Trending this month: Cosmetic Diversity. This past Sunday put my 2 year old son down for bedtime, as I do nightly. That Sunday, like many of late was a huge television night if you are into awards shows. I was able to catch the brilliant show opening and following monologue by Stephen Colbert. Then kisses all around, especially for G-Ma, and up the stairs for bath time for my little guy. Lights out. I returned to my recorded show and in an effort to immerse myself fully in the event I ran the beginning back on my DVR. I was so excited to hear comments and nods to the diversity of this years’ show. However, as they panned the audience -- I was like where? Does Oprah being in the front row make it diverse? (It was amazing to see her there. Celebs were excited to see her present too, as mentioned in two acceptance speeches.) I digress.
During my playback I took in all of the promenades and sashays to the mic of the announcers, the awkward dialogues, the off-timing of some jokes they delivered and every acceptance speech. I loved Nicole Kidman speaking truth the importance of shining a light on domestic abuse, and Reece’s call to action for letting women tell their stories. I applauded loudly as I ate my popcorn. I was caught all the way up in my black girl magic and equal rights moment when Lena Waithe (the first black woman to win a best comedy writing Emmy, and the inspiration for a character on the show) won her award. I lost my mind when Donald Glover, the African-American star and creator of FX’s brilliant Atlanta, won his first award of the night but when he won his second, I died.
I obvi was back to life to see the dramatic presentation of the Best Actor in a Drama category. When I saw Sterling K. Brown take the stage for his win I was at the pinnacle of black pride thinking, “I knew I was going to be emotionally rewarded for tuning in to the entire thing this year.” Then, I lost my sh*t while during one of the most eloquent and real speeches ever to be given at any televised awards show, the orchestra piped in over Sterling’s speech. I grabbed my remote, thinking I hit a button only to find him saying “You can play, you can play. Nobody got that loud music.” I was stunned and lost my breath in real life. Mind you, I am two hours behind so I immediately paused the playback and hopped on Twitter to see if what I saw really happened. It did. With all of the diversity of the night and the elegance of letting people, namely Kidman read speeches as long as I Have a Dream, our guy was cut off. I was saddened, disappointed, angry and irritated all in the same moment -- as were many who tuned in.
Twitter saved my night and my weekend for that matter. Instantly I was able to find the rest of Brown’s moving, passionate and beautiful speech and was able to calm down. I was almost moved to tears when he mentioned, that they “cut him off before he was able to thank his wife.” His wife. All I can think was shame, to the production and show direction teams. “Shame, shame, shame” a la GOT. Normally, I don’t do this but ah... Today I’m 3 days removed from the event I am still grasping to understand, how to understand. Then I stumble upon this well-penned Vulture article and the term cosmetic diversity stood out like the NMAAHC stands out from the National Mall and the Washington Monument. I was like yaaaassssss there is a name for it. This is a theme I experience as a black female more often than not. However, I decided to expand on it in a few other ways. Stay with me.
From my past professional life as a executive in the world of advertising, I’d constantly find myself bothered by the cosmetic diversity of the agencies I worked at; namely two of the largest in Dallas. One which doesn’t have an internal diversity initiative for the staff or a cultural lens for the ads we created at the 40 year old agency. It was there, in 2016, I was one of only a handful (literally 12), AA talent anywhere in the newly constructed uptown building. Yet, the agency annually hosts interns from a Dallas internship program whose sole existence is to increase diversity in advertising by exposing, training and mentoring the next generation of talent. Yes, really. The other, which I was delighted in my interview process to find had diversity and inclusion initiatives for employees. Yet there was, and still is, only one VP level AA person at the entire Dallas HQ office. (The next highest ranking employee in Dallas an Associate Director.) I can’t make this up.
There is the other, literal point of cosmetic diversity I and my fellow black women experience diversity in the beauty industry, namely cosmetics. From the brightly lit counters in department stores to the stark white beauty isles in our local Target, Walgreens and CVS stores, we are still grossly underrepresented. Crazy with knowing I am a part of an ethnic target market with the spending power of $1.3 trillion, as per a recent Nielsen study. Which is why there was such a fanfare by those of my kind when Rihanna launched her makeup line this month. Black beauty bloggers and MUA's lost their minds. The average make up wearer was thrilled. Allure wrote a piece on how the dark shades of the line had 'sold out like crazy', and retailers like Sephora were primed to be financially rewarded with our spending power because they pushed the line at their locations.
Here’s to the term cosmetic diversity and its contrasting realness. A pro on one hand: seemingly increasing options in beauty. And a con many the others: mainstream entertainment, media, advertising, equal pay, police profiling, etc. Yes, there are people, organizations, industries and individuals making strides to move past cosmetic diversity and really do it for the culture. Initiatives like AdColor, Color Comm and the DIMA Summit are breeding grounds for diverse new talent to learn, grow, shine and be acknowledged. There are companies like like Johnson & Johnson, AT&T and Wells Fargo who are attempting to increase support for diversity, from hiring practices to the ad campaigns they run. There are thought leaders who keep the diversity conversation going like Ellen McGirt and Fields Jackson Jr. but more has to be done at the foundation. Inside the walls at the agencies, all of them. Advertising, corporate and talent agencies. If there is more action and less talk BTS where the hiring, casting, and contracting begins the fruits of the labor will be seen, felt and heard in the c-suite, the stores and on the screen. And maybe then we can get a full three minutes before they queue the music and cut off the mic.