Professionals Are Calling For Industry Leaders To End Systemic Racism In Open Letters

Professionals Are Calling For Industry Leaders To End Systemic Racism In Open Letters

Black professionals in various industries are writing open letters calling for industry leaders to help to end systemic racism at work. Credit: Nappy.co

Racism can be found in nearly every U.S. industry, and where it exists, Black people and people of color are demanding change as part of the global protests ongoing in the wake of George Floyd’s murder while in police custody.

Just this week, more than 600 Black advertising agency professionals called out Madison Avenue on racism in an open letter to industry leaders, urging ad agencies to make the necessary changes to end racism.

Theater and music industry professionals are also demanding an end to racism in open letters of their own.

The ad industry letter lists 12 actions ad agencies should take toward eradicating systemic racism at their organizations. The effort was led by Nathan Young, a group strategy director at Minneapolis ad agency Periscope, and Bennett D. Bennett, an award-winning copywriter.

“I saw the protest situation start to unfold in real time on Twitter and kept an eye out for agency pros in the area,” Bennett told Ad Week, noting that he had covered Twin Cities agencies like Colle McCoy and Periscope in the past. “(Young) had replied to a tweet I made, and we connected through there,” Bennet said.

In the open letter, Young and Bennett, who runs independent consultancy Aerialist, lay out changes that the advertising world can make. 

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“As loud as these protests are, it is impossible to overstate the pain that has been felt by your Black colleagues as the still-fresh wounds from Ferguson, Baltimore, and countless other flashpoints of racial violence were once again re-opened,” the letter stated. “We hurt because we have seen this movie before. We hurt because we expect that, once again, when the streets have cleared and the hashtags have been retired, little will be done to address the systemic racism and economic injustice we face each and every day.” 

Here are some of the 12 actions the letter called for agencies to make: 

  • Make a specific, measurable, and public commitment to improve Black representation at all levels of agency staffing, especially senior and leadership positions.
  • Track and publicly report workforce diversity data annually to create accountability for the agency and the industry.
  • Provide extensive bias training to HR employees and all levels of management.
  • Create, fund, and support employee resource groups for Black employees. 
  • Create a diversity & inclusion committee made up of Black employees and people of color to help shape policy and monitor its progress.

The Black ad professionals who signed the letter work at agencies across the U.S. including 360i, Anomaly, Burrell, Cashmere, Droga5, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and Wieden+Kennedy, among others.

“It’s a cautionary tale for any big home-run swing,” Bennett told Ad Age. “You cannot throw money at a problem and think that solves all your issues. You have to go top-down and see how the creative department is structured, see how talent is mentored.”

“We tried to encapsulate as much of the Black experience as we could, through the microcosm of the ad world,” he added. “We tried to look out for our female peers, our queer peers, and I’d be remiss to not at least call attention to that, even though it’s not explicitly in the letter.  All these people with dreams to see themselves represented, their ideas get killed in the pitch room or they get passed over for a white peer. We’re just trying our best to make sure they don’t have to struggle like that.”   

Bennett and Young said they don’t just want the letter just to be read. They want companies to take action.

“We are tired of op-eds. We are tired of think pieces being put out there about diversity and inclusion. If for every hour of time that was spent writing an op-ed or writing a think piece, you were instead thinking about the types of policies that we can put in place here and putting those into action, I don’t think we would be in the situation that we find ourselves in today,” Young told Ad Week. 

It’s not just Black ad professionals that want change. In a separate open letter, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, actors Viola Davis and Sandra Oh, and 300 other Black creators and creators of color in the theater world published an open letter addressed to “White American Theater.” The letter called out systemic racism and demanded change in the theater world.

“We have watched you exploit us, shame us, diminish us, and exclude us. We see you. We have always seen you,” the letter reads. “And now you will see us.”

According to the letter, Black professionals and people of color in the theater world are “suppressed through many structures within the industry, including board meetings, unions, criticism, and fundraising campaigns,” NME reported.

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There are numbers to back up the claims. 

An annual study released in 2019 from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition found that 86.8 percent of shows were written by white playwrights and white performers also held 66.8 percent of roles in the 2016-2017 theatrical season.

“We have watched you promote anti-Blackness again and again. We see you,” the letter read.

Signers also include Uzo Aduba, Sterling K. Brown, Cynthia Erivo, David Henry Hwang, Lynn Nottage, Billy Porter, Issa Rae and Apollo Theater executive producer Kamilah Forbes. 

In the U.K., Black British music industry executives wrote an open letter to record label heads asking them to make changes to combat racism. One of the most notable requests: that the word “urban” no longer be used to describe and categorize music.

The letter is signed by the Black Music Coalition, staff from Warner, Universal, Atlantic, Columbia, Sony, The Show Must Be Paused UK, and the Ministry of Sound, among others, NME reported.

The letter, dated June 9, stated: “The music industry has long profited from the rich and varied culture of Black people for many generations but overall, we feel it has failed to acknowledge the structural and systematic racism affecting the very same Black community and so effectively, enjoying the rhythm and ignoring the blues.”

It continued: “Your public statements of support throughout the recent times were impassioned and we appreciated them, but we now want to drive forward tangible changes, giving power to that show of support.”