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Home arrow Political science arrow Dimensions of Racism in Advertising: From Slavery to the Twenty-First Century


Advertisers in contemporary American society must become sensitive in how they define and market products, given the diversity of America’s populations. As Wei- Na Lee, Jerome D. Williams, and Carrie La Ferle put it,

Within the United States, advertisers need to recognize the distribution of consumers across a number of characteristics, including gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientations, and so on, if they hope to build relationships and maintain market share in today’s evergrowing diverse society. Diversity of people, products, and images is crucial in the 21st century for an advertiser’s bottom line; it also helps to contribute to a more representative and inclusive society (Lee, Williams, and La Ferle 2004: 4).

African Americans recognize that the United States is a racist society and to disavow their dislocation at the fringes in advertising, they will compellingly fight to strengthen their African American identity in the advertising industry As Paul Kellstedt explains, “The media, to be sure, do play an important role in determining the shape and trajectory of public attitudes on race; but so, too, do other forces” (Kellstedt 2003: 134). Thus, the depiction of distinctive cultural groups in the media shows that the groups have a type of power, a safe place in society, and a noted identity (Cortese 2004: 15). Anthony Cortese provides an insightful perspective on ethnic and racial representation in advertising vis-a-vis the dominant majority’s social system:

Racial images in advertising are important for at least two reasons. First, there is evidence that advertising and other media images help to shape attitudes about race and ethnicity. Thus, we can select the ethnic images that advertisements present to individuals. Second, ads can provide a barometer of the extent to ethnic minorities have penetrated social institutions dominated by white males. That is, ads reflect in which arenas (e.g., business, politics, the economy, education, sports, entertainment, academia, art, the military, religion) the power of a white-male-dominated social system is challenged by minorities,

including women (2004: 15).

We argue that despite the negative portrayals of African Americans in the advertising industry specifically, and in other communications media in general, African Americans have consistently fought to reclaim their identity, because the advertising industry is gradually improving the portrayal of blacks in commercials. I also recognize that racism still permeates the advertising industry, yet African American advertisers and advertising industries will undoubtedly contribute to the eradication of misrepresentation of African Americans in advertising. This is a viable means for African Americans’ identity to become positively actualized in the multicultural marketing and advertising in the United States.

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