Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Essay 1636

MultiCultClassics feels compelled to respond to the letter posted in Essay 1635, especially since the author referenced comments from this blog.

First, we want to stress again that this is not an attack on Tim Arnold. The man deserves respect for his willingness to openly confront matters. No one doubts for a second that Arnold sincerely intends to do the right thing. Let’s agree there is much to be accomplished, and it will entail collaboration and serious sweat.

At the same time, Arnold does not represent everyone. Neither do the writers of this blog. However, there are attitudes and beliefs symbolic and symptomatic of various factions in the drama. Opinions should be thoughtfully examined versus viewed as gospel.

So let the examination commence.

Arnold’s raw exposures call to mind a book published in 1961, and produced as a movie in 1964 — “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin. The book detailed the experiences of a Caucasian man who darkened his skin and posed as a Black man, traveling through racially segregated Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Eddie Murphy twisted the idea for comedic effect on “Saturday Night Live,” and a contemporary version of the theme was presented with the FX series “Black. White.”

There are lots of similar moments on display with Arnold. The man brings it all — from navel-gazing angst to flashes of enlightenment to hardcore cluelessness. Yet is he really trying to relate to perspectives besides his own and analyze situations from multiple angles?

Arnold now realizes the advertising industry’s diversity issues are indeed complicated. He knows that what his editorial “painfully lacked was an overt recognition of the problem.” But does he comprehend the contradictions and complexities compounded by his admittedly simplistic writings?

Arnold says he wants “to urge minorities — the ones who still feel they’re being excluded from this predominantly white business, and want in — to take advantage of the demands of the recent HRC agreement signed by some 11 general market agencies, and come bang on our doors. What the hell, it’s a start — and it will demand that these agencies at least meet you halfway.”

Has Arnold considered that minorities are no different than majorities when it comes to seeking jobs? That is, people hope to be judged by their skills and potential. No one wants to “take advantage” of the signed agreements. And anybody who suggests such a strategy just doesn’t get it.

Minorities do not require Arnold’s coaching and cajoling. The truth is, the man is directing the wrong audience. Minorities weren’t asked to change. Let’s be clear, folks. The general market agencies crafted — and absolutely inspired — the pacts. Arnold and his Madison Avenue peers are the ones who must alter their behavior. Minorities should not plead for anyone to meet them halfway; rather, majorities are obligated to traverse the full way.

This isn’t a modern-day Emancipation Proclamation. Do not expect minorities to rejoice and swarm in droves for job openings. Instead, advertising agencies need to proactively recruit with honesty, enthusiasm and an inclusive spirit. Arnold and his pals must strive to woo and embrace — otherwise, they face stiff financial penalties, public humiliation and worse.

Additionally, progress will be damned difficult if folks label the agreements as nettlesome chores they’ve been commanded to address. The HRC and Jesse Jackson are not coercive enemies. They’re merely spanking an industry that has lied to them since 1973.

The people who harbor disgust for the HRC and Jackson need to get over it. Want to avoid hearings and mandates? It’s easy. Be professional. Make demonstrable and measurable revisions. Honor your word.

It will be interesting to watch agency leaders ultimately execute new initiatives. People who have been turned off to the business are thriving in other fields. Locating qualified mid- and senior-level talent will be hard. It’s a safe bet that shops will opt to raid the “multicultural” firms for bodies. Sadly, the industry that boasts of its creativity tends to concoct obvious, lazy solutions in these scenarios.

Of course, minorities will have to play significant roles. Those already in the business need to lead and train the culturally clueless, which is certainly a Herculean task. Plus, there is a great deal of mentoring and networking necessary for success. Everyone will have to join forces on a myriad of levels for this revolution.

Arnold ends with typical (unintentional?) condescending preaching: “Yes, there’s a problem. But why not call it an opportunity, and agree to do something about it, together? I’m not done with this issue, not even close. Neither are you.”

Not sure who Arnold is targeting with the very last sentence. Minorities have been dealing with the dilemmas forever. Welcome to the party, Tim. Where the hell have you been for the past 30 years of your career?

Arnold ought to aim his closing remarks at the general market agencies’ masses. They must start calling it an opportunity and commit to doing something about it — although technically, their bosses’ signatures already sealed the inevitable compliance. This endeavor will be palatable when it becomes a vocational and moral imperative.

Arnold says he’s not even close to being done. But is he even close to being truly qualified to cope with the challenges ahead?

Are any of us?

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