Why Don't You Go Work at a Black Shop?

A Response to a Question That Really Shouldn't Be Asked

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Derek Walker
Derek Walker
"Ah man, and here I thought it was just a deep tan."

That's my standard response when I get the "question."

I hate the "question." I laugh it off but I really can't stand it. I know folks mean well but it just makes me want to scream.

What is the question, you ask?

I don't even want to type it, but here it goes:

"Why don't you go to work for a black agency?"

Or:

"Why don't you open a black agency?"

I don't know why it makes my blood boil but it does. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive. Maybe I'm not. All I know is that I hate that question. I hate it! I think it is the implication.

I feel like I am being told to get back to my place, where I belong.

Now, before I go any further let me set the record straight -- I am black. Always have been, always will be. I love my people. The first advertising agency I ever learned about was Barbara Proctor's shop. There was a story in Ebony about her. I followed her agency as best I could through middle school to high school and into college. I even got to meet her at an AAF competition my senior year.

I see a real need for African-American shops. I cheered when black shops showed the industry what they could do with Sprite, M&M and Burger King when their efforts went mainstream.

But still there is something about the "assumption" that I belong or need to be at a "black" agency that sets me off.

My entire career has been at general-market agencies, I've had both success and failure but that's the way the game is played. These folks asking the question know me, they're people that have worked with me for years. It is like I am intruding in their club when there is a club down the road that they feel I belong at.

That's it. The question says I don't belong. How dare I take a spot at "their" agency when I can be at "our" agency?

Too bad.

Langston Hughes said it best in his poem "I, too, sing America."

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes. . . .

(Read the whole thing here.)

I have actually asked a couple of them, "Why don't you apply to a 'black' agency? They are looking for a creative whatever."

The look on their face and their silence speaks volumes. I guess, they don't like being asked that question either.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C. E-mail him here.
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