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3% Conference Advertising

Don’t ask me to wait, again: Why diversity in advertising cannot be segmented


By Derek Walker, Founder

November 4, 2016 | 8 min read

“I am tired.

Credit: Derek Walker

Credit: Derek Walker

My soul is exhausted.

I never wanted to be active in the diversity discussion. I simply wanted to create great ads. I wanted to write. But the world will not let me simply write. And I am so angry about that. This sucks so very much.

I blame my parents. They raised us to stand up for what we know to be right, to fight for more than money. Why couldn't I have bad parents?

I hate that I wrote that blog. I loathe the idea of being active in the diversity fight. I just want to create advertising!! Why can't I simply be a freaking creative?!

That's why I am angry. Because for no other reason than the color of my skin, people will not let me do the level of work that I know I am capable of. They won't pay me what I am worth. They will never let me be secure and at peace at work. My family has suffered because someone had trouble with the color of my skin.

I hate that I am angry. Do white people have to live with this constant anger at being treated less than they are? This just ain't right.

I don't want to be tired anymore. I don't want to be angry or on guard anymore. I simply want to create.

But I can't. They won't let me.”

I wrote this to the editor of The Drum because I was angry about that the issue of diversity is intruding into more of my life. Who am I fooling? it is always present in my life. And that constant presence only makes me angrier.

Is it any wonder that I’m so angry sitting at the 3% Conference?

It isn’t the people at the 3% Conference fault. Heck, they are angry too. We share a common outrage at being excluded or under-appreciated.

It is the same but it isn’t for us. And I struggle with.

And yet, some folks don’t get that.

I heard a comment on the first day of the 3% Conference from a member of management at an agency that some women of his shop came to him, and said he should focus on gender diversity first, and worry about the rest of diversity later. The implication is that people of color can wait on addressing racial diversity.

I think I passed out from the rage.

“Screw waiting!” Was my first thought when I regained consciousness.

It is wrong to suggest that we select one element of diversity to address over the other - equality does not work like that.

Either we are all equal or we all aren’t. There is no such thing as partial diversity. And we should never entertain that there could be.

Let me state clearly that I believe that the organizers of the 3% Conference understand this. The statements and comments that they have made are clear that racial and gender diversity cannot and should not be separated. Kat Gordon and others, including Cindy Gallop have said as much at the Conference.

But still, hearing comments from some participants has me concerned.

It should have us all concerned. Diversity efforts cannot be divided. No one should be asked to wait to be equal.

So, if the leaders understand this, why am I writing about it? Because it needs to be said.

Everything we are seeing in the United States advertising community addressing diversity is built upon a foundation laid by the Civil Rights Movement. And there is some growing resentment among some in the African American community that the biggest beneficiaries of those efforts are not people of color.

Does anyone get how offensive it is to ask Black people to “wait?”

We’ve been waiting for the longest time to be fully equal, and to suggest that it is better that we focus our efforts to support gender diversity before our interests, you have got to be out of your ever-loving mind.

This needs to be said because it needs to be heard.

Because many on both the agency and the client side are comfortable stating publicly that their first concern is gender equity. Come on! I cannot believe people can move their lips to say something like that.

I get that they mean well but think about what that means to people of color.

We could ignore this subject, but doing so would be a huge mistake. We’ve got to talk about unifying our efforts to bring real diversity to advertising.

We cannot be inclusive while asking certain groups to wait. And it isn’t enough that it comes from the leaders. It has to be a common refrain from everyone involved so that those at every level understand how damaging the talk of one group waiting is.

I look around the 3% Conference, and I notice the absence of some real warriors of diversity in advertising. These people aren’t “big names,” but they are carry a fire and understanding of some of the things that need to happen to make our industry diverse, but they are not here.

Why? Because there is a perceived thought that this Conference is all about gender diversity and folks of color be damned.

This is why I struggled with attending. I will fight with everything I have to open advertising up for diversity but not at the sake of Black people. I can’t fight for others without demanding to hear you talk about me and mine.

It is wrong that more Black advertising professionals feel this way but our slow to speak their feelings out of fear of being crushed by the gender equity people.

There is power in this room. I see Adobe, Apple, Disney, Google, PepsiCo and others as sponsors. I have to ask, “Where the freak are all these companies and agencies on the issue of diversity when the face of it was Black? Where?!”

See, people act like we don’t notice things like this because we dare not speak out but we notice. I notice. This is the type of well-meaning slights that cause more division than unity.

How long have Black people been fighting for diversity in advertising? Where were all of these people? Where were these voices? And yet, I hear people saying that we can wait on racial diversity.

No. We cannot wait. And even under-funded and ignored, we will not wait.

This may feel like I am attacking the conference, I am not. I admire what they are doing but I understand the frustrations of some who feel less included. I hope clearer heads can see the distinction.

How would you like for someone to tell you that they know you’re being treated less than fairly but before they address your condition, they want to help someone else?

How long would you want to wait to be treated equally?

How much progress would they need to make with the other group before they thought to address you?

Yeah, not a pretty thought, is it? However, that’s exactly what some are saying when they suggest that we address gender diversity before racial.

Now, can you see why I am angry?

Don’t ask me to wait. I can’t and I won’t. And no one should have to.

We all have to get there together. Or we will never really arrive.

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