1. Racially “insensitive” (code for “freaking disrespectful”) comment is made
2. People complain and/or threaten a boycott
3. Apology issued
4. Complainants resume support
We will likely see this play out in the weeks to come following a recent Nivea ad depicting a Black man casting off a mask that looked like him, but with a bushy Afro and the words “Recivilize Yourself” and also, a post on Vogue Italia’s website highlighting “slave earrings” with a disclaimer that while the word “slave” may usually bring to mind captive Black women in the South back in the day¸ this time it refers to the freedom one finds in hoop earrings. You can’t make this stuff up, right? Well, actually, you can. And then you just apologize and all will be well.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting we have to halt purchasing Nivea products forever or declare Vouge to be the international arm of the Klu Klux Klan. As far as offensive racist statements go, these register somewhere in between “I have Black friends!” and anything you might hear about Black folks on Fox News. The ad and the article were less hateful, more just plain stupid and ignorant.
And herein lies the problem: when it comes to Black folks, there is too much room for others to be stupid and ignorant. African Americans have turned the other cheek so many times, we’ve got whiplash. There is little-to-no incentive to know much about us prior to making some sort of offensive or inaccurate statement, because you’ll get in a little trouble right afterwards and just get forgiven later on.
How do we after all these years, create a culture in which Blackness is normative? Where Black girls can go off to traditionally White colleges and not field 100 questions about how often she washes her hair or why she wears a scarf to bed. And where restaurants and cafeterias everywhere know that serving fried chicken and macaroni and cheese for lunch is not an appropriate Black History Month acknowledgement. Oh, and where television news shows realize that programs like “Why Can’t Black Women Get A Man? What is Wrong With Them Anyway?” are totally unnecessary.
I guess that’s some real futuristic ‘post-race’ fantasy stuff, right? To be regular, even if that shade of ‘regular’ is different than the majority in many way may just be a pipe dream or a tangible reality for our great, great grand kids. It could happen! We didn’t think we’d see a Black President ten years ago and now look. He gets treated like a Pullman Porter by his own governmental constituents, but it’s a step!
In the meantime, the apologies are fine and dandy, but can we at least start asking that they be accompanied by something tangible? Say classes on cultural awareness for all staff and a company donation to the United Negro College Fund? That way, you can try and prevent the same mistake again AND we get a little something for our trouble. Cause we’ve got more ‘sorrys’ than we can do anything with, we need to charge a little more for our forgiveness.