Sunday, April 30, 2006

Essay 562

The protests are piling up.

On Saturday, up to 300,000 people marched in New York, speaking out against the war in Iraq. The VIPs included Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, actress Susan Sarandon and Cindy Sheehan. “We are here today because the war is illegal, immoral and unethical,” Sharpton said. “We must bring the troops home.”

Meanwhile, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 10,000 folks rallied to complain about political reforms. The crowd accused the president of creating and maintaining corruption. But the protesters peacefully dispersed when President Kurmanbek Bakiyev actually arrived and addressed the crowd.

The politicians in Mexico have no intention of meeting the masses, opting to remain neutral over the boycott and protests scheduled for May 1. Last Tuesday, President Vicente Fox’s government flew activists from the U.S. to Mexico City to announce it wouldn’t support or oppose the boycott.

Back in the U.S., politicians and police are bracing for nationwide rallies, boycotts, students ditching classes, legal/illegal employee absenteeism and more.

In Chicago, about 5,000 Muslims plan to join the marchers. They primarily want to support Muslims and non-Muslim Hispanics. A group spokesperson remarked, “We know what it feels like to be singled out.”

“It’s one of the biggest things to come along since demonstrations against the Vietnam War or in favor of civil rights legislation,’ said a professor at Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “The numbers of people that the immigrant groups have been able to turn out is unprecedented. … The reaction on the other side has been visceral, too.”

“America’s strength lies in its pluralism,” said a pro-immigration leader.

“Something needs to be done. We can’t control our borders,” argued an immigration critic. Another hater remarked, “What this is about is disrespect for the rule of law and contempt for the sovereignty of the American people.”

“We are a nation of immigrants," said another pro-immigration official. “This entire rally is staged for the protection of human rights.”

Public transportation officials are warning riders about potential delays. Restaurants are closing down.

Grab your picket signs.

Essay 561

‘Akeelah’ a fine film -- but mom’s role feeds myths

April 30, 2006


I’m kicking off my vacation by taking the three grands to see “Akeelah and the Bee.” It is probably the best family movie you’ll see in a long time, primarily because it addresses a critical theme for African-American youth. Smart black kids don’t have to hide their intelligence to fit in with the crowd.

That kids want to be perceived as cool hasn’t changed since I was going to grade school. But now some of us are beginning to worry that kids who’d rather read a book, play an instrument or just aren’t interested in being part of the ‘hood herd are being targeted by thugs.

Instead of being bullied or ridiculed, the smart kid today has to worry about being beat or gunned down. Too often, police are at a loss to explain a motive or find a suspect in a murder in which the victim has no criminal past and no history of gang-banging or drug involvement. In many instances, the innocent victim is described as studious, church-going and well-behaved. It seems as though the best and brightest students are among those who are routinely gunned down in cases described as “mistaken identity.”

It is no wonder that a lot of smart kids, especially those who are coming of age in violent communities, hide their intelligence under a cocky attitude.

The transformation of Akeelah (played by 12-year-old Harvey native Keke Palmer) from a smart-butt underachiever to a formidable contender in the National Spelling Bee should serve to validate every student who has been made to feel ashamed of their intellect.

It is also not often that a young black actress creates the kind of buzz Keke Palmer is creating with her positive portrayal of black youth. After years of complaining about the rogue cop, loose woman roles top black performers have been relegated to in recent films, we need to show our gratitude for this film by going to the movies to see it, instead of buying a bootleg version out of someone’s trunk.

Angry black woman stereotype

I had only one little quibble with this movie. Unfortunately, directors and writers in Hollywood are still obsessed with negative stereotypes about black culture. Sure, they did justice by Akeelah. But Angela Bassett, one of the industry’s most unappreciated actresses, plays the stereotypical impatient, nagging, unsympathetic, single black mother.

Although the movie spared us the tired image of the black woman who is left alone to raise her children when her no-good husband is murdered, or goes to prison, or abandons his family to the perils of ghetto life, it gives us a mother figure that is too cold.

Akeelah, portrayed as streetwise and independent, is nonetheless so starved for affection that she often talks to the photograph of her deceased father. The role of the strong black woman who holds her family together by being tough as nails reinforces the image of the angry black woman.

Overwhelmed by parenting

This is a mother who is so overwhelmed by parenting that she can’t see her brilliant daughter’s needs. The character feeds into the myth that black women love their sons and raise their daughters. While Bassett concentrates on saving her son from his gang-infested environment, Akeelah is left to negotiate the trials of adolescence by herself.

Obviously, some of us will see ourselves in Bassett and leave the theater determined to be better mommies.

But as social critic bell hooks points out in Salvation: Black People And Love, working and non-working single black mothers need some love. “These women are seers with wisdom to share with our communities and the nation about the nature of love,” bell writes. “Unrecognized and unappreciated, they do the work of loving every day.”

For once, I’d like to see a single black mother portrayed as nurturing as, say, speedskater Shani Davis’ mother. I’m still blown away that Cheri Davis drove two hours every day to make sure her son had access to the facilities he needed to be competitive.

I was proud that this single mother pushed her son to excellence and wasn’t afraid to stand up to those who had a different agenda.

It would have been great if that kind of sacrifice had been captured in Bassett’s role, instead of Akeelah having to find her way alone from her South L.A. neighborhood to an upscale neighborhood miles away.

Despite the negative perceptions endured by single mothers, many of them are so focused on their children they have time for little else, including hanging out. Call them up and they are on their way to take their daughter to ballet lessons, a soccer game or a play date. Yes, black children go on play dates, too.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about the single black mother who must be coerced into doing what everyone else seems to know is best for her daughter. African Americans are diverse in their attitudes and their values. So why does Hollywood keep showing us the same kind of black family?

Hopefully, “Akeelah and the Bee” is a first effort in dealing with this shortcoming.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Essay 560

A drug-induced MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• Drug addict Rush Limbaugh (mugshot above) cut a deal, agreeing to continue treatment in exchange for dropping the charges against him. Not bad for someone who once proclaimed, “Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country. And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. … And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.” Looks like Limbaugh played the race card here, taking advantage of his Rich White Guy status.

• Mexico is seeking to decriminalize some drug use, meaning possession of small amounts of heroin, coke, ecstasy and marijuana may not be considered a crime. Lawmakers claim the effort is designed to let police focus on the bigger drug-related crimes. Rush Limbaugh will probably immigrate to Mexico.

• President Bush criticized the Spanish version of The Star-Spangled Banner (see Essay 558). “I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English. And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English,” the president declared. “And they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English.” Wonder if Bush knows the lyrics to the national anthem. Hell, does the man even know how to speak English?

• There’s a battle brewing between rappers and Oprah. In the May issue of GQ, Ludacris accuses Oprah of being “unfair” when he appeared on her show with co-stars of the movie “Crash.” The rapper-actor griped, “She edited out a lot of my comments while keeping her own in.” 50 Cent joined the fray by arguing, “I think she caters to older White women. … Oprah’s audience is my audience’s parents. So, I could care less about Oprah or her show.” Somebody hand Oprah the mic.

• adidas is pulling its limited-edition kicks featuring a controversial caricature (pictured above), following complaints from the Asian-American community. The shoemaker wrote in a letter, “Out of respect to those offended and to demonstrate our deep commitment to inclusiveness and diversity, we have chosen to pull the remaining shoes from the marketplace.” Which means eBay sales will explode like Chinese fireworks.

• The woman who sued her former employer for publicly spanking her during a “camaraderie-building exercise” was awarded $1.7 million by the trial jury (see Essay 556). Looks like the victim delivered the ultimate spanking.

• ABC drama “Commander in Chief” is receiving a spanking from Prince George’s County after the show portrayed the county as crime-infested and requiring a federal takeover. “[The show] took the largest, wealthiest Black county and reduced it to a stereotype of a poor, dangerous Black neighborhood,” a former City Council member said. “And the irony is the neighborhood isn’t even a poor Black neighborhood.” The episode also depicted the President character stepping out of her vehicle in front of a restaurant hawking sweet potato pie, pork chops and chitlins. Another critic charged, “When the president of the show gets out of a car and is in front of a restaurant that advertises chitlins and pork chops in today’s America, what any right-thinking American knows is we are harking back to an age-old inability of this country to celebrate the leadership and achievement of African Americans and other diverse people in this country.” ABC released a statement that included, “While we used the name of the community, and we researched crime statistics related to the area, we also embellished the reality to enhance the story. Our goal was to create a more compelling drama for our viewers, not to portray the actual community or its citizens, law enforcement, or civic leaders in a negative light. … We apologize for any offense, and reiterate that the series, the storyline, and the episode are all entirely works of fiction and do not depict any real person or situation.” For whatever it’s worth, given the drama’s poor audience ratings, it’s unlikely anyone actually viewed the offensive episode.

• The University of Illinois must banish its offensive Chief Illiniwek mascot (pictured below) or face losing the opportunity to host postseason sporting events. The NCAA rejected the school’s appeals, standing firmly behind its position regarding characters that may demonstrate insensitivity. The U of I will probably hold a ceremony to retire the Chief’s headdress.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Essay 559

If you want to catch the Hip-Hop scene in Atlanta, head for the strip clubs. It’s where rapper wannabes hustle to get their tracks played. Recording artists, producers and VIPs are in attendance too. “You have to get used to the strippers walking around, but this industry is basically built on the street,” a radio station music director said. “You have to get back to the street to know what’s hot, and in Atlanta a lot of times that means the strip clubs.” The Los Angeles Times detailed the Strip-Hop phenomenon — click on the essay title above to view the full-frontal story.

Essay 558

Stepping into the weekend with a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• Stepping is gaining popularity among White kids and others in Washington-based middle schools. Blue Ridge Middle School (from the Loudoun County town of Purcellville) took home the trophy in a recent competition, fielding a team that included students who are White, Black, Korean and Turkish. “You would be really surprised at how many White kids like it,” said the coach who introduced the dancing to Blue Ridge students. “They don’t feel like they should be doing it. They know it’s a Black thing, but they love it.” Imagine that. White kids biting Black culture.

• Folks are expressing nasty reactions to the Spanish version of The Star-Spangled Banner (see Essay 549). Apparently, some view it as obscene that the song might be performed in another language. “Would the French accept people singing the La Marseillaise in English as a sign of French patriotism? Of course not,” said one irritated person. Then again, the French have also exhibited some questionable reactions to immigration in their own country.

• Naomi Campbell expressed a nasty reaction to a maid, whacking the worker’s skull over a clothing-related argument. “She hit me over the back of my head … She said it was to teach me a lesson,” the maid said. Given her constant run-ins with maids, maybe Campbell should seek housekeeping services from the WWF.

• Snoop Dogg and his entourage allegedly staged a wrestling melee at London’s Heathrow Airport. The group was denied access to the first-class airline lounge, leading to a bottle-throwing scuffle with police. Naomi Campbell denied any involvement.

• Alabama Governor Bob Riley signed measures that may lead to pardons for civil rights icon Rosa Parks and others (see Essay 541). The new law will be named “The Rosa Parks Act.” Snoop Dogg and Naomi Campbell are not eligible to benefit from the proposed measures.

Essay 557

From The New York Times…


80,000 Native Canadians to Be Compensated for School Abuse

TORONTO, April 26 — In a long delayed conclusion to a dark chapter of Canadian history, negotiators have reached an agreement to compensate 80,000 Native Canadians who attended a government-financed school system where many suffered physical and sexual abuse.

The widespread incidence of alcoholism, family violence and incest in many Native Canadian communities has long been linked to the experiences of generations who attended the so-called residential schools, which were dedicated to forced assimilation and operated for more than a century, until the 1980’s.

Typically, government agents forced Inuit, Cree and other children to leave their parents and attend the schools, where they were harshly punished for speaking their own languages or practicing their religions.

Negotiators representing the government, native peoples and several churches that administered the schools agreed that nearly $2 billion would be paid out in damages. Payments are set to begin next year, but will possibly be accelerated for the elderly and the sick.

The accord, which negotiators called one of the largest damage settlements in Canada’s history, needs cabinet and court approval, but that is considered a formality.

Jim Prentice, the Indian affairs and northern development minister, announced the agreement without fanfare on the floor of the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon. There was no official apology, although the federal government had already admitted that sexual and physical abuse in the schools was widespread.

The residential schools have long been a source of embarrassment to Canadians, and the announcement of the agreement received little news media attention.

But Native Canadian leaders reacted with excitement over the culmination of years of painful negotiations and government efforts to fight the litigation that cost $80 million.

“We’re extremely pleased,” said Phil Fontaine (pictured above), national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, an Ojibwe speaker and one of the negotiators. He attended two Manitoba residential schools where he says he suffered sexual and physical abuse. “It’s about symbolic recognition of the loss of languages and cultures.”

He added that he was still hopeful that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would apologize for the schools. A former minister of Indian affairs did apologize in 1998 but Native Canadian leaders have long sought an apology from a prime minister.

The agreement allots payments of about $20,000 to the 80,000 former students. It will also provide about $120 million for a foundation that will promote traditional native healing therapies, as well as a “truth and reconciliation” commission that will hear testimony from victims. Perpetrators also may come forward if they want to confess, but Kathleen Mahoney, one of the negotiators, said they would not be granted amnesty.

The Presbyterian, Anglican, United and Roman Catholic Churches have agreed to open their archives so that documents relating to the schools they ran can be included in a national archive devoted to the residential school experience.

About 1,500 residential school victims have received court compensation over the last 12 years, about one in 10 who filed claims. The government has also distributed hundreds of small out-of-court settlements.

In recent years the federal government tried to make amends by forming the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, an agency that studied the legacy of the residential schools.

There has been a cultural renaissance of sorts in many of the communities, with public schools teaching languages and dance to revive pride and identity. Nevertheless, joblessness and poverty are forcing many young Native Canadians to move to the cities, where there are more economic opportunities.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Essay 556

Talking trash and junk food in a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• 50 Cent is promoting a cooking competition to fight childhood obesity and improve kids’ eating habits. The rapper insists he hasn’t always been into diet and exercise. “I had all of the unhealthy habits,” the 29-year-old rapper said. “Soda … a lot of fast food, all those things … I have someone that I can actually have prepare the food for me, so it’s a huge difference than just getting McDonald’s or Burger King.” Potential promo names could include: “Fiddy hates Fatties” and “Get Rich or Diet Tryin.’”

• The Ku Klux Klan planned a June 10 rally at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, site of an infamous Civil War battle. Guess the Klan was feeling left out after all the rallies with Minutemen and neo-Nazis.

• In Florida, State Rep. Ralph Azra has been accused of using racial slurs in reference to Miami-Dade’s school superintendent, who is Black. The superintendent claims Azra has used the N-Word, saying, “[The comments] were very disparaging remarks made in a very, very ugly ethnic tone.” Azra countered, “In Spanish, the word negro is Black. But it’s not disparaging. I never said anything disparaging.” This guy sounds like he doesn’t understand the meaning of disparaging.

• Brooklyn rapper Gravy was shot in the buttocks near a radio station studio, yet went ahead and participated in an on-air interview. Talk about working your ass off.

• A California woman is suing her former employer after being publicly spanked during a “camaraderie-building exercise.” She’s seeking about $1.2 million for the humiliation she allegedly suffered. But she’ll get no sympathy from rapper Gravy.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Essay 555

The Census Bureau is looking for a few good minorities in the advertising business.

The latest issue of Adweek reported on the impending search for an agency team to handle the $200 million Census Bureau account. Although Census 2010 is still many years away, analysts realize immigration issues will greatly impact the effort. So the Census Bureau wants to make sure it hires adfolks with all the necessary expertise.

According to Adweek, “bigger shops eyeing the account are already looking at potential pitch partners… with a focus on Hispanic and African-American market specialists since they’re expected to play significant supporting roles. And because a yet-to-be determined percentage of the project must be carried out by small, ‘disadvantaged’ or minority-owned businesses, some shops are focused on independents and those that are majority-owned by their principals.”

In other words, the White agencies are shopping for colored people.

It must be awkward for the White shops to suddenly court the multicultural companies they’ve politely ignored for generations. But Browns and Blacks become so appealing when Green is involved.

Let’s hope the Census Bureau doesn’t poll competing agencies for diversity.

Essay 554

Just another midweek MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• A group of graffiti artists backed by designer Marc Ecko (pictured above) is suing New York City for the freedom to tag. The group claims a new anti-graffiti law violates their constitutional rights by banning anyone under 21 from having spray paint or big markers. Ecko argued, “An 18-year-old can buy cigarettes, vote, and go into the army, but he can’t buy a can of spray paint in Manhattan. It’s silly.” Wait till the lawmakers hear about acid graffiti (see Essay 551).

• Former FEMA failure Michael D. Brown has started a new consulting firm where he’ll continue to help folks in disaster and crisis scenarios. Brown bragged his new role comes with a bigger salary. “I will be making more,” he said. “Significantly more.” Bet Hurricane Katrina victims will be happy to hear that.

• Shareholders at Kraft Foods Inc. nixed an effort to cut sponsorship for the 2006 Gay Games. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, a shareholder proposed abandoning the event because it “promotes gay activity that increases the likelihood of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and is inconsistent with the company’s health-focused initiatives…” But in the end, 99 percent voted against the proposal. Considering that Kraft produces stuff like Jell-O, Oreos and Kool-Aid, one could argue the company’s products are inconsistent with its health-focused initiatives.

• Mickey D’s has been experimenting with offering DVD rentals to its customers. Leave it to the Golden Arches to supplement its fat-inducing food with couch-potato-inducing entertainment. Wonder if folks will be able to pick up a copy of “Super Size Me.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Essay 553

Is anyone actually familiar with Cargill? The company certainly spends a lot of time bragging about its diversity.

Click on the essay title above to read one suspicious report.

Essay 552

Would someone please tell Budweiser it’s 2006? And what’s with placing the logo across the model’s rack?

Essay 551

• Graffiti artists have traded in their cans of Krylon for something stronger. The taggers now use acid to create imagery that’s impossible to remove via traditional methods (acid graffiti pictured above). Talk about urban chemical warfare.

• Jay-Z’s road manager confessed to zapping R. Kelly with pepper spray at a concert two years ago. By pleading guilty, the manager will have to complete four days of community service. He should be forced to spend the time working for Salt-N-Pepa.

• Reports indicate Michael Jackson has discreetly reopened his Neverland Ranch with a skeleton crew. Skeleton crew? Is Jacko collecting more corpses to supplement the Elephant Man’s remains?

• California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reported that his lieutenant governor and the mayor of Los Angeles have received death threats over the continuing immigration debates. A postcard mailed to the lieutenant governor read, “The only good Mexican is a dead Mexican.” Schwarzenegger will probably assign Terminator units to protect the officials.

• President Bush spoke out on immigration, declaring his disagreement with deportation. “Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic,” Bush said. “It’s just not going to work. You can hear people out there hollering it’s going to work — it’s not going to work.” Bush then returned to his office and continued the efforts to banish folks from his White House staff.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Essay 550

The headline reads: Oh, I wish… every club was this easy to get into.

The creatives responsible for this ad should be beaten with clubs.

Essay 549

Haters and Lovers in a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• Neo-Nazis rallied outside Michigan’s Capitol, drawing 75 supporters. Plus, about 500 protesters. Add approximately 500 cops in helicopters and on horseback to round out the gala. When the protesters got loud, the neo-Nazi leader yelled, “I will not be shouted down. … You will not stop us. You will not silence us.” Maybe next time try to bring as many supporters as haters.

• Former Lansing mayoral candidate Dale Abronowitz (pictured above) planned to sell his pre-packaged frozen treats during the neo-Nazi rally. Can’t imagine why this guy didn’t nab the nomination.

• An immigration forum in Los Angeles got ugly when Blacks and Hispanics clashed. “Illegal immigration is the greatest threat to African Americans since slavery,” one Black participant said, before leading a group in chants: “We’re fired up! We can’t take it no more!” A Hispanic participant countered, “It’s so easy to find a job anywhere! … I find one in one day: moving companies, offices, anything. These [Black] people are lazy.” Rodney King should be asked to holler, “Can we all just get a job?”

• A group of Hispanic stars will release a version of the U.S. national anthem in Spanish to support the immigration movement. “We chose to re-record ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ to show our solidarity with the undocumented immigrants and their quest for basic civil rights,” said Adam Kidron, president of record label Urban Box Office. It would be appropriately symbolic if folks pirated illegal copies.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Essay 548

Others have already criticized the Mickey D’s commercials starring folks chatting with Ronald McDonald statues. But one spot running repeatedly during the NBA playoffs warrants a quick comment.

The spot features a Black dude expressing his confusion over all the allegedly complicated handshakes and greetings that Black men perform. OK, technically, the dude never blatantly says it’s a Black thing, but the implication is certainly there.

Can’t help but think the spot was conceived by White people. Or Wayne Brady.

(Note: The image above is not from the spot referenced here — it was the only appropriate picture MultiCultClassics could find.)

Essay 547

The Sunday Edition of a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• Russell Simmons (pictured above) launched the Hip-Hop Summit on Financial Empowerment on Saturday. LL Cool J, Nas, Alicia Keys and their financial advisors presented wisdom to over 1,000 current and wannabe rap stars. “It’s time that we do something to educate our kids [about financial responsibility],” Nas said. “We’ve got to think about our future, think about tomorrow.” Hey, rappers need to establish Wall Street cred too.

• Royal Caribbean announced its first-quarter profits sunk 37 percent versus a year ago. The company blamed the drop on high fuel costs and lower ticket revenue. Heaven forbid it should have anything to do with their corny advertising. And the cruise line is probably nervous about potential backlash from the upcoming Poseidon movie.

• Crispin Porter + Bogusky recently displayed its faith in new client Haggar Clothing Co. by buying an equity stake in the company. Ad icon David Ogilvy always bragged that he supported his Sears client by faithfully wearing their suits. Wonder if the stylish Alex Bogusky will start sporting Haggar slacks.

• An episode of UPN sitcom “All of Us” may not air in Chicago because a character uses the N-Word. Reports imply the show actually launches into a healthy discussion about the word, but Chicago station officials are taking the cautious approach by potentially censoring its broadcast (other stations nationwide have not halted its airing). Will Smith directed the show, also serving as executive producer with his wife. The episode may run in Chicago at a different time, but we’ll have to wait for officials to give the UPN-Word.

• The Chicago Tribune reported on growing divisions among Blacks over the issues of immigration. “Let me tell you what the mind-set of the African-American is when they see those [pro-immigration] marches: ‘They are here to replace us,’” one Black community activist said. “We’ve got to be careful because I don’t want to see an eruption between the Blacks and the Browns over the immigration issue.” Other groups, including Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH, back efforts like the upcoming May 1 pro-immigration march. Much of the disagreement is rooted in jobs. A recent Pew Hispanic Center survey showed 41 percent of Black respondents in Chicago lost out on a job because of illegal immigrants, while only 15 percent of White, non-Hispanics made such a claim. “What hit me was the vehemence, the anger, the passion, the hostility,” one political analyst said. “In the mainstream civil rights leadership, [legalization] is seen as an issue of fairness, of economic justice, of anti-discrimination. The average Black person doesn’t see it that way.”

Essay 546

Now It’s Time For Women To Get Even

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 23, 2006

Tuesday marks a very special day: It’s Equal Pay Day. Why Tuesday, you ask? Because that’s how far into the year the average woman must work to earn as much as a man earned by the end of the previous year.

This is yet another slap-the-hand-against-the-forehead-are-you-kidding-me episode in the saga of “Is This Really 2006?”

It is 2006, and as has been true for about a decade, women earn only 77 cents for every dollar men make.

When Evelyn Murphy, an economist and a former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, graduated “years and years ago,” women were earning 59 cents for every male-earned dollar. But as she saw more women moving into the workforce in the 1960s, she assumed it was “just a matter of time till we caught up.”

She heard the reasons why women weren’t earning as much as men: They weren’t as educated. They dropped out of the workforce as soon as they had children and rarely returned. They didn’t need the money because they were married and could depend on their spouse for income. “Then I turned around in the ‘90s and realized we hadn’t caught up,” said Murphy, who also is author of “Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men -- and What to Do About It.” “And the reasons were pretty much gone.”

So let’s just get this straight right now, says Murphy: That 23-cent differential is not because some women take time off to give birth or raise children. The pay-gap figure measures only women and men who work full time, for a full year. It does not include women who took time off during the year or worked part time.

But don’t women earn less over time because they might more often take time off to give birth or raise a child? According to Murphy, that’s an incredibly lame argument. Most women who can take time off and go back to work full-time earn more in the first place. Any drop in salary they might experience would not pull the average down, she argues.

Okay, so women’s’ salaries have stalled. (You can get a better idea of what has happened to yours at Murphy's Web site, Use the wage-gap calculator to find out what you make compared with men in your area who have the same job.)

The big question is what can be done about the gap. The solution lies within a company itself and with women.

“I know government can’t solve this problem. We passed the laws that make discrimination illegal,” Murphy said. “I’ve realized CEOs have the power to eliminate this problem.”

Murphy argues that every chief executive or head of an organization needs to look at payroll and see if there is a systematic underpayment of women in various job categories.

The state of Minnesota is Murphy’s favorite example of how it can be done. In the early 1980s, it was discovered that state employees in female-dominated jobs were paid less than those in male-dominated state jobs. The state adopted a system that gave points for skill, effort, working conditions and responsibility for each job. It was found that male and female jobs rated similarly on these points, but their salaries did not reflect that.

As a result, 8,500 employees received pay equity raises. In 2002, according to Murphy, women who worked for the state earned about 97 cents for every dollar men made.

“Could any employer do this? Of course. The methodology is available so that any CEO can apply this or adapt to his or her job categories,” Murphy said. “But they are not going to do it unless women raise the question and say we need to be paid fairly.”

And so, Murphy recently launched a grass-roots effort to educate women and to get them talking about their pay, discrimination and negotiation. She is urging women to set up “wage clubs” across the nation to create a sort of localized community where women can comfortably talk about their wages with other women, educate one another and push one another to do something about their situation.

Since December, more than 30 such clubs have popped up around Maine, said Annie Houle, the New England regional representative to the YWCA National Advocacy Board. She met with Murphy in the fall and immediately thought the YWCA would be the perfect place to start a grass-roots effort to get women more involved in closing the wage gap.

“The idea of wage club is to get to the heart of it, to help a woman understand what the law is,” she said. The clubs “form support and training to really help women move to that level where they could either confront a boss or work with compatriots to get what they wanted. Or to at least to know what she wants … and get the right tools to go for it.”

Every time Houle has been at the start of a wage club, it begins the same way. One woman shares a story of finding out that a male counterpart made much more than she did. Another jumps in and says the same thing happened to her. Another explains how that differential could mean new school clothes for her children. It becomes something of a support group for underpaid women everywhere.

Women need all the help they can get: The Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that in 2005, women made up only 31 percent of workers in the highest earnings category, yet they made up 43.6 percent of all full-time workers.

“Everybody has a story. It’s sort of a free-for-all. And it’s like, okay, if that's the case, what could we have done differently?” Houle said. “I’m a little older, so some of the things that happened to me, we’d be running to an attorney.”

That’s not the goal of the wage groups. Instead, women are encouraged to figure out how much they are being underpaid and get support from the group to figure out a way to ask for more, negotiate higher in that next job, or simply understand that they are losing money compared with male counterparts.

On Tuesday, Murphy, who runs the WAGE Project, along with the National Committee on Pay Equity, a coalition of organizations working to eliminate wage discrimination, and the Business and Professional Women/USA, will announce the new grass-roots effort to close the wage gap that includes movements like the wage clubs.

One hopes no one forgets to do something after the party Tuesday.

“I’m old enough to have lived through the sexual revolution,” Murphy said. “If we could learn to talk about that, we’ve got to learn how to talk about money.”

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Essay 545

Crowning achievements in a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• The Miss Los Angeles Chinatown Pageant recorded a milestone by awarding the crown to Angela Chao Roberson (pictured above). Roberson is the first winner who is Black and Chinese. The pageant director proclaimed, “There’s a newer generation coming up, and the whole idea of being multicultural is more accepted now.” Maybe Roberson will also be featured as Jet magazine’s Beauty of the Week. Click on the essay title above to read the full story.

• Muslim women in Michigan are petitioning an athletic club chain to create separate workout times for men and women members. The women claim the clubs had originally promised to provide such accommodations. “In Islam, there are codes of modesty for both genders,” said one woman. “When you’re working out, you’re not dressed modestly, and you’re bending in provocative ways, so you can’t be working out with the opposite gender.” The ironic part of this scenario? The athletic club chain’s name is Fitness USA.

• Snoop Dogg is working on a novel, the first in a series he plans to launch in October. The lead book chronicles the trials and tribulations of a young dude rising from the ghettos of Southern California to rap stardom. Hey, there’s a story we haven’t seen before. This week.

• FEMA continues to demonstrate their initials should stand for Fucked-up Emergency Management Agency. Now the organization is seeking to recover $4.7 million in payments made to Hurricane Katrina victims. Many of the payments were allegedly duplicate or extra benefits made because of FEMA errors. FEMA may ultimately be considered the greatest natural disaster in the nation’s history.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Essay 544

Dropping numbers and names with a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• A recent study by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a Syracuse University-based data research center, showed that hiring more workers for the Border Patrol has not resulted in more arrests. The agency listed nabbing over 1.3 million illegal immigrants in 1995. Ten years later — and after doubling in size — the Border Patrol apprehended less than 1.2 million illegal immigrants. Wonder how the Border Patrol results stack up against the Minuteman Project’s efforts.

• Ford Motor Company lost $1.2 billion in the first quarter, recording its worst showing in four years. “While we are not satisfied with our performance, particularly a loss in North America automotive, we are encouraged by the success in our global operations and at the Ford Motor Credit Company,” said Ford honcho Bill Ford. “We have said we intend to restore automotive profitability in North America by no later than 2008 and we remain committed to deliver on our promise.” In the meantime, it looks like Ford employees and customers can look forward to at least two years of living hell.

• McDonald’s recorded a 14-percent profit loss for the first quarter, its biggest quarterly drop since 2002. But the fast feeder continues to attract customers despite the lower income. McCEO Jim Skinner said, “Performance for the first quarter reflected more customer visits and enhanced profitability as we continued to connect with our customers and increase the relevance of our brand.” While increasing the waistlines and cholesterol levels of people globally.

• RadioShack posted an 85-percent profit loss for the first quarter. “While we knew first quarter would be weak, the results are worse than we anticipated,” said Claire Babrowski, president and acting CEO. “We clearly have a lot more work to do to get this company back to levels of profitability which we all expect.” Or maybe change the company name to RadioShanty.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Essay 543

Make up your mind with a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• Contrary to popular belief and the ravings of folks like Rush Limbaugh, a new study refutes the assertions that half of minority students fail to graduate from high school. The report claims that nearly 75 percent of minority students graduate with their peers or soon thereafter. But another report released earlier this week contradicts the new study, putting the figure at about 55 percent. Wonder if any of these researchers graduated from high school.

• Immigration groups are divided over the plans for May 1. One group has urged illegal immigrants and others to march, skip work and boycott U.S. companies to demonstrate their influence on the economy. Another group recommended rallying after work and school to avoid trouble. The Minuteman Project suggests they all vacate the country immediately.

• Federal agents raided the nationwide offices of a crate and pallet manufacturer, arresting hundreds of illegal immigrants employed by the company. “[Immigration and Customs Enforcement] has no tolerance for corporate officers who harbor illegal aliens for their work force. Today’s nationwide enforcement actions show how we will use all our investigative tools to bring these individuals to justice, no matter how large or small their company,” said an ICE official. Sounds like the official is a Minuteman Project member.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Essay 542

Getting into other people’s business with a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• The pro-immigration rallies have been receiving a lot of press lately. But the anti-immigration enthusiasts have been growing in numbers too. The Minuteman Project is drawing new recruits, unofficially boasting about 200,000 members. “Over 5,000 people have come forward [recently] and said, ‘I’ll do anything,’” said a Minuteman participant. “Right now, about 200 people that we have contacted look pretty serious.” Like serious borderline racists, that is.

• Black-owned businesses are booming in Chicago and Washington suburbs, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau report. But despite the rapid growth, these enterprises are still a small part of the economy, accounting for just 5 percent of all U.S. businesses. Maybe folks should start Black Minuteman organizations.

• Sprint/Nextel Communications was fined $295,000 by New York for printing “confusing and misleading” ads. Wonder how much the company should pay for printing “confusing and misleading” phone bills.

• The New York Times reported Mickey D’s has been experiencing significant growth, thanks mostly to cheaper menu items. Despite criticism that the fast feeder is contributing mightily to the global obesity epidemic, the burger joint continues to thrive. “We’re proud of the choices we offer customers,” said Mickey D’s chief marketing officer in the U.S. “You can come in and order Apple Dippers, salads with low-fat dressing, yogurt, or you can order an Egg McMuffin, which is a very nutritious sandwich. People can make the decisions about how to eat for themselves.” Sounds suspiciously like statements from booze and tobacco lobbyists.

• Mickey D’s plans to distribute exercise videos during the launch of new adult Happy Meals. The on-camera roles traditionally played by folks like Jane Fonda and Suzanne Somers will probably feature Mo’Nique and Rosanne Barr.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Essay 541

I beg your pardon — it’s another MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• Lawmakers in Alabama approved a measure to grant pardons to folks convicted under the Jim Crow laws, including civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hey, has anyone considered naming a bus line after Parks?

• The late John H. Johnson, publishing icon behind Ebony and Jet magazines, will receive the 2006 American Advertising Federation’s Silver Medal Award. The award salutes folks who have made outstanding contributions to advertising. Hey, it’s pretty rare for the AAF to recognize Blacks even exist in the industry.

• Black actors are congregating for a project of biblical proportions. “The Bible Experience” is a 70-hour recording of the Old and New Testaments, slated to be read by Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and more. Robi Reed is casting for the project and said, “We’re still looking for God.” Hey, if James Earl Jones is not available for that role, try calling Oprah.

• A juror from Michael Jackson’s sex trial has sold his notes on the proceedings via eBay. The winning bidder coughed up $2,550 for six notebooks, a juror badge and certificate of appreciation signed by the judge. The seller said, “It’s something that’s probably more important to someone else, like a fan of Michael Jackson’s.” Or more like a hater looking to make personal profit.

• A judge rejected another lawsuit against Jacko involving a man insisting the King of Pop molested him 20 years ago. The alleged victim claimed the memory had been repressed until 2003. Unfortunately, the judge wasn’t buying it. Hey, the moron can always try to sell his repressed notes on eBay.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Essay 540

This Mickey D’s Chicken Selects print ad features salt and pepper shakers asking:

“Why are we even here?”

MultiCultClassics is asking:

“Why select such an unappetizing food photo?”

“Why were the shakers so poorly retouched into the layout?”

“Why did the copywriter get away with writing shitty copy?”

“Why was this concept even presented — let alone sold and produced?”

Essay 539

Taxing efforts in a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants are joining the majority of Americans in a frustrating and even hated duty — paying income taxes. Many believe it will lead to gaining legal status sooner. “Our job is to make sure that everyone who earns income within our borders pays the proper amount of taxes, even if they may not be working here legally,” said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. The IRS issues special identification numbers for illegal immigrants, which seems contradictory in many ways. “The issuing of these numbers to people who are here illegally is simply helping them to remain and work in this country, which is part of the federal government’s schizophrenia when it comes to illegal immigration,” said an official with the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Hell, illegal immigrants are even going to H&R Block for assistance. Can’t wait to see the commercials targeting these folks.

• The LAPD has been making progress diversifying its ranks. Affirmative action consent decrees in 1980, 1992 and 1993 have helped initiate the efforts. “Fifteen years ago, this department was dominated by White males,” said the president of the city’s Police Commission. “That picture clearly has changed dramatically.” Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger, the LAPD’s highest-ranking Black officer, remarked, “The department has struggled with becoming diverse, not just with how we look but how we act. … Are we there yet? Hell, no, but we’re getting there. We’re on the road.” The Los Angeles Times wrote all about it — click on the essay title above for the full story.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Essay 538

Some brands go to great lengths to woo Black consumers, actually buying into the culture — literally and figuratively.

Take Smirnoff vodka and its Smirnoff Movement Studio.

You can sign up to learn about Hip Hop music, art and dance. The hype reads:

“It’s all about expressing yourself at the Smirnoff Movement Studio. Featuring the dopest industry instructors, the Smirnoff Movement Studio gives you free courses in the arts to give you the skillz to break into the industry.”

Now that’s an example of the dopest skillz in Black copywriting.

Folks can check out a music video course titled Keeping It Reel. Wheels Of Steel offers DJ training at three levels. For the entrepreneurs, there’s a course called Making Paper — Turning Art Into Dollars. And you can learn the latest moves with Breakin’ It Down and Reggae Dancehall Riddims. Better hurry, most of the courses are already completely booked.

Well, guess it beats the Smirnoff Gospel Choir Competition or the Smirnoff Family Reunion Barbecue.

(Click on the essay title above to visit the Smirnoff Movement Studio website.)

Essay 537

There’s a small revolution happening with Black actors taking leading roles in television series outside of UPN and BET. This season has Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, pictured above), Andre Braugher (Thief) and Adrian Lester (Hustle) heading critically-acclaimed dramas on CBS, FX and AMC.

“It may be insubstantial and soon melt away, or it may be the beginning of something significant. I really can’t tell,” said Braugher. “My hopes are that it’s the beginning of something significant.”

“The fact that I’m an African-American man as a lead, it really doesn’t surprise me at all because I’ve never seen myself as a victim or any of those things,” said Haysbert. “I just thought that when I wasn’t a lead before, it was just shortsighted.”

Television Reporter Maureen Ryan wrote about it for The Chicago Tribune. Click on the essay title to read the full story.

Essay 536

Illin’ in a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• A masonry company in Northbrook, Illinois is facing a discrimination lawsuit from a civil rights group. The company’s managers are accused of routinely referring to Hispanic workers with names like “wetback” and “spic” — even forcing them to remain in segregated work areas. One manager allegedly said he had “been hunting and shooting cans — Mexicans, Africans, Puerto Ricans.”

• An AP story reported illegal immigrants are actually securing jobs before crossing the border. Some U.S. employers are even paying smugglers to help immigrants make the move. Note to potential illegal immigrants: There’s a big difference between North and Northbrook.

• There’s been a dramatic rise in Hispanic children who are in the U.S. illegally. In the first three months of this year, officials reported 3,289 minors were deported from Arizona, over twice as many as during the same period in 2005. Guess crossing the border is fun for the whole family.

• May 1 is slated as a special protest day on both sides of the border. In the U.S., activists have planned the “Great American Boycott” — urging illegal immigrants to skip work and not patronize American businesses to show their impact on the economy. South of the border, Mexican activists are organizing similar boycotts on U.S. businesses, using phrases like, “Nothing gringo” and instructing folks to avoid buying “anything from … Dunkin’ Donuts … McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Sears, Krispy Kreme or Wal-Mart.” It could turn out to be the healthiest day in Mexico.

Essay 535

‘Crash’ question: Do blacks tip less?

By Jane Engle
Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles Times

April 16, 2006

“That waitress sized us up in two seconds. We’re black, and black people don’t tip,” says Anthony, a character complaining about restaurant service in a scene from “Crash,” winner of this year’s best-picture Oscar.

That’s not just Hollywood talking, a Cornell University associate professor says: Research indicates that African-Americans, on average, leave smaller tips for servers than whites do and that they’re more likely to leave nothing.

Professor Michael Lynn’s latest report on this topic, “Race Differences in Tipping: Questions and Answers for the Restaurant Industry,” issued in January, cites more than 12 studies by himself and others, most done since 2002.

Discriminatory service may be a factor, but there appear to be many others.

Poor tips, Lynn says, may contribute to black diners getting poorer service and to companies’ reluctance to open restaurants in predominantly black communities, not to mention angering servers and customers alike. And it fuels yet another debate about tipping, always a hot-button topic for travelers.

Lynn doesn’t discount the role of anti-black bias in any of these problems. But he mainly sees this cycle at work:

Expecting skimpy gratuities, waiters resist serving African-Americans, or they provide poorer service, which discourages blacks from patronizing table-service restaurants. Low tips also make it hard for restaurants in black neighborhoods to attract and retain staff, causing turnover and decreasing profits.

Six years after Lynn, a respected expert on tipping at Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research in Ithaca, N.Y., began to study the racial gap in gratuities, the topic remains taboo, he says.

“It’s a problem the industry knows about,” says Lynn, who is white. “But the big players with money are afraid to address the issue. They’re afraid of being labeled racist.”

In an e-mail response, the National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group in Washington, issued a statement saying it “commends” Cornell “for addressing disparities in consumer tipping behavior,” but it did not specifically address the question of race.

Sue Hensley, spokeswoman for the restaurant association, said the group hadn’t researched this issue.

But she said it offers cards to restaurants, for distribution to customers, that calculate 15 and 20 percent tips for bills of various sizes. When that range became customary is not clear, but it was recommended by travel magazines as early as the 1950s, according to the association.

Gerry Fernandez, president of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, a non-profit group in Providence, R.I., that promotes diversity, finds merit in Lynn’s findings.

“There absolutely is a perception that certain groups, African-Americans in particular, do not tip as well as whites,” says Fernandez, an African-American whose grandparents hailed from Cape Verde, an island republic off Africa.

Why black people may tip less is not clear.

Income disparities and discriminatory service may play roles, Lynn says.

But even when black and white customers are in the same socioeconomic class or rate the quality of service equally, he says, several studies by himself and others found that they tip differently. Black diners average 10.9 to 14.7 percent of the bill, and white diners average 16.6 to 19.4 percent, depending on the study. The server’s race didn’t matter.

Black subjects are also more likely than whites to say they never tip servers (6 versus 2 percent, in one study) and to leave tips as flat-dollar amounts instead of percentages of the bill (50.7 percent versus 19.4 percent, in one study).

Lynn thinks the main reason that African-Americans tip servers less is that most aren’t aware that the usual guideline is 15 to 20 percent of the bill. In one study, 35.9 percent of African-Americans identified that range as the norm, versus 72.4 percent of whites.

Research data don’t show why African-Americans may be less aware of the 15 to 20 percent guideline, Lynn added. But Fernandez and several black and mixed-raced diners I spoke with recently had no shortage of thoughts on this topic. They often cited economics.

Median household income for blacks in 2004 was 61 percent of that for non-Hispanic whites, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And nearly a quarter of blacks lived in poverty in 2004, compared with 8.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

If you grow up poor, Fernandez said, you don’t eat out at fancy places--or at all.

“If you’re not exposed, how do you know the tip rules?” Kacey Towe, an image consultant of Creole descent, said between bites of peach cobbler at Harold & Belle’s in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles.

She and her black dining companion tipped their waiter--an acquaintance of Towe’s--$20 on their $80 dinner bill, 25 percent, at the upscale Creole restaurant.

Not far away, in the Ladera Heights area, Stephaney Bell, dining with her son Steven, 14, at T.G.I. Friday’s, echoed the sentiments of several diners when she said, “A lot of black people can’t afford to tip as well.”

She also sounded another common theme: Some African-Americans base gratuities strictly on how they’re treated.

“Our expectations of service may be higher,” she said.

Bell, who travels and eats out frequently as sales auditor for an auto manufacturer, later tipped less than 15 percent because she was unhappy with the service.

A few tables away, Renee Davis, a black graphic designer, said, “A lot of white guys try to impress the table with a big tip. I’m not interested in impressing the table.” Contending that restaurateurs should pay more so servers don’t rely on gratuities, she said, “I have problems with 20 percent for a tip. I’m doing 15 percent.”

Fernandez sees other factors affecting tips too.

Some African-Americans may be “extremely sensitive” about service glitches, he said, such as getting their food late, after other tables are served, or being seated in the back. Such actions, whatever their intent, may be perceived as racial slights.

“Remember the back of the bus?” he said.

In addition, poor service motivated by bigotry may occur “way more than anybody wants to admit,” Fernandez said.

Not everyone, of course, agrees that African-Americans tip less. Several black diners I interviewed, in my unscientific sampling, said they thought they tipped the same as or sometimes more than whites.

Rip Rahman, service manager at T.G.I. Friday’s, who is of Bangladeshi descent, dismissed race as a factor in gratuities, saying, “As far as I can tell, it’s all about the service.”

Essay 534

After all the marches, what next?

By Mary Sanchez, an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star: Tribune Media Services

April 14, 2006

So where are the other 31 million Latinos?

Recent weeks saw the largest outpouring of Latino activism ever in this country. Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Phoenix are among the cities reporting the immigration rallies were the largest their cities have ever seen.

But do the math.

Latinos are the nation’s largest ethnic group, at 40 million strong. The rallies drew thousands, hundreds of thousands in some cities. The events were largely gatherings of the people most desperately in need of comprehensive immigration reform--the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. About 8 million of them are thought to be Latino.

So the looming question of “What’s next?” should also include queries of how to engage more Hispanic U.S. citizens into the conversation. They are the best examples to reply to the questions raised by the rallies, however misinterpreted.

Already the outpouring of commentary includes attitudes like, “Why were they chanting in Spanish?” (Meaning: “These people will never learn English.”)

“They don’t want to become Americans! Look at all of those Mexican flags.” (Meaning: “These people will never fit my profile of a U.S. citizen.”)

And: “They just want to take from this country, demanding rights!” (Meaning: “I do not understand how much these immigrants and their families, even those here illegally, do and will contribute to the economy.”)

And my favorite often-articulated fallacy: “My ancestors came here legally. Why can’t these people!” (Meaning: The speaker probably does not understand the process to arrive legally and mistakenly thinks the system in place now also governed their European ancestors.)

Let me be the first to admit, I am not comfortable with protests. I don’t care what they are called--marches, rallies, etc. So when I heard Mexican-Americans and others say that they were hesitant to participate, I understood the sentiment.

But noteworthy also is that so many Latinos are expressing a desire to “stay separate” from the newer immigrants. One rally organizer said some Mexican-Americans had declined to participate noting, “The immigrants are making it harder on us.”

The idea is that images of Latinos marching might fuel a backlash against all Latinos, regardless of legality and U.S. citizenship. That is not a crazy fear. But it is easily deflected.

Engagement by a broader swath of the Latino population could go far toward deflecting some of the us-against-them language arising in reaction to the rallies. The truth is, a lot of “us” Latinos are connected by family history to “them,” who are the illegal immigrants.

Find out about and then talk about your own family history. How and when did they arrive? Most immigrants do not settle with perfected English skills, a middle-class existence. Learning English doesn’t happen overnight. But it does happen, usually within a generation. Understandably, people generations removed from their European ancestors often do not realize this.

Mexican people do want to become citizens. More Mexicans become U.S. citizens than immigrants from any other country—63,840 people in 2004. And Hispanic businesses have a growth rate three times the national average. Both statistics offer examples of what the immigrants of today can offer the U.S. tomorrow.

The marches were mobilized largely to speak against the bill passed by the House in December. This is the measure that looked to enforcement-only reforms, such as building a wall at the southern border.

But the future will call for much broader issues. Regardless of political position, there is a place for everyone in this conversation.

Comprehensive reform of our immigration policies will not happen overnight. It will take action from both political parties. There is no one quick fix, no easy answer. Security, reworking our visa system, figuring out what to do with those already here, organizing programs and funding to give newcomers the best chances to succeed in the U.S., all will be critical.

And long term.

Like it or not, in some circles anyone with a Hispanic surname will be lumped into some of the most vehement arguments against these new immigrant populations.

Hiding from that fact won’t change the impression.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Essay 533

Firing off another MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• The immigration-inspired rallies have also inspired employers to fire protesting workers (terminated protestor holding her final pay stub pictured above). “I have no problem with the demonstration, but this is a business,” said an employer who zapped workers after warning them that they could not skip work for a rally. “Couldn’t they have protested in the morning before work? Couldn’t they have protested in their hearts?” Yo, taskmaster, couldn’t you have fired them in your heart — provided you have one?

• Police in Detroit charged a man with weapons violations in connection with the shooting death of rapper Proof (see Essay 531). While the details remain sketchy, it appears the man will claim he shot Proof in self-defense after the artist fired at another man. The man’s lawyer, refusing to admit his client shot at all, said, “If anyone discharged the weapon, it was in defense of others or themselves. … If it takes discharging a weapon to save a life, then I find it disturbing that you would be charged with discharging a weapon.” Damn, this guy sounds like he wants to be a rapper.

• Wal-Mart is attempting to get out of the gun-selling business in certain areas. “It’s all based on customer demand,” said a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. “We are trying to be relevant to our customers in each specific community.” The rapper community will probably organize protests.

• Bellevue Community College in Washington State sparked controversy with a math quiz denigrating Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The questionable question included, “Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300-foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second…” President Bush was probably offended by the reference — but completely unable to offer the correct answer.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Essay 532

A MultiCultClassics Monologue presents Insensitivity on Good Friday…

• adidas has angered Asians with a limited-edition shoe displaying a character with buck teeth, slanted eyes and other cartoonish features deemed racist (pictured above). “You have to look at it as a piece of artwork,” said Barry McGee, a half-Chinese graffiti artist responsible for the image. “The way we put it all together, it becomes a collectible as art.” A social commentator said, “The problem with this is not that it’s done by bigots, because it’s not. … It’s also not that it offends people, because in many ways, that’s what art is meant to do. The problem is that these images, even though crude and clichéd, are powerful, almost indelible. They write the scripts that we expect others and we ourselves to follow. You can’t read all that into a shoe, but it’s part of a pattern.” Wonder if the shoe was produced in an Asian sweatshop.

• A new study showed today’s young people care less about social norms and standards than past generations. “It goes beyond etiquette. It’s not just about manners. It’s more obliviousness that characterizes it — just not thinking about what other people think and other people’s feelings,” said one expert behind the study. Contemporary kids claim to pay little heed to social conventions — 62 percent now versus 50 percent in 1958. The majority of today’s youth would probably kill a classmate for a pair of adidas’ limited-edition kicks.

• The Black student who sent racist emails to other minority students at Trinity International University last year pleaded guilty to felony disorderly conduct (see Essay Thirty-One). Although the student dropped out of school and has been under house arrest since the incident, a lawyer involved with the case said, “She definitely wants to finish her education and be a very productive member of society.” Well, she does confirm the research showing young people care less about social norms.

• A Kent State University sorority was placed on probation after awarding the title of “Blackest” member to a White female during a formal dinner-dance. No word if the White female could really bust a move on the dance floor.

• Tiger Woods apologized for using the word “spaz” when describing his lousy putting during the Masters tournament. A British organization remarked, “Although in the U.S. the term ‘spaz’ may not be as offensive as it is here in the U.K., many disabled people here will have taken exception to his likening a golf stroke to that of ‘a spaz.’” Yeah, let’s look to the U.K. for political correctness and social sensitivity.

• Maryland gangs have definitely bridged the digital divide, allegedly using websites and technological advances to brag about crimes, threaten rivals and more. Officials have tagged the activities as “cyberbanging.” Sounds like the stuff most American males are already doing on the Internet.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Essay 531

Proof of unintelligent life in a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• The cops have proof in the Proof shooting after all (see Essay 528). The rapper apparently shot first, hitting someone in the head before catching a bullet in his own head. Which is proof that everyone involved had good aim.

• Michael Jackson is doing some serious refinancing to avoid bankruptcy — including creating a deal to release part of the rights to his coveted collection of Beatles’ hits. Wonder how long before the Elephant Man’s remains show up on eBay.

• A new study revealed that American fast food restaurants’ French fries and chicken goodies have more trans fat than similar items abroad. “I was very surprised to see a difference in trans fatty acids in these uniform products,” said one researcher. “It’s such an easy risk factor to remove.” Not when Mickey D’s thinks it’s easier to add a McNugget to its Super-Size packs to make more profit.

• A Saudi-Arabian couple from Colorado agreed to pay back wages to an Indonesian woman who was essentially their slave. The slave woman was sexually abused and even loaned out to other families. Even if they pay the back wages, the couple still faces charges of kidnapping, sexual assault, false imprisonment and extortion. Plus, offers for their own reality TV show from the FX and Bravo networks.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Essay 530

Fade to Black. White.

The allegedly breakthrough, revolutionary FX series is over. Can’t help but feel it was a dream deferred.

Maybe the general public benefited from viewing, but the show never seemed to realize its potential. Reports revealed the program started with strong audience interest, then slid dramatically.

The casting and staging appeared imbalanced. The Black family had quirks, but they were pretty savvy and hip overall. In contrast, the White family was almost cartoonish in their cultural cluelessness. Plus, Bruno’s passive bias bordered on massive racism.

The Black experiences included scenes of Spoken Word artists, Black churches, barbershops, beauty salons, comedy clubs, domino games, Black museums, visits to the ‘hood and more.

The White experiences included etiquette classes and redneck bars.

The White mom was a weepy, whining airhead. The Black mom was a sassy sistah with attitude. The White daughter was a borderline 21st century Valley Girl. The Black son was a borderline gang-banger. Additionally, all the characters exposed their true identities too early in the project.

Did this program spark progress or perpetuate stereotypes?

Essay 529

Politically correct is an oxymoron in a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• Former President Bill Clinton proclaimed his inability to lessen the economic and social divisions between Blacks and Whites remains one of his “great regrets.” Clinton said, “The idea that I live in a country I spent my lifetime trying to make better, but there’s still hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people, most of them people of color, who will die before their time, drop out of school, go to prison, never have a chance to live their dreams, is galling and painful to me.” Maybe he was too busy not having sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

• Current President George W. Bush has seen his approval ratings slip to an all-time low of 36 percent. However, he has no regrets over his inability to lessen the economic and social divisions between Blacks and Whites.

• A woman of Iranian descent won her lawsuit against Southwest Airlines, nabbing a $27.5 million jury award. The woman accused the airline of racial profiling after clashing with flight attendants during a 2003 trip from Houston to Los Angeles. “In the evidence it came out that one of the flight attendants stated that [the Iranian-American woman] reminded her of a terrorist, and in our views she was the victim of profiling stereotypes and discrimination,” said the woman’s lawyer. Is Southwest’s tagline still A Symbol of Freedom…?

Essay 528

A Mini Midweek MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• Another rapper has been gunned down. Proof (pictured above), a pal of Eminem, had his brains blown out in a Detroit nightclub. Police are working with little proof to apprehend the shooter.

• Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s proposal to ban junk foods in public schools was rejected. A legislative review panel nixed the plan, arguing with the standard political gobbledygook. “Members are laudatory of what the governor is trying to do,” said one Representative. “We would like to move forward with a more comprehensive approach to the broader issue of nutrition in schools.” Blagojevich shot back, “How could they possibly think that we ought to have junk food in schools? We’re talking about making sure that kids learn the right lessons in schools.” The lesson appears to be that a governor has less power than Chester the Cheetah.

• Mean girls have found a new way to bully peers — text messaging. A survey revealed text messages are the tactic of choice for female threatening geeks and assorted wimps. The survey also showed about 45% of girls had been victims of cyber-bullying. Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned ass-whuppings?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Essay 527

Mickey D’s bites Mad magazine with this execution, working off the publication’s famous back-interior-cover-folding-gag. But the results are unfunny and unintentionally bad.

The open spread shows a Black dude in a shopping mall enjoying his Dollar Menu goodies, with an oblivious chick standing nearby. The folded finale reveals the guy surrounded by more shopping bags.

Guess the implication is that Dollar Menu items leave you more loot to spend on other things. But it kinda looks like the Black dude ripped off the White chick’s stuff.

Essay 526

Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• A judge denied Robert Blake’s request for a new civil trial for his wife’s murder. Blake was slapped with a $30 million jury verdict that he claims he can’t pay; plus, the actor accused jurors of misconduct. But the judge refused to toss the verdict. Guess this means Fred the cockatoo won’t have to appear as a character witness.

• The immigration rallies continue throughout the nation. Observers have been calling it a civil rights movement for immigrants. “We are in the situation that Rosa Parks was in several years ago,” said one protestor. “Enough is enough.”

• A lawsuit filed in Chicago charges 13 school districts abandoned a south suburban athletic conference for racial motives, hoping to separate Black and White students. Using phrases like, “apartheid-like realignment,” critics seek to undo the break-up. “Our school is rich in racial diversity,” countered an official from the departing schools. “We are running from nothing. We disagree with those allegations.” It all brings new meaning to showing your school colors.

Essay 525

Great creative leaders make everyone around them better. Bad ones make everyone bitter.

Not sure where Steve Conner falls in the equation. But he just joined the list of ex-creative honchos at Burrell Communications in Chicago.

The prominent Black advertising agency has been spinning a revolving door of Chief Creative Officers and Creative Directors in recent years.

Conner arrived in 2004 when iconic founder Tom Burrell decided to retire from the daily grind. Critics questioned Conner’s ability to handle the task from jump. His background included stints at New York shops. But he had never overseen a large staff with major brands like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble. In fact, Conner is best known as a commercial director who also ran a creative boutique with obscure clients.

Along with co-CEOs McGhee Williams-Osse and Fay Ferguson, Conner sought to take the agency to the next level. The initial hype promised going beyond the Black Consumer Market to Mass Market Nirvana. But in the end, it seems that the only way to stay in the black is to stay in the Black.

It’s not the first time Burrell attempted to reach further than its core competency. Prior to Conner, the agency picked Mike Faems to run the creative department. Faems had spent the majority of his career co-leading the Chicago office of Y&R. What made Faems unique among the Burrell leaders? For starters, he’s White.

The hope was that he could help the company acquire the elusive mass market accounts. Insiders claim Faems not only failed to comprehend the Black-focused clients, but he appeared to be clueless on the White cultural tip too.

Bobbi Gassy preceded Faems on the revolutionary chart, boasting roots from South Africa and international creative credentials. The award-winning guru lasted barely one year.

Gassy’s predecessor was Alma Hopkins, a Burrell veteran of over 20 years. Like the men who followed her, Hopkins proved incapable of turning the agency into a premier creative powerhouse.

The confederacy of blunderers each brought clumsy rethinking, restarting and restructuring. A slew of creative directors, copywriters and art directors were hired, fired and retired. And a creative department was ultimately left dazed, decimated and demoralized.

Ad veteran Lewis Williams is slated to succeed Conner. Williams is a respected innovator who toiled at Burrell in the 1980s, eventually leaving for an extended tour of duty at Leo Burnett. He now returns to face the never-ending challenge of moving Burrell forward. Or in any positive direction, for that matter.

Let’s see if Williams manages to make everyone better.


(Special thanks to the Chicago Mob for contributing to this essay.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Essay 524

Marching on Monday with a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• The immigration-inspired protests continue, with up to 500,000 marchers in Dallas on Sunday. “For years, we never say nothing,” said one protestor. “We just work hard, follow the rules and pay taxes. And they try to make these laws. It’s time people knew how we felt.” Another marcher proclaimed, “We are all immigrants here, except for the American Indians.” Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, amigo? Wouldn’t exactly say most Blacks immigrated to the country.

• A study showed 1 in 7 New Yorkers describe their mental health as “not good.” A similar survey listed only 1 in 10 citizens felt the same way nationwide. However, 10 in 10 folks nationwide probably think most New Yorkers are nutcases.

• A survey showed only 15 percent of obese people view themselves as obese. The others probably label themselves “Mo’Nique-like.”

• A man in Malaysia received a phone bill for $218 trillion. The bill threatened prosecution if not paid within 10 days. Bet the guy has a daughter who’s really into voting for American Idol contestants.

Essay 523

The commentary below appeared in the April 2006 issue of Marketing y Medios (click on the essay title to visit the website). The MultiCultClassics response directly follows…


What’s Hispanic About It?

Guest Critic

Some of my friends who work as creatives in the U.S. Hispanic arena have told me (or rather, have bitterly complained) how difficult it is to come up with good creative work in the market. As if finding a good idea wasn’t difficult enough, you must then go out there and find the damned “Hispanic insight,” or whatever you want to call it, in order to justify the very existence of the idea.

While I have always thought that this situation is what makes this market very complex, my fellow creatives shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the quest for a Hispanic insight was the very argument that sparked the creation of Hispanic advertising agencies.

Maybe I’m being superficial here, but I guess the sales pitch to create the first Hispanic advertising campaign in the United States went something like this: “Hispanics have a completely different culture and do not understand these anglo ads, that are not even relevant to them. Thus, we have to create a campaign that speaks directly to them, in their language.”

It was this very argument that gave rise to myriad ads featuring salsa-dancing Latinos hugging their families in a kitchen, an image that has been dominant in the largest Spanish-language TV networks such as Univision and Telemundo. Of course, those campaigns also contributed to the creation of the multi-million dollar Hispanic advertising industry as we know it.

Personally, I must confess that the argument you need a Hispanic advertising agency to speak to U.S. Hispanics always sounded a little like bullshit. That would amount to saying that only Hispanics can do relevant work for Hispanics, only women can create a relevant campaign for women, or only a billionaire can write and execute a campaign for a yacht manufacturer.

And even conceding that Hispanics are different from everybody else, I could not help but wonder: What does a creative from Argentina, raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires, have to do with a poor immigrant from Michoacán, Mexico? What does a creative from Mexico City have in common with a third-generation Cuban in Miami or a Dominican born in Washington, D.C.? I mean, really, is the Hispanic market in Los Angeles similar in any way to the one in Miami? Does a first-generation, Spanish-dominant Mexican immigrant have a lot in common with his U.S.-born grandchildren?

Ultimately, all of us who work in this business, regardless of the market in which we operate, end up speaking to someone who has nothing to do with us. The question is if the argument that originally gave rise to Hispanic advertising agencies is still valid today, in this very complex market where the mere definition of Hispanic is already controversial, as it groups together people with very different backgrounds and cultures.

Stereotypes Versus World-Class Work

After combing through 215 commercial submissions with Marketing y Medios editors for this year’s Best Spots competition, I detected two things about this market. First, I saw that many advertising agencies still rely heavily on Hispanic stereotypes, hammering the Hispanic insight at all times. But I also saw work from agencies that are seeking to do world-class creative, focusing more on making the benefit of a service or product relevant, instead of making the ads “Hispanic” by forcing the concept in the work.

It was clear to me that the agencies belonging to the first group have a much easier time justifying their creative pitch to their clients, and it was also clear that the creativity shown by the second group of shops is much more superior and contributing to improve the creative reputation of the industry as a whole.

Paradoxically, though, is that — with very few exceptions — the better the idea, the more universal it tends to be and thus less “Hispanic.”

After thinking about this, I have only one doubt left (and it might sound a bit stupid). I’d like to know if more unique creativity will be beneficial in the long run, not for the consumer but for the Hispanic advertising agencies. On the one hand, this can make the clients move beyond the Hispanic myth, approving and demanding better ideas. On the other hand, though, we run the risk of weakening the very reason that gave birth to our market: What’s Hispanic about it?

Lalolópez is founder and creative director of Oveja Negra, a Mexico City-based independent advertising agency.


Unfortunately, Lalolópez failed to present many original insights or perspectives. In the multicultural marketing arena, it seems everyone keeps regurgitating the same statements over and over. Perhaps the hope is that a new audience will discover the issues that have been so prevalent for so long. Or the old audience will suddenly be roused from their lethargic cluelessness. Whatever.

But if we’re gonna rehash the same old same old, let’s serve up the whole proverbial enchilada.

Lalolópez believes pitching the first U.S. Hispanic advertising campaign incorporated the following hype: “Hispanics have a completely different culture and do not understand these anglo ads, that are not even relevant to them. Thus, we have to create a campaign that speaks directly to them, in their language.”

Well, the only ones who could confirm Lalolópez’s suspicions are the actual pioneers. Yet these folks rarely reveal the real deals. MultiCultClassics humbly suggests including the following comments when making similar presentations today:

“Our new campaign — and our professional existence — are rooted in a fundamental advertising tenet: Know Your Target.”

“We don’t offer secret formulas or tactics to create Hispanic-focused advertising. We basically use the same processes and disciplines as your mass market agency. We just do it with considerably less time and money. Less resources too.”

“If you consider the personnel of your current mass market agency, you must admit they employ few people with any connections to Hispanics. Not including the janitorial staff, of course. While we wouldn’t say that only Hispanics are qualified to target Hispanics, we do believe your typical campaigns to date have excluded Hispanics. Just as your mass market agency’s hiring practices have excluded Hispanics.”

“Plus, the mass market agency’s concepts tend to speak to the Caucasian segment of the mass market, versus communicating to the broader, multicultural audience that makes up our nation. The truth is, our work may ultimately be more relevant to the modern mass market than the stuff generated by your mass market agency. Go figure.”

“There are inherent problems with the question, ‘What’s Hispanic about it?’ The implication is that Hispanic ads must blatantly feature Hispanic cultural cues. We must avoid allowing cultural cues to become borrowed interest. Would you ever ask, ‘What’s White about it?’ when viewing concepts from your mass market agency? The only question should be, ‘Will this idea strongly appeal to the target?’”

“Hispanics have been under-represented in the media. And being a minority group, the representation is not always positive and accurate. We have a responsibility to avoid perpetuating stereotypes. Additionally, we mustn’t create Hispanic advertising clichés. All of your mass market ads don’t feature square dancing. All of your Hispanic ads shouldn’t feature Salsa dancing. If you promise not to request such garbage, we’ll strive not to present it.”

“In many respects, the Hispanic consumer market is an undiscovered country. We have the opportunity to be remarkable and breakthrough. Let’s produce innovative work that everyone else wants to copy.”

“Are you engaging Hispanics for professional or political reasons? That is, do you really believe Hispanic consumers are distinct, demanding unique advertising campaigns? Or are you secretly seeking to fulfill corporate quotas and diversity initiatives? If you’re out to do the latter, that’s cool. But we hope you’re demanding that your mass market agency fully and equally participates in the endeavors.”

Anyway, those are just a few opening thoughts, which may be applied to any special-market advertising. Feel free to add more.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Essay 522

Going Dutch with a MultiCultClassics Monologue…

• The Dutch have developed a way to help potential immigrants — especially Muslims — decide whether or not to apply for residency. The “test” involves viewing a DVD featuring the typical Dutch lifestyle, including images of topless women and gay men kissing. The intent is to communicate that the country has a very liberal culture, and the easily offended must be willing to handle things or stay away. “It’s like the warning label on the cigarette packs. … It’s not very subtle, but it prepares people for what they will find in this country,” a city official said. “If you want to live here, you have to accept that girls are allowed to wear miniskirts and can stay out until 3 in the morning. You don’t have to behave this way yourself, but you have to tolerate it.” The DVD could probably also be used to attract male tourists.

• A Massachusetts prison official has been punished for showing “Brokeback Mountain” to inmates at the state’s biggest prison. The prison’s new nickname is “Brokebitch Mountain.” And next month, the warden plans to show the Dutch immigration DVD.

• Eminem is facing off in another battle. But this time, the competitor is his estranged wife. Kim Mathers went live on a radio show to diss Slim Shady. “He’s having problems with, you know, his problem that he had,” she said, referring to the rapper’s prescription drug addiction. “Right after he came home from his rehab, we started to have a few problems, and I thought it was going to be in our best interest to delay the [second] wedding. But he really pushed it and I thought it was really going to be something that worked this time.” Eminem countered with, “Her allegations regarding my status post-rehab are both untrue and unfortunate. … She was aware that I was filing for divorce. We both tried to give our marriage another chance and quickly realized that a wedding doesn’t fix the underlying problems.” Here’s some advice to the Mathers: Lose yourself — from the public eye, please.

• A recent AP-Ipsos poll showed immigration is rising fast among the biggest problems facing the nation. The wars in Iraq and abroad held the top spot at 19 percent. The economy remains number two at 14 percent. Immigration came in at 13 percent, up from barely 4 percent in January. No word on Eminem’s ranking among the nation’s biggest problems.