Forget Don Imus; Our Media Image Needs a Second Chance

Assaulted From All Sides, Black Women Will Have to Stand Up

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Tiffany Warren Tiffany R. Warren
When Don Imus made "those comments" last spring about the hair texture and sexual prowess of the Rutgers women's basketball team he not only became the tinder for a cultural bonfire cackling with the negatively charged ashes of the "n" and "b" words but a forensic discourse that led to a premature autopsy of the hip-hop industry. It also spotlighted the powerful relationship between advertisers and the entertainment industry. Several days afterwards, major advertisers pulled their support and the Imus Show was on life support. Once the backlash from the comments enlisted soldiers such as Al Sharpton and the National Action Network, Don Imus' career was pronounced dead.

But it might not stay dead for long. A recent headline in the New York Times read "Potential New Boss Says It's Time to Forgive Imus." Citadel Broadcasting CEO Farid Suleman told the Times, "He did something wrong, he didn't break the law." Imus may not have broken the law, but a crime was committed. The fact is that it is still being committed against the image of black women in the media.

The next assassination of the character of black women was committed by an unexpected perpetrator -- Isiah Thomas, the New York Knicks head coach and team president. In a videotaped deposition introduced at his trial for sexual harassment, Thomas said that "A white man calling a black female 'bitch,' that is wrong with me. I am not accepting that. That's a problem for me." But, asked whether he would be offended if the same words came from a black man, Thomas said, "Not as much. I'm sorry to say, I do make a distinction."

Wow! It has been a banner year for the black woman's image. It is ironic that the most powerful woman in the media universe is black. Yet the very mountain Oprah Winfrey has fought hard to climb continues to spew volcanic images and words that may be slowly burning away the very footsteps she and others have created for a generation of women to follow.

As noted in an earlier Ad Age article about the upcoming "My Black Is Beautiful" campaign by Procter & Gamble, P&G research indicated that 71% of black women feel they're portrayed worse than other women in media and advertising. The research also indicated that black women spend on average three times more than the general market on beauty products. I wonder if the percentage of hair straighteners sold reached an all-time high after Imus'comments? Probably not, but whether we want to believe it or not there is a powerful correlation between how women are portrayed in the media and the exponential growth of certain segments of the beauty industry (i.e., plastic surgery, products and fitness).

So just as women have had to Take Back The Night to combat sexual assault and violence against them regardless of color, they may have an impact in "Taking Back Our Image" The image, in this case, of women of color in the media.

Najoh Tita Reid, P&G's multicultural marketing director, hopes to do just that when she helps launch the "My Black Is Beautiful" campaign that will not only help place new images of women of color into our psyches but provide a more positive storyline for black women to follow around the world. Jim Stengel, P&G Global Marketing Officer, was recently named No. 1 on Advertising Age's 2007 Power Players list. P&G's global ad spending for 2007 is nearing $8 billion. Last spring, P&G was one of the first advertisers to use their dollars to end the Don Imus era, and now this advertiser will use its considerable power to support the life of a new era of uplifting images of the black woman. Although "My Black Is Beautiful" is in its formative stages, I believe this campaign -- rather than Don Imus -- deserves a chance to succeed.
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