Obamanos: How 'You' Made History

And What Obama's Win Means for Us

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
In 2006, Time Magazine's Person of the Year was "You." Criticized by many, the choice was made in recognition of the millions of anonymous contributors of user-generated content to Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Digg, Second Life and other social-networking sites. Time editor Lev Grossman said, "It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes."

The cover of this issue used a reflective paper so that the readers could see themselves -- their own skin, eye and hair color, their own style and sensibility, their own ethnic characteristics -- without the filter of an external image maker drawing conclusions about who "You" was.

I reflected on that cover this morning. I reflected on that cover as I allowed myself to truly believe that the Obama win wasn't some figment of my imagination or some statistical error that was changed in the middle of the night while I was sleeping. Obama's acceptance speech still echoed in my mind:

"But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to -- it belongs to you," he said. He went on to say, "This victory alone is not the change we seek -- it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you."

In Grant Park, millions of "You" waited for history to be made. In sharp contrast, the audience at the Arizona Biltmore didn't look like "You" -- not because they were older and whiter (although the homogeneity was striking), but because they somehow seemed so detached and out of touch. Let's not forget that Grant Park included older, whiter faces as well -- let us never forget that fighting to eliminate ignorance, hate, racism, inequality; fighting for civil rights and human rights; believing that we can be better by being diverse and inclusive, let us never forget that this is not the exclusive domain of youth or of people of color.

Obama's win is all about how "You" came together locally, regionally, nationally, globally and especially cyberspatially. It's about connecting with one another because of our commonalities but also because of our respect and admiration of differences. Obama represents the hopes and dreams of immigrant parents and the children of immigrants. He represents the biracial reality of so many that are forced into choosing one part of their identity over another for purposes of someone else's convenience or conventions. He makes history as the first African-American president, the impact of which is so profound that words like pride, progress and possibilities are simply inadequate. This part of the story is best understood by hearing the voices and looking into the eyes of African Americans, young and old, as they describe what this moment in history means to them and as they provide a personal perspective on Twitter that read "Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Barak could run. Barak ran so our children could fly."

This is also a very global story. I happen to be leaving for South Africa in two weeks, with stops in Paris and Madrid. I now know that I will make this journey with restored pride in my country and confidence in my ability to be a citizen of both the U.S. and the world. And while the global story is not a superficial one, I cannot help but be cognizant of the fact that the world majority looks more like Obama than the Arizona Biltmore crowd.

As Obama stated, this nomination is not the change we seek but the chance for us to make that change. So what does that mean for the client-side marketing community, the advertising industry and for those of us who have dedicated our professional lives to Hispanic marketing, African American marketing, Asian marketing or any other marketing that emphasizes cultural, racial or ethnic identity?

Yes we can. It means we must not allow ourselves to accept "we can't" when what's really going on is "we don't want to." The path to success on behalf of our client's brands and our consumer's needs requires us to look at a closed door as an opportunity create a new and more innovative point of entry. It also requires honesty, candor and transparency from all involved.

CEO means Chief Everybody Officer. By electing Obama, the U.S. just put a CEO into place that is working for the greater good of Brand America, both domestically and internationally. Let's apply this same approach in corporate hiring and stop the knee-jerk practice of putting African American talent or other non-Anglo talent in charge of multicultural simply because of their skin color or their personal cultural identity. I cannot tell you how many multicultural marketing executives have expressed their frustration to me in regard to what they view as random pigeonholing. While there are certainly those who are proud of their professional roles as multicultural marketers, there are those who simply want to be marketers and are never given that chance. The multicultural position should be open to everyone with an interest in multicultural marketing, regardless of color. At the same time, all executive positions should be open to all candidates of excellence. Period. End of discussion.

Act locally. Think globally. It's a combination that multicultural marketing specialists have been perfecting for years and should be valued by 21st century marketers. Obama has a worldview but doesn't distance himself from his biracial U.S. identity, which includes a strong sense of Chicago and African-American pride. He has intellectual curiosity. He is cultured. Even his Hawaiian background gives him a perspective that reflects many of the values prioritized by the multicultural segments represented in the Big Tent. I believe that his being cultured has contributed to his overall success and was specifically important in establishing an effective connection with Latinos. It is just one piece of the puzzle, but it's an important piece. Those of us who have worked with consumer segments from a cultural perspective have a greater sensitivity to what's important to children of immigrants and to other so-called non-majority segments. We get it. We have been getting it for years and years. Our expertise should be valued at a strategic level, not simply as part of the tactics of reactive executions.

There has not been an individual African-American Person of the Year on the cover of Time since Martin Luther King in 1964. I predict that 44 years later, 2008's cover will feature the 44th president of the U.S., Barack Obama. It will follow the 2006 cover featuring "You" and the 2007 cover featuring Vladimir Putin. Some believe that Time put Putin on the cover instead of General Petraeus, who was a contender, because its editors didn't want to spotlight and honor American success. Perhaps. But suddenly, dissing American success is so last year.

In the words of a transformational little girl, Dora the Explorer, "vamonos." Problem-solving tactics like stopping to think, asking for assistance and using inherent intelligence comprise most of the Dora episodes. If these approaches are part of an Obama presidency, which I believe they will be, we're in good shape. So perhaps I should say Obamanos (which was one of my favorite videos of the campaign). We're going on a journey, the likes of which we haven't seen in our lifetime, but it's a journey that has already given us the chance to change for the better. And the best is yet to come.
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