Have Companies Fooled You Into Thinking They’re Celebrating Black History?

February 13, 2014  |  

When the month of February arrives, we see all of our favorite companies that have become household names pull out the stops to appeal to their black patrons. The black commercials that you usually can only find on BET are disseminated amongst other major networks, so these organizations can show that they too “celebrate” Black History.

Many of us feel pride while we watch the black family walk into McDonald’s or watch Raphael Saadiq in the car commercial. However, once the month of February has passed (it coincidentally has the shortest number of days), what are companies really doing to show their support for the black community?

With the high number of unemployed blacks in the US, the lack of African Americans in fields like science and technology, and deprivation suffered by inner city school systems, it’s hard to see what type of direct contribution these companies are actually making to the black community.

Sure American Airlines might be offering in-flight African-American movies and Ford is having a special “Finding Your Roots” ceremony costing $125 per ticket. The acknowledgement of the importance of black consumers is there. But many of these sorts of gestures seem to be ploys to gain publicity and extend their penetration in the black community. Heck, even the Republicans have figured out the Black History month strategy and this year will be celebrating the second annual Black Republican Trailblazers Awards luncheon. What an easy way to gain black votes by having a prestigious awards ceremony celebrating black Republicans in the month of February.

BET founder Bob Johnson saw through this strategy. Back in 2011, he challenged these same companies to establish a version of the NFL “Rooney Rule.” When the NFL suffered from diversity constraints, this rule was implemented in 2003 requiring NFL teams to give fair interviews to minority candidates whenever a head-coaching or general manager position becomes open, prior to making a final hiring decision. Since this rule was put in place, the NFL has hired 12 black coaches and several black general managers.

I can make all types of inferences on how we as African Americans become content when someone from the majority shows us the slightest bit of attention. However, the bigger point is we have to become cognizant of when shining light on our history is not being intended as a celebration, but as a spectacle with ulterior motives. As major consumers for these organizations we have to demand more than a few commercials or commemorative events that celebrate our history. Rather, there needs to be education, jobs, and skills that support our future.

(If you haven’t seen the SNL skit for Black History Month, we have it after the jump.)

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