*At the dawn of a new year, we see the continuation of racial divides in America. These divides continue to persist in seemingly in every aspect of society, in some cases the divides seem to be widening.
These divides despairingly impact and discredits African Americans. One such case is the noticeable absence of African Americans in the advertising world. No doubt, this lack of representation made it possible for Simplicity to promote a new pattern honoring the vintage styles seen in the movie Hidden Figures which features a White woman in the advertisement.
Simplicity is a long standing brand for clothing designs. If you are a seamstress, undoubtedly at some point you have used a Simplicity pattern to make a dress, some slacks or other clothing.
The Simplicity ad was posted on their Facebook page on Friday. It was quickly removed following a barrage of comments from irritated followers. Simplicity’s first error was the historically inaccurate ad; their second was their removal of the ad as if it never existed, with a very non-descriptive and cold apology that was posted on their Facebook page late Monday morning.
Many of the Facebook comments suspected Simplicity of trying to monetarily capitalize off a popular movie. The followers were not receptive to the icy apology either.
This past weekend marked the nationwide release of the Hidden Figures. It was a widely promoted film with major stars as cast members and a NASA feel good story that takes a space achievement beyond famed astronaut John Glenn.
It is not known if Simplicity’s marketing team includes African Americans or not, but it is hard to believe that any person of color would have silently allowed such an ad to be released. The absence of diversity in the marketing world cripples the creative process, leaving out key viewpoints.
Again, it is not known what level of diversity Simplicity has with its marketing team, but according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite African Americans making up 11.7% of the workforce, only 5.3% are employed in the advertising, public relations related jobs. This disparity has deepened since 2005 when it was 7.1%.
Some may look at Simplicity’s Hidden Figures ad and not see a problem. They are the ones who tend to see from the ‘color blind’ perspective and ignore what is vividly before their eyes. Hidden Figures tells the story of three African American women, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, whose work made it possible for the United States to ultimately beat Russia in putting a man on the moon. They were referred to as ‘human computers’ for their scientific brilliance.
The work of Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson has been factually proven, thus Simplicity having an ad that prominently featured a White women was historically inaccurate. During this past Christmas season there was a lot of controversy and push back regarding the Mall of America having an African American Santa. Yes, Santa is a mythical character. There is no historical evidence to prove that Santa was White, thus there is room for diversity in the representation. This is not the case for the legacy of three African American NASA trailblazers. The movie was made to give honor where honor was never fully given: the legacy of Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson. For Simplicity to not have an African American woman model their Hidden Figures pattern once again puts the women in the shadows, diminishes their astonishing work and mocks their legacy.
Simplicity’s marketing gaffe reminds me of the recent Rose Parade and a military float that included a Tuskegee Airmen Red Tails mock plane. It was a great addition to the military grouping. But to have a White man, instead of a Black man, driving the plane did not allow for historical accuracy. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II. The intentions may have been good, but the overall significance of the plane was diminished with the lack of attention to key details. Diversity in the decision making and openness to culturally relevant perspectives would have allowed for an accurate representation of history.
The nearly all White workforce in the marketing industry needs a rapid infusion of diversity to become more reflective of society, numbers wise and views wise. Doors must be opened and room must be made at the table in ad agencies and communications departments in corporate America or ad blunders such as the one made my Simplicity will continue.
Clarene Mitchell is a print journalist with over twenty years of experience. She is based in Mequon, Wisconsin and is also a public relations professional with a successful track record of helping organizations build their brands and tell their stories. You can contact her via her website (www.clarenemitchell.com) and email: [email protected].