Friday, February 6, 2009

The end of tokens!

I noticed right away when recently there were suddenly more black people in the ads on TV and in print. I'm not talking about the token black people either, but ads featuring real black people, not necessarily in white settings, or even with token white people in the ads for balance. I'm also not talking about black people in exploitative ads either, like for KOOL cancer sticks, or Hennessey Cognac. I'm talking about white people ads with no white people. You know the ones I mean. Ads for home improvement, groceries, luxury goods, and every place you'd expect to find only white people (or maybe a token black person). It's even spilled over into comics!

In fairness, comics have generally always been at the forefront of social change and civil rights, fully aware of controversy. Comic books had black heroes before blacks could get equal pay for equal work (well, they have lots of women heroines, but women are still fighting for that same right). They had gay and lesbian heroes, and even heroes that died from AIDS. But this is ARCHIE Comics! Check it out! The whitest of the white comics. Now, Chuck Clayton has been around for a while. The editors at Archie dust him off every now and then when they fear a black uprising coming on. Other than the Black Panther, Black Goliath, Luke Cage, or Robbie Robertson, Chuck here was one of the first black dudes I saw in a comic book. But Chuck Clayton here made being a token negro cool (to Archie fans at least). This character helped popularize the whitey apologist expression "I'm not racist, I have a black friend!" because fans learned that from Archie and Jughead.

Don't get me wrong. I'm ecstatic seeing more black people in commercials and ads, and especially in Archie (even though I don't read Archie). It's long past overdue. How long past? Well, this ancedote might help:

I worked on ad campaigns for a medical imaging company for several years in the late 90s through early 00s. This company was founded by a Turk-Cypriot, an Asian-American, and a gay white male. My primary contact at head of marketing was a black Canadian. This company was founded in San Francisco. Here's the sweet part. For every ad that I created for them that included people, I made a conscious effort to include an equal balance of people that reflected our Bay Area community (white, black, asian, latino), every time I was told that there weren't enough white people in the ads. This was communicated to me by the black dude. I kid you not.

I expected that kind of thing when I was working in Florida, which is why I left Florida. But in the San Francisco Bay Area? Man, that's been bugging me for over a decade.

So what if Archie Comics is dusting off their token black guy once more 'cuz it's the cool thing to do. Maybe now it won't be just the trendy thing to do, but perhaps Chuck will stay with the gang permanently. Maybe Chuck might even get his own series! And maybe, just maybe, whenever producers feel the need for token character, they'll be deciding between a chihuahua and a shitsu, or a calico and a tabby.

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