After receiving an avalanche of criticism for putting a Black child in a hoodie with the word “monkey” on it, Swedish clothing retailer H & M issued a weak “apology.” Part of their initial statement read, “this image has now been removed from all H&M channels and we apologize to anyone this may have offended.” Suffering from the firestorm, including the loss of several celebrity endorsers including the Weekend, Nicki Minaj and actor Jesse Williams, H&M was forced to issue another statement saying:
“We agree with all the criticism that this has generated – we have got this wrong and we agree that, even if unintentional, passive or casual racism needs to be eradicated wherever it exists. We appreciate the support of those who have seen that our product and promotion were not intended to cause offence but, as a global brand, we have a responsibility to be aware of and attuned to all racial and cultural sensitivities – and we have not lived up to this responsibility this time.”
They are just the latest in the über predictable parade of corporations making large and small marketing missteps that insult Black people. It does not have to be this way.
As such, I’ve compiled this handy step-by-step guide for companies to avoid creating and distributing racist ads. You’re welcome.
Step One: Hire a Black Person
This one is a doozy. It’s so haaaaaard. Where on Earth can you possibly find qualified Black people to fill decision-making positions? Turns out, you can find qualified Black people in some of the same places you find qualified white people. You know, you have your LinkedIn, your GlassDoor, your Indeed. People (even Black people) submit their resumes for your perusal on a regular basis. But wait, there’s more! To ensure you’re getting a fair amount of Black candidates, you can participate in conference job fairs that the hundreds of organizations for and about Black professionals have every year. The National Association of Black Journalists, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the National Black MBA Association are just a few organizations that you’re pretty much guaranteed to stumble upon a bevy of qualified candidates. If this step proves to be impossible, go directly to Step Five.
Step Two: Listen to the Black Person
Now that you have a qualified Black person in a decision-making position, go ahead and listen to what that person says. I mean, you are paying that person (hopefully well) to share knowledge and do the work.
Step Three: Do What the Black Person Says
If that awesome Black person you hired has advised you to swap out an image for a different one, change the wording of an ad, or use models of a specific demographic category for a commercial, do it. Perhaps it might take a little (or a lot) more time, effort, and money on the front end, but it will be worth it. Think of it this way—it’s better and cheaper to avoid a misstep than to be in clean-up mode. The brand might never fully recover even with the best and most sincere of apologies.
Step Four: No Seriously, Do It
You’re sitting there thinking that the Black person is being too sensitive and nit-picky and that people won’t be offended by these “harmless” ads. Try again. Don’t second guess your decision and just do what the Black person says.
Step Five: Apologize If You Didn’t Do What the Black Person Said or Didn’t Follow Step One
You must do better. Since you didn’t follow the above steps and have now contributed to even more racist insults into the world, you’ll have to issue a sincere apology. It should clearly state what you did wrong, why what you did was wrong, and what you are doing to prevent it from happening again. Do not make your apology conditional. (“We’re sorry if we offended anyone.”)
Until you successfully complete Step One, understand that you will be on an endless loop from Step One directly to Step Five. Stop the loop and just hire a damn Black person already.