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I, like millions of people, saw the Procter & Gamble commercial. In it, there were various Black children and teenagers of various ages talking with their parents about the everyday rigors of racism. A little girl sits with her mother looking in a mirror as she is told she is beautiful; a young boy talks to an older relative about being called a racial slur; a young man is counseled by his mom to get home safe; a teenage girl driving for the first time is given advice by her worried mom on how to interact with the police when pulled over. In all my years, I have never seen an advertisement talk explicitly about racism. This is the greatest commercial I have ever seen.
What made this commercial so effective and powerful is that it showed Black life in its most realistic form: dealing with self love, coping with racial slurs, and preparing your children for the almost guaranteed encounter with the police. This is what being an African-American is – figuring out how to deal with the daily assaults that white supremacy throws at you. There is no need for people dancing, rapping, and smiling – that is not the real world Black people live in.
In life there are many certainties and patterns you can count on. For every action, there is a reaction. One example is that whenever there is a statement about the brutality of racism in America against Black people, there is always a negative reaction from white people. After I viewed the commercial on my PC, I saw an incredible amount of comments below it. I try and take the advice of my partner Michelle and good friend David and not read the comments, but for this video, I read them. I had known that many whites would take offense to Procter & Gamble’s spot – anytime Black people are centered in anything, there is an uproar. But I was not prepared for how offended they would be. Calls for boycotting P&G, people calling it racist, and other insults. There was one term that kept popping up in the comments- race baiting. ” Procter and Gamble are race baiting!”
Merriam-Webster defines race baiting as “the unfair use of statements about race to try and influence the actions and attitudes of a particular group of people.” I remember first seeing the phrase when conservatives would debate anti-racist organizations on the unfair treatment of non-white people by the American justice system. When civil rights groups bring up the number of Blacks being convicted for non-violent crimes vs. whites, the conservative would always shout back, “You are race baiting.” Like the “race card” term, race baiting would be used against a non-white person when they would highlight racism in an issue. It is interesting because this is an immediate push back to the everyday racism we experience and negates our life experience. This isn’t gas lighting where people will try and change your mind about something that’s happened to you. This is straight up denial, what white supremacy is built on. “No, you are not seeing something, it is not here, you are lying.”
When I think about the Procter & Gamble advertisement, I see the everyday life of African-Americans. The adult assuring the little girl that she is beautiful. We are taught that our skin is ugly and not desirable since we are very young through explicit racial taunts to in-explicit erasure of people that look like us in pop culture. The young boy who was called a racial slur – this can be devastating to a child and lead her to fear people. The mother who is pleading with her son to be careful when he is out at night. I cannot tell you the amount of times my mother has worried about me not making it home. She was not concerned about gangs or being robbed and assaulted. She was worried about the police thinking that I was a criminal and locking me up. She did not want me to be another Alton Sterling. Finally, the mother instructing her teenage daughter on how to talk with police officers when she is pulled over. Let’s think about this for a second – we have to instruct our youth to be careful, calm, and friendly as possible with law enforcement in order to not get shot. Let that sink in. The young woman’s mother did not want her to be the next Sandra Bland. This commercial outlines many of the hurdles and precautions we have to take in order to see another day. Being Black is fucking hard.
The crazy thing about the uproar over the P&G spot is that this is the environment white people created for Black people. You all have made life so perilous for Black and non-white people to the point that we have to prepare our young for a world that wants to see them fail, live in pain, fear, panic, and in a frame of mind that the wrong encounter with a police or a white man who is “scared” of us could end with our life. That is a lot to bear, and you are responsible. So if I were white and I saw this, yeah I would be mad. If I were a white man, in response to this commercial, I would say something like this:
“After seeing this commercial, I am so angry that in this day and time, Black people are treated like this. The fact that Black mothers and fathers have to arm their children with a specific set of instructions to keep them alive because we fear or hate them is awful. The fact that their young have to be worried about being called a racial epitaph when they walk outside of their home. That we constantly shove our beauty standards down their throat and tell them their Black skin is not attractive is wrong. It is a shame that a Black mother has to worry that if their teenager is pulled over while driving, they might they be killed. Our children can live carefree lives and, for most of us, their only concerns are graduating high school, summer plans, and getting into the right college. The fact that Black children have to live in fear of racism breaks my heart. We have to do something about this. If we are truly a nation of equality, then we have to act like it.”
I would like to think that the majority of white people would think this way and start to take action, but I am also realistic about the world we live in. To those who have a negative reaction to the Procter & Gamble commercial, to those who simply deny that Black people experience this treatment every day, to those who want to boycott Procter & Gamble because they took a brave stance in showing what African-Americans go through, and to those who throw around the term “race baiting” after you finished watching the ad, ask yourself why. What is the reason why you are mad, angry, and dismissive of it? Could it be when you watch the commercial on TV, or on your computer or smart phone, you are actually looking into a mirror of society? Could it be you don’t like the reflection you see? Are you now finally realizing that the conditions African-American’s reside in are largely due to systematic racism? Could it be that the image you see is the ugliness of your racism and you want to look away? Be honest with yourself.
This article originally appeared on Leron Barton
Photo credit: Getty Images