“Should I be offended that the sales lady in the Hallmark store showed me the Mahogany cards when I told her I was looking for a birthday card for my Grandmom?” was the question posed by a Facebook friend earlier this week. I remember searching for mother’s day cards and birthday cards growing up with my older sister and no matter how sentimental or accurately reflective the message was of our feelings she would never let me pick out a card with the white man in a fishing boat for Father’s Day or even the cartoon white lady wishing a relative a Happy Birthday. “Those people don’t look like us,” she would whisper to me as we ended up choosing a Dalmatian in a birthday hat or some other non-denominational representative of our emotions.
When we discovered Hallmark delved into diversity with its Mahogany card collection, you would’ve thought we’d breathe a sigh of relief that we could actually give a card that represents our language and culture. The Mahogany line, which is created by writers and editors who all appear to be African-American according to the official site, features cards for every occasion displaying people, symbols and sayings that are all relevant to African-American culture. The line started in 1987 as a 16-card promotion and became a year-round brand in 1991. Maya Angelou, T.D. Jakes and Iyanla Vanzant are all public figures that have collaborated with the line.
All that and I have yet to purchase a Mahogany card. The reason being? Well, we aren’t all running around referring to one another as “sista” and “mama” and there’s always been something within the Mahogany messages that made me feel even more excluded. For example, one card in particular for expectant mothers on Mothers’ Day reads:
You already have what it takes to be a wonderful mama–all you need now is the baby!
Happy Mama-to-be Day
I don’t think I have ever called my mom “mama” in my life. But I don’t knock people who do. And I think Hallmark honestly has the best of intentions. But I guess when it comes to me shelling out almost $10.00 on a greeting card, I don’t need a whole line specially devoted to me because I am black. I guess what I would like to see are images of us included with the rest of America. By giving my community its own section to choose from (which may I add never offers as many options as the other sections) I feel more segregated than when we weren’t considered at all.
Maybe, I’m just being extra sensitive. More and more my generation is sending a text where before a greeting card the price of an extra value meal would have sufficed. But I came across an interesting article written by mommy blogger Erin Petron about how other races feel about the Mahogany line:
“But I gotta ask: Are Mahogany cards by Hallmark racist? I pose the question after shopping for Father’s Day cards and making two observations:
Hallmark views black people as cheaper than white people.
Hallmark views white people as cheesy and not as genuine as black people.”
After finding herself preferring to purchase the Mahogany brand she says she began to understand some of the feelings of buying a greeting card while black:
“Why do I feel weird choosing a card with two black hands on it? Because my dad will think, ‘Why did she get me a card with black hands when I’m white?’ This leads me to think about how black people (and other minorities) have felt since forever about not being represented on consumer products.”
Petron goes on to say she actually prefers Mahogany cards for being more affordable and straight to the point:
“Back to cards. This year, my dad and grandpa’s Father’s Day cards are from the Mahogany section. Not only were they cheaper, but the messages were WAY less cheesy, and just more genuine. Paragraphs have no place in greeting cards or power points. Keep it short, sweet, and simple. Hallmark did; they just seem to think that the African-American community is the only culture that appreciates this.
After visiting the Hallmark website and seeing African-Americans as the creators of the Mahogany section, I’m glad. But I’m also wondering why my taste in cards is considered “black”?
Why aren’t all cards the same price? Why do we feel weird purchasing a card with another race represented? And why does Hallmark think that white people love snarky white chicks and cuddly creatures?”
Still, in her support, Petron points out yet another stereotype (even if it is positive): There goes the blacks “keeping it real” and straight to the point again, because of course a Mahogany card couldn’t possibly display a Walt Whitman quote or something dare I say, superfluously poetic.
I guess we have bigger race problems in this country than what color the people on our birthday cards are, but for me the Mahogany line is a subtle reminder of the separate but equal mentality that almost always ends up being anything but. No matter what the race, I think everyone needs to see symbols in our culture regularly that represent them. Although we have our own history and traditions, we still belong to something bigger. And maybe Hallmark didn’t get the memo that just because we’re black doesn’t mean we’re all running around in kente cloths lighting Kwanzaa candles. So I guess until that changes, I’ll be sticking to cards with cute puppies and random cartoon characters.
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.