't even accomplish that, which is why I hesitate to call you a journalist.

I don't know what that was but it wasn't critical journaism related to the ad you sampled on the page.

And the Tiger Woods mention was to point out that acceptable blackness is a myth...even Woods gets attacked on the basis of color when someone feels like his or her power is under assault.

Thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

*runs to grab popcorn*

*munches avidly*

Anonymous said...

*rolls up next to delux with my own bowl of popcorn*

Thanks for schooling, Mr. Garfield. Because it completely makes up for the article.

And to Mr. Garfield, a whole bunch of us are all too familiar with "acceptable blackness." Trust me when I say you don't know jack.

Infuriated Faggot said...

Ooh That's hella-bullshit.

Question: was O.J. Simpson "acceptably black?"

Why are the criteria for other minorities? Am I acceptably gay? I sure as fuck don't fit the gay-window advertising bullshit that is shoved down my throat with A&F or whatever. Hmmmm. . .

The sad thing ABB is that, though I'm intrigued by the article, I'm not surprised. But my non-surprise WILL NOT be transformed into complacency.

I really wish we could get rid of the advertisement agencies / news agencies in the states. I think in terms of the way they portray people (black, white, gay, straight, smokers, non-smokers, drinkers, etc. . .) has never been accurate and has literally prevented forward momentum in our society.

I can't wait to get back to STL! Jan 25th!


Anonymous said...

Shark-fu, I'm not sure, but I'm assuming that this is the Bob Garfield that is one of the hosts of On The Media, an NPR program that critiques and exposes all aspects of the media and how it influences - both deliberately and inadvertently - our lives, opinions, etc. I certainly read the article as flipping on a bright light in a dark room, to see what scurries out...

Shark-Fu said...


I'm pretty sure that's him on NPR too.

I wish I read it that way, but I don't.

And trust me, I've read it several times...

I fear that the light was turned on and the author began to chase his own shadow on this topic...

Shark-Fu said...

delux & ladyjax...

Y'all make a bitch want to visit so I can munch pop corn too!


Instead I've got a vodka cran (wink) and my dawgs for company.


***sound of crickets***

I guess the discussion is over?

Anonymous said...

is the issue just that Garfield's white and said uttered the phrase?

i may be missing something, but it really seemed to me like Garfield was *tweaking* the idea of 'acceptable blackness' and people that subscribe to it, not riding for it.

he wasn't saying Tupac wasn't 'acceptable' --- he was saying that there are white people who make the distinction. "You're one of the good ones", "she's not like the rest of them." and so on.

i was reading an article where a white campaign adviser told a black candidate who spoke about issues important to black voters that when he did so, he made the adviser "feel very white." the idea was that his racial appeals made white voters uncomfortable.

Obama, like it or not, is that. he doesn't scare white folks or make them squirm. for any number of reasons ---- his light skin, his placeless accent ---- people can place any kind of racial narrative they want on him. They can vote for him, a black man, without ever feeling threatened by the fact that, well, he's a black man.

bitchphd said...

Its also going to be 35 years old in about a month.

Break me a give, youngster. I'll be 40 *this* month.

Anonymous said...

*strikes up vintage pfunk for entertainment value*

BTW ABB have you had any of your fans in canada send you any of those lovely iced wines or aperitif cider liqueurs?

Anonymous said...

one last thing

did you see this hot mess? erica and gloria clearly have a hive mind for the crazypants.

Frogspond said...

Na, not over. This little froggie fell asleep early last night so I am making up this morning.

In answer to the question of what is acceptably gay that would be "In The Closet".

Acceptability usually translates to invisable. You gotta figure that ANYthing/one who does not fit what the power people (behind or in front of the scenes) expect will not be seen, or heard. Look at any "minority" group. (I apologize for the quotes, I don't like that term but I use it when I have to) Other than tokens there is no real representation anywhere. We celebrate when someone is allowed a seat at the table but are they really listened to??

I am a woman in the Information Technology (IT) department of my company. I have been in IT for years now. I bet you all could count on no fingers how many women have come by and fixed your computer in the last 5 years. (don't even get me started on women of color!) Contrast that with how many women have helped you at McDonalds or have cleaned your office.

Things may have changed for the very few but for all the rest of us, not much has.

P.S. The reason I don't like the term "minority" is cause we AREN'T. There are more of us "minorities" then there are of them. How about we put that to good use and don't buy any of their shit. (At least as little as we can to get by) Farmers markets, women, Black, gay, Latina/o, Middle-eastern, owned business' can provide wonderful resources for everyday items. A little research goes a long way. It would surprise you how much you can find. If the Man wants to just pander to himself, then how about only he buy his shit.

Ok, perhaps I should have posted this long as thing on my blog... Sorry for takn up so much space. :-)

Shark-Fu said...

g.d. -

No, the issue is not Garfield's race.

I think the first portion of the post where he fumbles through that picture shit on his way to dropping the N bomb might be a case of white male defiance.

But the acceptable blackness myth pisses me off regardless of who is pushing it.

The issue is the perpetuation of acceptable blackness within advertising and marketing and how that is not a good thing. Decades ago that definition also included how black the actual color could be.

Honestly, I'm not convinced that the Halle Berry test isn't the paper bag test by another name.


We're having a more legitimate discussion here than Garfield indulged in and I still don't see a critical analysis of the ad he was supposed to be reviewing in the journalistic malfunction that ended up being published.

Shark-Fu said...


After this week I may journey to the Land of Smarties and pick up some of that stuff whilst there.


And you are wrong for the Huffington link! WRONG! I'm feeling strokish as is.

Anonymous said...

How could I keep that pain and trauma all to myself? I mean its like the last 30+ years of women of color schooling mainstream feminists never happened.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm back.

I don't wish to be Halle either (Do her? 'Nother story, but then I am long happily married.. at least until those "Catwoman" movie stills showed up. Mrow! Wait - where was I? Ah, yes. Ahem.) but I see your point about "who is determining what an acceptable (fill in your minority here) is?"

Side note - "in the closet" is no longer necessary for one to be acceptably gay.... "celibate" seems to be the sticking point. Every sitcom/popcorn movie/talk show/Reality TV etc. now seems to feature the homo sidekick, who helps the hero/ine find True Love, riches, that damn "Dancing With the Stars" trophy, whatever; but who never finds True Love him/her (but usually him) self.

Take the Greek Tragedy that is Brokeback Mountain out of the race, and how many times in modern entertainment has the queer gotten laid before the credits rolled? It's kind of an inverse of the black guy being the first casualty in a horror/slasher/war flick.

But I digress yet again (you folks munching popcorn on the sidelines? Blow the whistle next time I do that or we'll be here all day): a connective link in the examples used herein of "acceptable blackness" is that Barack, Halle, and Tiger are multiracial, and hence quite High Yellow... and have danced for years around issues that they are not, in fact, "black enough."

So is Barack "acceptably black" to blacks? Is he "black enough"? Among the old guard Civil Rights folks is the issue one of age, skin tone, education? Barack and Halle were both raised by their (white) single mothers; does this present an assumed privilege that they had an "in" into "white" society?

(Okay, enough with the quote marks - y'all can assume they exist where they make sense)

Did Tiger face backlash as a professional golfer not only from members-only white clubs but also from blacks who wondered what on God's Green Earth he was doing playing a fat old white man's game? (making money.... piles and piles of money.... that's what he was doing) and did anyone (black or white) go up in flames when he married that zipper-meltingly hot Swedish nanny?

If Barack had married a white girl, would he be standing on the national stage today?

Acceptability based on skin tone starts to break down into racism (or should it be colorism, to encompass multiracial people?) just about immediately on all sides of the fence. Otherwise, why do folks on this discussion feel the need to express their colors? Liberal cred? Street cred? To present an assurance that "I am one of the good ones"? We all fall into the exact same trap.

For the record, I am Irish on both sides of my family (and will strenuously avoid borrowing from Bernie Mac's hilarious "Black Irish" routine), female, gay, and my every-spreading ass is some ways past age 35... any questions?

Anonymous said...

But, again: Garfield doesn't seem to be riding for the concept of acceptability, only giving voice to the idea that it exists.

we all agree it's stupid. but when people said Michael Jordan 'transcended race' at the height of his career, what do you think they were really saying? When white pundits and media outlets and bloggers call Obama 'postracial,' what do you think they're really saying?

i've had friends say this about gay people: "he's cool, not like one of those queeny ones who's always throwing his sexuality in your face.'

the idea is stupid. that doesn't mean it's not real.

Shark-Fu said...

G.D. - The idea is more than is destructive and degrading.

I read Garfield's piece as insulting to Obama because it negates the appeal of his policy through a degrading exploration of why he'll get the racist vote and why Garfield thinks that's a good thing.

I read Garfield's piece as a defense of the so-called transcendent power of "acceptable blackness" as if speaking well, being educated, having a kick ass resume and not being too visibly black is empowering.

It's not and I resent any praise of the continued marketing of that mythical delusion to the masses.

I'm black...I've got an amazing resume...I went to one of the best colleges in the country...I speak rather well (wink)...and my acceptability only goes so far and leaves a sistah feeling like a bloody Bank of America diversity ad at the end of the day.

So again, the idea of acceptable blackness is more than just stupid. It is degrading and its use in Garfield's article insults Obama, dismisses his achievements and sums up his success as the by-product of making white people feel comfortable.

Now ask youself how should people of color feel about acceptable blackness?

How empowering it is to have your achievements summed up as the result of making white people feel comfortable? How uplifting is it to feel that you will go further, make more money, be more employable if "they" dont feel by your blackness?

How does it make us feel to have everything we've every wanted and worked for...sacrificed for...come down to whether folks like Garfield think we've passed the Halle Berry test?






Garfield's lone achievement was to hit all five of those in one article.

And people ask why I'm angry...

Anonymous said...

Boy 11 days into the new year and already the political ugliness has commenced...Sheesh.

I don't know who I am voting for at this point, but I know for sure who I won't be voting for. Whatever my decision is come November it won't be because they're "acceptable"...

Anonymous said...

I have come to the conclusion that the never ending discussions from white observers about who and what Black people think is "black enough" are much more about what white people think than anything else.

So I dont engage in them.

Anonymous said...

Aw, come out and play! We all have an "(x) enough" lurking in our minds - black enough, white enough, gay enough, man enough.... speaking as a woman who at any given moment may or may not be girly enough (depends on if I have on an apron or a tool belt, near as I can figure) that's my whole point!

AOB said...

AS the Jewish mother of three beautiful BLACK children I am still trembling with rage at the audacity of this fucking moron.

I am totally unable to comment further. ABB... you nailed it girlfriend.

Anonymous said...

Delux- hot it on the head. As usual, these comments are about white people and their fears. Media creates these fears. Whites should be trying to figure out this fear and work it out for themselves. The journalist failed in his delivery. It is as if he didn't really know how to talk about the issue but is this any surprise? White people do not know how to talk about these issues that really are a huge problem for them. Most of them can only deal with black people if they feel they(whites) are "helping" blacks. They can not deal with blacks as equals. Problem.

Frogspond said...

Anonymous said "Most of them can only deal with black people if they feel they(whites) are "helping" blacks. They can not deal with blacks as equals."

Most cannot truly feel that anyone of color is actually a real person. Equal is a far flung dream...

SharkFu - Good discussion going on here.

Anonymous said...


But where was he reducing Obama's achievements to him being 'acceptable'?

He wasn't defending the 'trancendent power of acceptable blackness', as you say. he was saying that this is how people think, and furthermore, that the problematic idea of 'acceptable blackness' is one perpetuated by ad companies and media representation. Shirley Chisholm could NEVER be a viable presidential candidate, not because she wasn't brilliant or capable, but because she couldn't 'transend race' or wasn't 'postracial' or whatever silly code words people want to use in reference to ethnically ambiguous folks Halle Berry or Barack Obama.

i've been passing this article around my little circle of friends: all of us black, literate, critical of privilege, and not exactly prone to giving white people a lot of slack on shit. none of us read this piece the way you did or took offense to it. are we missing something?

Shark-Fu said...

G.D. I wouldn't say you are missing something. Rather that you are granting something to Garfield, which is the assumption that he didn't mean to say what he said when he said it.

This is not a case of my seeing a sentence you missed.

This is a case of my reading the article expecting to see a review of the ad and having worked in the industry for nearly a decade (wince) and being confronted with a non-review of the creative.

Instead there was what some may see as a snarky exploration of acceptable blackness but what I see as a devaluation of black achievement on purely linguistic and visual grounds.

Perhaps we view this article through very different eyes...but I've read it over and over, even watched the ad and read the article again, and it still offends me on the grounds stated above.

Then again, we black people don't all think alike now do we (wink)?

sagefever said...

Brillant,witty~ I bow down to a wordsmith and idea maven par excelence.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

It's a wonderful thing that these things are being discussed in detail out in the open. It's the only way people are going to become educated.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand this idea of an acceptable mold or standard of living for Black people or just people of color in general. It's completely degrading and it just pisses me off. Great post and, oh I must say this, fight the power! And I agree with sagacioushillbilly, I learn a lot from what you write.

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