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Dimensions of Racism in Advertising

From Slavery to the Twenty-First Century

Edited By Edward Lama Wonkeryor

Advertising has had a racial dimension from slavery to the present. Contributors to this book explore the role of institutionalized racism and bigotry in multicultural marketing since its inception in the 1920s. Promoting ethnic diversity in the advertising industry is not just an important regulatory issue but essential for representation of ethnic images in marketing.
Dimensions of Racism in Advertising will be useful for both research and teaching purposes. It can be used as a textbook in upper-level courses in African American studies, ethnic studies, advertising, mass media, public policy, sociology, and history. For policy makers, it will provide an alternative explanation for the stereotypical portrayal of Africans and African Americans in the United States and elsewhere. It will be similarly useful for nongovernmental organizations in fighting institutional racism and the marginalization of ethnic and racial groups in advertising and marketing.
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Chapter 5 Diversity in Advertising in the Twenty-First Century


Edward Lama Wonkeryor

Advertising has always been an integral part of American culture and traditions, with far-reaching racial and economic implications. In colonial America, for example, enslaved Africans constituted parts of the marketable goods that were advertised to the consuming public—predominantly European Americans. The needs and interests of African Americans were, and continue to be subservient to those of European Americans. Thus, the advertising industry developed advertising campaigns that were aimed at European Americans specifically, thereby depicting African Americans as inferior consumers. In contemporary America, the dichotomy of marketing has radically changed as African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and other Americans have become financially empowered. Today the financial capability of African Americans, for example, has transformed them into valuable consumers that marketers cannot ignore. Products that have offensive advertisements aimed at African Americans and other Americans would propel them to become disillusioned consumers and therefore cease to purchase these products.

Advertising in America commenced during the last fifty years of the 19th century and its transformative campaigns continued into the dawn of the 20th century. At the time of its transformation, the advertising industry was bent on expanding its marketability. This was “made available by the growth of the railroad and the telegraph, by the rise of national magazines, and by the capacity for surplus production” (Benjamin, Jr. 2004: 21). Since the evolution and practice of advertising, it has been guided by three cardinal principles: “to advertise to people ready, willing and able to...

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