Monday, June 18, 2007

Perception is everything

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in the 2007 Juneteenth Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio. The festival material explains that Juneteenth is not just a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, but an opportunity to reflect on how far society has come in terms of ethnic relations and how far we still have to go. That's a topic I often reflect upon.

There are a multitude of ways in which we can measure the distance we've traveled. One way is with firsts. For example, in 2001, we had the first African American Secretary of State with Colin Powel and the first African American National Security Advisor with Condeleeza Rice. In 2007, we had the first African American head coach to win the Super Bowl.

But what impact do these firsts have on the underlying issue of perception? Popular culture often sheds light on societal thinking - what's acceptable and what's not. Judging by television and film, we're making headway, but there's still quite a distance to travel.

For example, in TV detective series, shows like Law & Order and The Closer have several African American characters. That's wonderful. But these characters are either in supportive or secondary. What's preventing them from taking the lead?

(Don't get me started on Psych. Based on the two episodes I've watched, the African American character is a non-issue who sets us back about 60 years.)

When we think of superheroes, Superman, Batman, Spiderman are prominent icons with franchises to perpetuate their popularity. But what about the Black Panther, Vixen or John Stewart as the Green Lantern? We do have Blade. He's had three movies and now has his own series on the Sci-Fi channel. But he's a vampire who doesn't want to be a vampire and he's killing other vampires. What's the underlying message there?

My point is, I relish these firsts and celebrate them. But these firsts move us forward one person at a time. To advance as a group, we have to address perceptions and push forward strong, positive images and messages.


Angela Henry said...

Great post, Patricia! By the way, I think they cancelled Blade the series ; (. I'm pissed. I loved that show. Any show with a fine brother in the lead role is alright by me!


patricia sargeant said...

Thank you for the compliment on the post, Angela. And I agree with you. The actor who played the lead in Blade is very fine. I think Wesley Snipes is fine, too. :)

Liz Clifford said...

Interesting post - and I agree with you. Let me tell you about something my company has done. I work for a major financial services company (which will remain unnamed) that has totally integrated its marketing materials. We now have people of all hues in all ads, newsletters, handouts, etc. I have not yet seen an obviously mixed race couple or homosexual couple, but at the rate they are changing things, I think those can't be far behind.

It is a small thing, but millions of people are going to see those brochures, etc., every year. When they see all people treated equally in the materials, hopefully it will sink in on a subliminal level. Or even a conscious level, as long as people get it.

Angela Henry said...


That's great! It takes all kinds of people to make the world go around and I think it's important to reflect that in the media and marketing. Too bad everyone doesn't do this.


patricia sargeant said...

Liz, that's fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing this information with us. It's incredible the impact subliminal messaging has on people, the unconscious positive and negative reactions. I hope more companies follow your employer's lead.

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