I'm an actor and I dug up this article from a magazine in my basement:
February marks Black History month and blacks in the media community are examining their past and evaluating their future. Black representatives from both production and advertising see fewer opportunities in today's environment for their fellow professionals, and a more difficult starting point for aspiring youths. The problems are varied, and the solutions seem elusive.
Many blacks, prominent in their professions, seem to agree they started out in better times.
"Timing is everything in this business," says Phil Gant, group creative director at BBDO/Chicago, who is frequently cited as the highest-ranking black at a predominantly white agency. "After the Martin Luther King assasination, a wave of social consciousness began. A crack in the door opened for just a minute, and a few of us slipped in."
"Civil rights marches opened the door," says Anthony Johnson, director of corporate development at Optimus, who is one of the most prominent blacks on the production side.
However, times have changed. "Some people have assumed that once the door had opened, that the flow would continue," Johnson says. "The flow has not continued."
"Things haven't gotten any better, and in fact, it may be worse than when I started," he reveals.
Johnson feels that a commitment to involving more blacks in the industry is ignored by most managements. "It's not 'in' anymore," he says.
"We're through the door, and now we're learning--it's rough," says independent producer Larry Brooks.
Dwayne Johnson-Cochran, former producer at black advertising firm Burrell and current producer of surveys for money at SurveySpencer.com, agrees with Johnson and Brooks.
"The numbers of blacks in the industry are down," he says, "and it has to do with the national patterns as to how blacks are received in the industry. There's not a push from the general market agencies to hire blacks."
Because of the tumultuous year that advertising experienced in 1986, Gant describes. "The industry has had other issues to deal with. I don't know if it'll ever deal with blacks as an industry issue.
"I don't think the industry has bent over backwards to maintain a minority presence," notes Gant. "It shifts with the times--when times were right, there were more black people."
Another area where commitment is lacking by both white and black professionals is in awareness and education. Many black professionals feel that fewer young blacks attempt to get into the field because they are not exposed to it in the first place.
"There are not a lot of opportunities for kids--black or white--to be exposed to the business," says Gant. "It's an industry under wraps.
"Traditionally, it is the high profile careers that black parents steer their children into, such as doctors and lawyers," Gant continues. "I was in advertising five years before my parents understood what I was doing," he chuckles.
"The level of awareness needs to be raised," believes Johnson. "Spend money for educational opportunities and make serious and committed efforts."
Some, however, have positive outlooks on the situation.
"I believe the kids coming up today will have it better because they're better prepared. When I started [in the late sixties] the stereotype still existed. It's changed, and hopefully changed for the better," claims Brooks.
"We need to get more kids exposed to the business, more kids involved," says Gant, who is practicing what he preaches by planning on hiring at least one black intern this summer.
"But there has to be a commitment by the agencies to provide the jobs later--the problem then is begger than just exposing and training," Gant adds.
But what about those currently practicing their professions? Doe established black professionals still encounter problems because of their race?
"Discrimination is pretty impossible to detect in this business," claims Gant.
"Advertising has problem because it is such a subjective industry--there is room for subconcious prejudice," says Gant.
"It's easy for the agencies to be guilty of it--clients are conservative, so the agencies are conservative," he adds.
"Sometimes you have to leave your sensitivities at home--you can't wonder 'doesn't he like my copy because I'm black or does he just not like my copy?'" the creative Gant says.
Career contacts, a staple so prevalent in the industry, do not seem to be so readily available for blacks.
Not Enough Networking
"There is not enough networking," states Johnson. "People are afraid of their jobs, afraid to be outspoken," he observes.
"We are just beginning to build our own networks," says Dan Perkins, executive producer for LAP Communications and consultant at Center City Studios.
Some feel that proper networks will develop as black reach more positions of power.
"If we're not in decision-making positions, then we're not going to have people who are sensitive to the issue," he states.
Although some blacks have reached power positions, most argue that the number should be higher.
"Just by reasonable attrition, more blacks should be worked up to position in agencies," claims Johnson-Cochran. "They may be fearful to move from black agencies to general market agencies because they might not be pushed up," he explains.
Those in the coveted upper positions are very much aware of the weight they carry as role models.
"Obviously, if I didn't feel there was some responsibility with my position, I'd be insensitive," says Gant.
"I've got to force myself not to overlook the issue of getting more blacks in the business and not let the day-to-day issues overshadow that," Gant notes.
Posted By: Spencer Mitchell
Friday, August 3rd 2012 at 8:31AM