The BLACK paPR Report

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PR from an African American Perspective

Color Vision

colorbars2My colleague, Jonnice Slaughter, principal of Chatterbox Publicity in Atlanta called me at 1 a.m. last Saturday morning. She took a big risk but a worthy one to wake me up more ways than one. Jonnice asked me if I’d seen the recent NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) report, OUT OF FOCUS-OUT OF SYNC TAKE 4 (December 2008). I hadn’t read it and within seconds I jumped out of bed to turn on my laptop and hunt the report down.

Jonnice knows a few things about me that prompted that telephone call. She knows I have an interest in mass-mediated images of African Americans, an interest that fuels my vision as a PR consultant and publicist. I taught the subject for a number of years and have synthesized information on stereotypes and the history of blacks in media in such a way that I have no choice but to pay attention to what we see and hear in American popular culture. She also knows that I have a favorite client, Hadjii, who recently had his sitcom, Somebodies, canceled on Black Entertainment Television (BET), which was hurtful to me because I believe in him and I believed in the images represented in that program. 

Now I am pretty smart, but Jonnice is smarter. She said, “This is your time to begin a movement.” At 1 a.m., I didn’t feel particularly revolutionary but I listened and one of the points she made is that this is not the first time in the 100 year history of the NAACP that it addressed what is still clearly a problem – images of African Americans. Wasn’t the movement essentially founded on our lack of representation? And the most compelling point she made was that it’s time to change our representation and images permanently.

That’s when I woke up.

The end result was the beginning of a movement: Color Vision. Jonnice is my co-creator of the Facebook group Color Vision and she is my co-conspirator in the movement. LOL So far, there are 40 members in the group and these members represent many facets of media from journalism to broadcast to publishing to music and acting. And these members are joined by media consumers, smart and savvy people, with a voice.

Color Vision will become a regular section in this blog. In the coming weeks guest contributors will share their thoughts on the many issues related to this topic and the report.

Watch these videos from 1981 that lend a historical perspective on the topic of mass-mediated images of African Americans and documents just how long this issue has been a problem.

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Filed under: African Americans, Color Vision, Mass-Mediated Images, Stereotypes, Uncategorized, , , , , ,

In the White House But Still Not On The Sidelines

Lack of African-American Coaches in College Football Still Shocking

Commentary/Blog Post on BlackPower.com, November 11, 2008

Reprint Permission by Terrance Harris


coach-largeThe United States of America just elected its first African-American president.
 
Now, if only college football could be as open-minded.
 
Last week the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida released a report saying that black coaches in major college football are at the lowest numbers in 15 years. Let’s just hope a lot of money wasn’t put into this study because the numbers are obvious.
 
With the ouster of Tyrone Willingham at Washington and now Ron Prince at Kansas State, the number of African-American head coaches at the Division I-A or NCAA Bowl Subdivision level has dropped to four among 119 member schools. Talk about insulting.
 
It’s even worse when you take into account that 55 percent of all student athletes at these schools are minorities. Even with an African-American man in the Oval Office, the old saying that we’re good enough to play but not good enough to coach still rules in major college football.
 
Dr. Richard Lapchick, who co-authored the report, offered a couple of interesting solutions to solve the gap. In 1997, there was an all-time high of eight African-American coaches at college football’s highest level. Today, there are just four. The last time the numbers were worse was in 1993, when only three black men held Division I-A head coaching jobs.
 
Lapchick suggests that the NCAA adopt a rule similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL, which mandates that a minority has to be interviewed for every head coaching vacancy. At the NCAA level, it would be known as the Eddie Robinson Rule as tribute to the late, ground-breaking Grambling coach.
 
Good idea, but very problematic to institute at the collegiate level. Rich white boosters often control the purse strings and haven’t seemed comfortable turning their beloved football programs over to people who look like the players. Then you can’t forget that the NCAA does not exert the same control over its member schools as the NFL does over its teams and players.
 
But this is a serious problem that might require radical measures to solve.
 
How about if the parents of perspective student athletes became a little more proactive and decided not to allow their children to consider those universities that aren’t inclusive in their hiring practices? The information is easy to obtain from the Black Coaches Association. Heck, why can’t the best athletes stock the football programs of our HBCU’s? Trust that the cameras and coverage along with NFL scouts would follow. Just ask Steve McNair and Jerry Rice.
 
My guess is that if white schools lost out on some of the top athletes, who ultimately elevate programs into lucrative BCS paydays, that would get their attention.

 

I remember several years back when Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow and his son (Kellen Winslow, Jr., now a tight end with the Cleveland Browns) had it out on national television on football signing day. Pops wasn’t about to sign any letter of intent to a school that didn’t have an African-American in a position of leadership, either as a defensive or offensive coordinator.
 
Already this year, high-level jobs like Clemson, Tennessee, Washington, Purdue and Kansas State have opened up. Several names are being thrown about. But no African-American coaches seem to be in the mix.
 
Guys like Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Haywood and Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil should be at the top of many lists. But sadly they aren’t.

~Terrance Harris

terrance.harris@chron.com

Terrance Harris is a sports columnist for the Houston Chronicle.

Filed under: African Americans, Ethics, Mass-Mediated Images, Sports PR, Stereotypes, The Black Pro Athlete, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Image is Everything

I’m an image geek who can trace my addiction to mass-mediated images of African Americans back to my childhood. Television wasn’t just TV, the fun thing, it was a learning tool. I can recall questioning why Buckwheat didn’t comb his hair and why Stymie never went off on Alfafa or Spanky. I had issues like that.

With fondness I remember taking my Sunday evening bath early, just so I could sit on the floor in my PJs, with a snack and drink, to watch The Ed Sullivan Show when a black act was featured. And I can remember stopping play with friends to run into the house on Saturdays to watch The Dick Clark Show whenever one of my favorite R&B groups or singers was featured.

Those images meant a lot to me.

A few years ago, I went to a rural flea market and indulged my love for vintage Ebony magazines. I purchased about $20 worth of those magazines and continued looking on every table for things of interest. One table contained some items that made my blood curdle and my heart stop. On that table were old slave shackles and I was too scared to touch them. My eyes merely rested on them as I thought of the slave or slaves who wore those bracelets. Unfortunately, those weren’t the only things on that table to upset my equilibrium. The vendor had a number of souvenirs from the 1936 Olympics, which were held in Nazi Germany. Those were the Olympic games, where Hitler refused to shake gold medalist Jesse Owens’s hand.

I moved away from that table fast.

We can always put the past into a context somewhere back there. But once we have a tangible reminder of it, something shifts inside, and we realize the significance of those moments and how they shape the world we live in today. To paraphrase philosopher Franz Fanon, we never notice the absence of something until we see that one thing that challenges our senses and intellect. (Bless Fanon, I could never do him any real justice.)

My grandparents never questioned the absence of black faces on television until the first one appeared. And once they noticed, they made it a point to make me cognizant of them, thus my humble beginnings as a purveyor of the mass-mediated image of African Americans.

For years I studied these images from the earliest known stereotypes to the most recent in popular culture. (Yes, they still exist.) For years I taught and lectured about these images. But my greatest challenge would come in taking all of that book knowledge and applying it to my profession as a PR consultant and publicist.

Last night, I watched some of the most beautiful images of African Americans I’ve ever seen. These were real images, nothing contrived like a sit-com or movie. A wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend spoke to a crowd of millions, and she spoke eloquently and she appeared elegantly. Obviously, from the context of American history, we’ve never seen anything like it. So, from my perspective as a purveyor/consumer and negotiator of image, I was impressed and honestly wished we could see more of that — more of what I love about my people.

As a practitioner, I’m challenged everyday in how to present the images I love to a big world without appearing exploitive or careless. And I am challenged to care when others do not.

Do you care about the image of your African American clients? If so, how? If not, dang, and read these books:

(We will revisit this subject later.)
Best, Robin
robin@thejstandard.com

Filed under: African Americans, Mass-Mediated Images, Public Relations, Stereotypes, , , , , , , , ,

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