Mad Black Men


Mad Black Men Trailer by MadBlackMen
Last week, I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism and communication studies. During the last day of class in my public relations (PR) capstone course, I noticed (not for the first time) that I was the only black person in my class. At first, this seemed insignificant d10308451_773199316026296_5478654165748105698_nue to its frequent occurrence at a PWI (Predominately White Institution), but after much thought, I started to ponder several questions. Will I always be the sole speck in an office working on accounts or brainstorming in planning sessions? And what type of responsibilities will my token status bestow upon me? Will I be asked to speak on behalf of my people? Will I be assigned projects targeting people of color simply because I’m black? Will I end up like Ron Rapper working on a colored campaign for Mississippi Melons?

ron

Ron Rapper from “Mad Black Men.”

Who is Ron Rapper you may ask? He is the main character for a new web series on Dailymotion created by Xavier Ruffin called “Mad Black Men.” This show is a parody of AMC’s “Mad Men,” a show about an ad agency in the 1960s. After receiving criticism concerning the lack of black representation on  the show, the creator of “Mad Men,” Matthew Weiner, responded by claiming the lack of representation is representative of the ad industry’s demographics during the ’60s. Ruffin took offense to this response, claiming there were  several prominent African Americans working in the ad industry in the ’60s, “Mad Men’s” producers just chose to ignore them. But instead of complaining, Ruffin took action and created “Mad Black Men,” which he claims pays “homage to some of those hard working black ad executives and copywriters of the ’60s.”

Although I’ve never seen “Mad Men,” I commend Ruffin for taking it upon himself to address the lack of minority representation in a popular T.V. show and for creating what he calls a “counter” art. In an interview with Ad Age, Ruffin is asked how “Mad Men” misrepresents African Americans in the ad industry in the 1960s. Here’s what Ruffin had to say:

 “It’s hard to misrepresent something when you don’t give it any representation in the first place. A lot of folks took issue with the lack of depth in the show’s few minority characters. That wasn’t my gripe. I get that the show is written from a certain perspective, where Black America wasn’t a priority so Black Americans took a back seat in the story. My gripe was with painting this white-washed picture of the industry and calling it truth when it is actually just an interpretation. In 1962 Georg Olden, a black man, was hired as a vice president at McCann EricksonMcCann Erickson is mentioned often in “Mad Men” as one of Sterling Cooper’s main competitors and they almost buy Don’s firm at one point. Matthew Weiner and company could have easily written an episode where Georg and Don cross paths and talk shop, if they wanted to show a man of color in a powerful position without fear of it being unrealistic. Georg would have been equally as popular as Don, if not more. He was so high profile he even appeared on TV and designed the Clio Award that Don wins in season four. Again, Matthew Weiner’s “Mad Men” isn’t misrepresenting African Americans in the ad industry as much as it’s avoiding them. I think the [creators] feel that if black ad execs start popping up on the show then their stories will have to be about race instead of the usual infidelity, alcoholism and identity crises.”

MadBlackMenRuffin brought up a very important point in his interview that I would like to highlight: the media is a representation, not a reflection, of our society. With a reflection, what you see is what you get. When you look in a mirror, there is only one version to be reflected back at you. But a representation is something depicted in a particular way and can have several versions. This is why, when it comes to media, it is important to remember that what is being mediated is  not a reflection of society but a version of society representing a particular viewpoint. The question is whose viewpoint is being represented, and whose viewpoints are missing? Ruffin saw that “Mad Men” was a white man’s version of the 1960s ad industry and that it was missing a black perspective.

Although the issues I may encounter as a black female in the PR/marketing industry may not be as blatant as the racism Ron Rapper encounters in “Mad Black Men,” I do anticipate having a very different experience from that of my white counterparts. Already, as I begin to search for jobs and receive advice from mentors, race comes up in conversation. For instance, my mentors warn me how to carry myself. I have to be friendly, but not too friendly because then people will try to take advantage of me.  And I can’t be too unfriendly because then I will be perceived as a mad black woman. No one wants to work with a mad black woman.

As I continue to figure out a happy medium between “pushover” and “mad black woman,” I highly recommend you all check out the first episode of “Mad Black Men,” which is broken up into 6 parts. Let me know what you all think about it, and leave your comments below!

*Interview source referenced in post: http://madblackmen.tv/?p=187).*


3 Comments

  1. There is a small representation of African American presence in my profession too. Finding that character balance can be challenging. I’m the only black pharmacist at my job. I have to be careful how I respond/react to situations at work too. You can be labeled confrontational simply because you don’t agree with majority when asked your opinion. It’s a thin line to walk…THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    May 20, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    So many emotions come to my heart when I read this post! First the feeling of pride for you is so strong! The accomplishment you have made of not only coming out of a town to where college isn’t always a option that is easy to reach for many of our young people but from a town that is still so heavily segregated.
    Then sadness comes to my heart to hear your mind still has to view things in separation. The sadness that after many years of so many from all walks of life fighting for equal views of each other…that still our society can not see through the color.
    Then of course there is anger. Anger that you feel you have to walk on egg shells when you speak to others so that a misconception isn’t made by those who should know better. To walk on egg shells so that you are not only turned down for a job but put on a list for others to turn from you. It angers me that your hard work to get the degrees and the hard work of completing your college education is not enough. It angers me that this is reality!
    I have heard this perspective from more young people than I can count. Some will even say “Why go to college. I will still not be excepted.” This brings such vast amounts of thoughts and feelings that it can be overwhelming. Some will stand and tell those young people “It’s not that way anymore.” but in fact it is.
    So then my nature is to look for the solution. Look at how to fix it. Once again the vast amounts of thoughts and feelings overwhelm. To figure out where the blame lies, where the ball was dropped, where the fix is. Which generation did not continue the battle? Which generation got complacent? Was the battle ever truly won?
    As I walk through the streets of this town and I watch the people, as I attend events and watch as the people self segregate I think to myself….How will we ever truly tackle this misconception of each other? There is a way to do it. It’s just a matter of getting the people willing to step out. I want nothing more than a town where my children can grow up and there be true equality not just for the rainbow of people but for ALL people.
    I pray that you will use your education and your strong mind to shed light not only on what you face but in how we can conquer those walls and hurtles together….ALL of us together.

    • admin

      May 20, 2014 at 7:33 PM

      Thanks for your comment Elizabeth! I think the way to begin to approach the issue of race in our society is by initiating dialogue between races. This will allow people to begin to understand each other’s struggles. Only then can we begin to recognize our interdependence and be willing to work together to begin to deconstruct race. That’s why events like the community based ministry cafe are so important; it gives people a forum to initiate dialogue about issues affecting all us and how we can work together to solve those issues. Stay positive and stay woke!

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