Mar 24, 2011

Ask WAS: Joker answers a race question

Do blacks or hispanics get favored OR would they have to work twice as hard? In general advertising, not multicultural/hispanic agencies. I know the industry is looking for diversity, but is there still racism?

There are two reasons why this answer has taken so long to be given. First off, I’m still waiting for replies from some friends in the industry who may offer different points of view on this question. I’ve written Asian, Hispanic and Black professionals whom I know will offer different points of view for sure. The second reason is that a few years back I wrote a post titled Reality Bites and being enraged and ignorant, I assumed everyone who has read this blog knows that I’m Hispanic. Not the case and some people had some choice words to talk about one of my comments, one I’ve refused to edit because I still feel it is the case in some companies. The quote? Something on the lines of:

Some agencies hire spics, chinks and niggers to fill out the mandatory affirmative action quota.

A member of the Ad Jive collective (actually a very good blog) found the use of those words as part of the problem when I was trying to make a point. But that was then, and this is now. There’s a question instead of a comment and I can choose my words more carefully.

First off, I am a Hispanic copywriter. I’ve worked in Hispanic agencies and typical agencies. I was an intern in a minority student program and it was a wonderful learning experience. From there I learned a lot about the variety of places you could work at. We visited agencies who are creative, wonderful work spaces that truly promote diversity as a recipe for success instead of compliance. I also got to hear good stories and bad.

In the good stories, I can tell you that I met Hispanic Creatives that have been able to work on great accounts. They worked their ass off, they delivered the goods and they got recognized. I can also tell you about a very nice ACD from a New York agency who has an extensive collection of hats, is a great cat and has not only been successful as a creative regardless of the color of his skin, he’s also served in the Armed Forces even when he was already on relative easy street. I’ve met a Black production VP who is a brilliant guy and tough as nails. He was the agency’s sole minority employ in that department for a long time but he’s there because he’s good… he’s real good actually. I met a Black VP who is possibly pushing 50 and has a lot of stories to share about diversity. He’s also one of the more diplomatic people I met. I also had the chance to interview a female Black copywriter from another agency and she gave me some of the best pointers I’ve ever gotten in my life and here comes the first funny part.

While walking down a street and talking to this woman, who was kind enough to spare her lunch hour during a campaign launch week to talk to me and give me pointers, a man who seemed to be from Pakistan screamed at her asking if her father knew that she was with a white man… she looks at me and she responds “but he isn’t white.”

What I’m getting at is that racism is alive and well in the world. True, it’s not all lynch parties, it’s just a hell of a lot more subtle. But from adverts, to talents, to the people around you, race is still a card being played and that’s why people asked if America was ready for a Black president, because though it’s a dumb question, the behavior of some people make it a relevant one to ask regardless.

Ignorance is always going to be around and there is racism to be found anywhere.

"But are things better?"

Well define better and I’ll answer. If by better you mean more tolerance, more opportunity and less prejudice, then yes, things are better. Are they ok? Well the answer depends on where you work at and who you work with.

From my experience, I can honestly tell you that an HR rep at a place I worked at always got tense when I went into her office. I know I’m a hot blooded latino, but it’s not like fucking or raping a white woman is on my agenda every day. The problem there was lack of communication and ignorance. She asked if I needed work Visa papers among the various prized questions she asked, and hey, maybe it isn’t her fault I got the job, but at least you should have a clue as to where the person is from. I’m just saying.

As for getting favored or do minorities have to work twice as hard, the answer is the same… depends on where you work and the connection you achieve with other people. I saw Jewish people get picked over others to work in one department while being shunned in another. I saw the token black guy, the lone latino and the quiet Asian in quite a few places, but I also saw people who were completely comfortable in their skin and in their surroundings. Actually, many of the complaints we talk about on this blog know no skin color or nationality, but other issues are a lot more race specific.

More than anything I think it has to do with whether you allow yourself to get sucked into the race game. I’ve heard of racism in places where you have to wonder why there’s still racism whereas an agency from Virginia has some of the nicest people I ever met in a job fair or in the ad business period. And it’s not a small agency. They’re well respected, I’ve been a fan of their work for a long time and truth be told, I never met one person from that agency who was rude to me because I was Hispanic. In fact, they were all kind, courteous, professional and welcoming of diversity. I’m not saying 2 people, I’m talking about 8 different professionals from the same agency in 3 events where only one person overlapped, and she was nice enough to introduce me by my first name without looking at my name tag.

I actually worked with two Jewish people, one Italian American, one pure bred white woman and one Irish American. Both Jewish people were extremely nice, the Italian is a blast, the white woman has been one of the most wholesome people I’ve ever met in my life and the Irish gal, well we didn’t super click, but there was never animosity. In that case, I was the lone Hispanic and it wasn’t an issue at all.

The industry has been clamoring for diversity for years and it’ll keep doing so, not because there need to be hotter combinations to try out in an orgy, but because when you embrace diversity for the sake of quality and team work, great things happen. That doesn’t mean there aren’t places that simply hire to put a check mark next to the required Black, Hispanic or Asian person on staff.

And that’s the thing: nothing anyone says on this topic is universal because of the nature of the issue. Racism isn’t just about one equation to produce an undesirable result. Whites aren’t exclusive in their practice of racism… and please, read that sentence again. White people aren't the only racist people.

On a side note, one of my best friends is an Asian guy I met through those adventures in internships and what we have transcends race, age and distance. There’s mutual respect on a personal and creative level and we never let race be an issue, unless it was to make a grossly inappropriate joke.

But the reaction I got from my point of view those years ago always stuck with me. It’s not that I minded someone having a different point of view than me; it’s that they focused on one word or a series of words and allowed those words to aggravate them. It’s pretty much the most commented post on this blog because things got heated and whereas I was open to dialogue, this person pretty much put a cross on me for using the words nigger, spic and chink in a sentence, and I’d actually like to put that sentence or a variant back into play:

Even though there are places that embrace diversity, there are still others that just hire spics, chinks and niggers, because that’s how we are viewed. They are truly color blind in the sense that you’re either white… or you’re not white and although things have gotten better, labels exist because there are people who are short minded, lack vision and are afraid of having to step up their game.

If there's any real piece of advice I can give you in regards to this topic is that instead of wondering if you have to work twice as hard because you’re White, Black, Asian, Hispanic or a Martian, work twice as hard because that way you earn what you get rather than have it given to you.

Hope this helps and as soon as I get more answers to this, I’ll let you know.



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