I was buying a birthday card for my father yesterday when I ran across a section titled ‘Our Voices’ that caters to a black audience. The title seemed a bit jarring to me, sort of like the FUBU line of clothing years ago (i.e., For Us, By Us). It was always weird for me in middle school and high school to see white kids buying FUBU clothes, when it was clear that founder Daymond John (a very smart guy) wasn’t targeting them.
I understand the need to target products to a specific audience, but there is a separateness with ‘Our Voices’ that seems incredibly ironic. You have a community that claims it wants to be treated like everyone else, and then when the conditions are there to realize the dream it does little things to create a psychological barrier between the stated vision and reality.
‘Our Voices’ says: “Our voice is ‘other’ than yours. Our voice is not yours. Our message is not your message.” And it doesn’t need to be that way.
What if I was looking for a card and I couldn’t quite find the one I was looking for. Say a black employee tried to be nice and help me out. She held up a card and said: “Maybe this one, sir?” and I replied, “No, that comes across like something in your voice for your community.”
How would the rest of the exchange play out? Probably not too well. So the moral of the story is, if a guy like me ever draws some sort of weird cultural line between myself and black people, then I’m a racistbigothatemonger (one word), but if a greeting card company does the same thing in really cute cursive writing, then it’s completely innocuous and I’m probably getting bent out of shape for nothing, right?
If I make a joke about the Obama fist-pump with Michelle, there’s some sort of evil racist undertones, but if a greeting card company suggests that the Obama family belongs to them and their voices — instead of, you know, all Americans — nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to wondering why I’m weird for trying to treat everyone as a unique and complex individual who is not defined by his or her pigmentation.