“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.”- Ella Baker
This week, social media broke into disarray as a result of Proctor & Gamble’s (P&G) latest commercial “The Talk” to relaunch their Black is Beautiful and #TalkAboutBias campaign. Polarizing does not even begin to encapsulate the response this commercial has garnered as columnist, bloggers, and social media commentators have discussed this ad and debated its relevance to P&G’s products and current social discourse. Talks of boycotts of all P&G products have been championed by critics of P&G’s targeted ads campaign. Claims of (reverse) racism have been levied to this ad in droves. And many critics have suggested that this ad does nothing but pander to identity politics, pander to black commerce, promote the racial divide, and endorse hatred toward police officers.
In essence, dismissing and mocking what supporters of this ad campaign describe as a candid and honest portrayal of African American life which most of the world was not privy to until now.
In fact, it was the honest, open and candid representation of black life depicted in this commercial which damn near brought tears to my eyes. It was this real life portrait in living form that functioned as a punch to the gut as I relived some of my most intimate and formative moments as a child. But, what remains the source of my lament is the vitriol directed at this video due to its honesty in highlighting a very real aspect of #MyGrowingUpBlack. In particular, the commercial’s depiction of young African American boys and girls trying to navigate and understand life while living in a world where they are seen as outcast and displaced.
One meaningful portrayal, in particular, was of a teenage African American girl crossing the threshold of driving on her own when her mother cautions her with the all to similar “talk” about how to prepare oneself to handle getting stopped by police officers. This hit close to home not only as a reminder of my own adolescence, but also as a reminder of a few days ago when I was stopped by police for a minor traffic infraction (driving a U Haul Truck in the left lane) while relocating to Boston to start my new job. During the stop, I was met with such over aggression and unprofessionalism that my mother, who was travelling with me, was reduced to tears for fear of my safety; and my only saving grace, for the officer to engage me with a sense of dignity, humanity, and respect, was telling the officer I am a new pastor in the city who happens to be unaware of some traffic laws since it was my first time driving a large truck.
In that moment, my identity became one with the teenage girl in the commercial. I was thrust back in time to my teenage years, forced to remember my own preparation for such a momentous and heart wrenching occasion. And my mother, like too many black mothers like her, was forced to prepare herself for the dreadful moment of seeing her child accosted (and possibly killed) by police for the most minor of offenses. In that moment, I was a child and my mother was helpless to protect me.
Thus, the truths depicted in this ad are true to the lives of so many black children- having to be sat down, encouraged and empowered about the difficulties and struggles of growing up black. From sports, to school, to friendships, and surviving while out in public, even in the 21st Century, black children are forced to navigate what W.E.B DuBois identified as the “problem of the color line.” Therefore, watching this ad, I am forced to wrestle with being both Black and American. But, because of my blackness, my American experience comes with memories of being called nigger, feeling despondent because of my race, and having childhood conversations that NO WHITE CHILD will ever have to experience so that I could feel worthy and acceptable in spaces that are always predominately occupied by people that do not look like me.
So, when I watch this commercial, and when I read the comments section, and when I read people’s words decrying this video as racist, as race baiting, tears swell up in my eyes even more because such people would deride #MyGrowingUpBlack as so insignificant, inconsequential, and inauthentic. My eyes swell up with tears in pity and genuine heartbreak for the true inhumanity that can be expressed by people in light of the expression of another’s humanity that often remains behind the veil. And the fact that the most authentic portrayal of #MyGrowingUpBlack, and the true story of countless other black children ever depicted on screen, is derided and dismissed has revealed the all-too-known truth that animus toward black experience as America’s original sin all too much remains.