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Buying Power report: Blacks spend as economy grows
New 16th edition shows $507 bil in spending

The finding comes from the 16th annual edition of "The Buying Power of Black America" report. In 2009, black households spent an estimated $507 billion in 27 product and services categories. ...

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Olympian Gabby Douglas: A Case of Here We Go Again

By Thomas Burrell
Try to deny as we might, race remains a looming presence in our pre, sub and unconscious minds; more than the proverbial 800 pound gorilla or James Baldwin's classic dead body under the table, the issue of race is deeply imbedded in the American psyche. The irritation around the issue of race often inflames and engorges until erupting at the slightest pin prick.

Such, was the eruption while Gabby Douglas was in London completing what no African American female gymnast had accomplished since the inception of the Olympics: succeeding at becoming the first African American gymnast to win gold. Our joy was curbed by castigations, commercials and questions -- all related to (here we go again) race.

First, there was the outcry from what appeared to be predominantly black viewers expressing shame, embarrassment and revulsion about Gabby's hair. Reportedly, it just wasn't right that she wasn't taking time from her busy schedule to get her hair "done".  Given how so many of us have been brainwashed, suggestions that she use some of the upcoming financial gains to narrow her nose and thin out those lips, would come as no surprise. But then, the issue of Gabby being referred to as "the flying squirrel".

I'm sure this "pet name" is meant to be affectionate and endearing, but it is important to exercise a bit of empathy, sensitivity and caution. Let's not forget that, only a few generations ago, a concerted attempt was made to purposefully dehumanize black people in America. Essentially, this was done to rationalize and reconcile the profound contradiction between democracy /freedom and slavery/bondage.

While there are primary go-to animal used to liken black people to apes, chimpanzees and monkeys, flying squirrels bear a sharp similarity to monkeys in appearance, size and habitat. Categorically, squirrels are akin to rodents, which is not a positive association.  There is nothing noble or majestic about squirrels. Hence the pejorative term "squirrelly" (1. mildly insane 2. unpredictable and jumpy, often in a cowardly way 3. nutty; resembling a squirrel looking for nuts.")

As to the ironically ill-timed airing of the monkey commercial directly following the Bob Kostas interview with Gabby Douglas, there are two things of which I'm certain: First, there was no personalized racial animus on the part of the network, including the person(s) in charge of positioning commercials relative to program content. Secondly, there is little doubt that the historical institutionalized myth of black inferiority is the root of the problem.

If a basic understanding of this sensitive subject had been operating at any point along the path to airing this spot -- from the creation of the commercial, to the network's approval, to the basic attention of the person charged with looking out for problem placements -- there would not have been an issue.

What was missing was an understanding of the historical propaganda that linked black and simians (gorillas, apes, chimps and orangutans).

To get the connection, refer to my book, Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, specifically page 44: "The belief that blacks are sexual savages descended from fiction rooted in the first impression of Africans. Englishmen were introduced to the chimpanzee and Black Africans in Western Africa at the same time and place. The startlingly human appearance and movements of the chimpanzee aroused their imagination."

The book cites more recent studies showing that the mythic link continues. "We believe that even among people who are not particularly prejudiced, the association between blacks and apes is still strong, held in place through "implicit knowledge', the result of a lifetime of conditioning, rooted in historical representation of blacks as less than human…it was a kind of racial programming, a legacy that even something as progressive as Obama's election cannot obliterate."

As painful as it is to accept, as much as shame and guilt continue to work overtime to bury, dissipate and deny its presence, the issue continues to pop up, jump out and run over into our everyday existence. And until that is no longer the case, it is still necessary to de-stigmatize the notion of 'race consciousness'.

While discussing this topic with a friend, he asked the question: "Does this mean that simians should not be used in any visual communications?" My answer is that whenever such depictions are being considered, we need to proceed carefully, especially when the depiction is mimicking or personifying human beings.  Have a mental caution flag up while on the look-out for context. With the working premise that race is still potentially relevant, be ready to pull the plug.

The projection of negative words and images not only reinforces the myth of black inferiority; it can also be gratuitously damaging for the businesses and organizations that create and deliver them.

Marketing communications pioneer and Advertising Hall of Fame inductee, Tom Burrell is credited with revolutionizing the image of African Americans in television and changing the face of American advertising. His award-winning work promoted positive and realistic images of blacks and acknowledged the purchasing power of the African American community. Burrell, author of the book, "Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority," is the founder of The Resolution Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes intra-racial dialogue and community-based new media “stop the brainwash” campaigns.

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