Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, co-authors of Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, have called on brands to avoid the pitfalls of a “scramble for Africa” attitude in a bid to "avoid being cancelled", following brand mishaps in the wake of George Floyd’s death in May.
Speaking to Campaign’s UK editor-in-chief, Gideon Spanier, at Campaign 360, Adegoke encouraged brands to reflect before releasing content which could be interpreted as “diversity for the sake of pandering”.
“What I see being created is diversity for the sake of pandering and avoiding being cancelled, and it's very obvious when that happens,” Adegoke said.
Adegoke – who was one of several celebrities enlisted for Instagram’s Black History Month campaign "#ShareBlackStories" last year – notes that in the aftermath of tragedies, including the death of George Floyd, some brands have been called out for “regurgitating and reinforcing certain stereotypes”.
Brands such as Nike and Ben & Jerry’s were praised for their support of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s death, while L'Oréal Paris was accused of "gaslighting”, following the brand’s ill-treatment of model Munroe Bergdorf, who was removed as a brand ambassador after she spoke out about the racism surrounding the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“We've always debated whether brands have a role to play in adjustment for society, but what's happened over the summer is the world essentially saying that brands do have a role to play,” Uviebinené, strategist at Uncommon Creative Studio, told Campaign.
Uviebinené remarked that it has been hard to watch the “transparent scrambling” of brands as they attempt to show some semblance of solidarity towards black people and the Black Lives Matter movement.
She continued: “We know brands care about black culture, because what is deemed cool, edgy and current tends to derive from black culture – but do brands care about black lives? No.
"Is a black square enough? Absolutely not.”
Microaggressions and workplace fanfare
After the pair decided to work on a book about the perks and pitfalls of work life, 2018's Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible evolved to discuss wider issues of race, feminism, class and politics within society.
Adegoke remarked that their book showcases the microaggressions through which “the game is essentially rigged from the start” for black, female professionals, including expulsion and exclusion rates for black students in schools and the experience of “being undervalued and considered to be underperforming when you are doing the same work as everybody else”.
Likewise, cultural dissonance can be seen through “fanfare” such as how black people wear their hair in the office, as well as not wanting to take part in cultural activities such as going to the pub, which Adegoke maintains can result in black employees seeming “stand-offish”.
Last week (3 September) Hidden founder Ross Taylor wrote in Campaign that “microaggressions are rife in the staid systems of middle-class, white privilege, invisible to those who have grown up in it”, in a bid to highlight the ways in which agencies are conditioned to restrict the progression of black talent.
Uviebinené said that their book has encouraged other people to share their experiences as both black professionals and women, although she maintains it is a shame that “an entry point to this conversation about race is police brutality”.
Spanier argued in a column earlier this summer that “the energy unleashed by Black Lives Matter must be a turning point” for the advertising agency, while a survey of registered Campaign readers found that nearly six in 10 (58%) believe brands should speak out about Black Lives Matter.
But steps taken by businesses have been regarded by some as insufficient. Shanice Mears, co-founder and head of talent at The Elephant Room, claimed that adland’s open letter surrounding diversity “was just not good enough”, while Capital Xtra presenters Yinka Bokinni and Shayna Marie Birch-Campbell said they were “honestly embarrassed” by parent company Global’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
'Hire, promote, and retain'
Looking ahead, Adegoke calls for agencies to “put their money where their mouths are”, both literally and in terms of engaging with the cultures they are trying to emulate in their ads.
Uviebinené also encourages industry leaders to “hire, promote and retain” black, female talent, as well as work to tackle “the culture of microaggressions” in the workplace.
Uviebinené said: “A lot of creatives go into these organisations, and they leave after a couple of years because of structural reasons or they're not promoted, so once you get past these barriers it's about promoting and retaining.”
Speaking at Campaign Connect in June, Aline Santos, executive vice-president of global marketing, and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Unilever, implored brands to avoid “opportunistic” behaviour in the aftermath of tragedy.