The browning of America

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Greg B. Macabenta

Ad Lib

Advertising is one indicator of changes in lifestyle, social mores, fashion, and language. One such development that has become apparent in US television commercials is the use of mixed race families (i.e., an African-American husband, a Caucasian wife and mixed race children).

This would have been unthinkable only a few decades ago. In 1978, at the Advertising Age workshop that I attended in Chicago, the only non-white commercial endorser was Bill Cosby. For years, Hollywood-type white models were mandatory for all kinds of mass-marketed products in the US pretty much the way they were in TV commercials and print ads in the Philippines. America was still coming to grips with the concept of civil rights and racial equality, and we Filipinos were still weighed down by the monkey on our backs called colonial mentality.

The election of half black-half white Barack Obama to the presidency may have marked the most dramatic change in the attitude of American society towards people of color, a euphemism for non-whites.

Obama epitomized the national leader who possessed all the positive qualities of the white man and the black man, as well. Handsome, charismatic, eloquent. He was the ideal blend, the poster boy for racial equality.

To use a phrase I coined in a feature article in 1989, Obama represented the Browning of America. Not plain white or plain black but rich brown.


In the 1990s, I used that phrase again, along with the headline for an ad, Old Glory was never intended to be plain white. It was an ad for PG&Es policy of diversity in hiring.

The recent emergence of mixed race superstars, like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, in spectator sports which have been traditionally dominated by blacks, may have reinforced the concept of racial balance and blending.

Perceptive advertising practitioners have been quick to adapt their creative strategies to this development. Unfortunately, not just ad executives appear to have done this, but politicians, as well specifically the Washington outsider who became president, Donald Trump.

To set things in perspective, there was a time in American history when the separation of races was seen by mainstream Americans as a divine mandate. For decades anti-miscegenation was the law in most of the states. It was illegal for people of color, particularly blacks (and including Filipinos in some states like Maryland) to marry a white person.

In truth, racism has never really disappeared in the US, but the civil rights movement and the rise of a more enlightened American society left only the fringe groups like the neo-Nazis clenching their futile fists, while the closet racists remained in the closet.

The tumultuous presidential campaign of Trump and his equally unsettling presidency may have opened the Pandoras box of racist resentments that, according to one TV political analyst, had been exacerbated by Obamas election.

Adding to the volatile brew has been the feeling among those in the American heartland that they are retrogressing in a country they are told is their own but which is being dominated by all kinds of foreigners, including illegals and potential terrorists. The same TV analyst described the American heartland as the new ghetto.

Trump has made no effort to soothe these resentments. In fact, he appears to be encouraging them. His response to the racial riots in Charlottesville, and his subsequent statements, were widely perceived as pandering to the neo-Nazis.

If racism has ever had a more fertile breeding ground in America, it has been during the brief presidency of Trump. Worse yet, this resurgence has been mixed up and confused with conservatism, which in turn has run right up against the blossoming of lifestyles and attitudes that are in direct conflict with conservative mores and beliefs, such as equal rights for LGBTs, the acceptance of sex change as a personal privilege, and same sex marriage vs. traditional concepts of matrimony.

Will this situation get worse? It could. What is certain is that the confusion is getting worse, with non sequitor arguments being thrown into the boiling cauldron.

Hopefully, in California where my family resides, enlightened liberals will triumph over the racists and bigots without discounting valid conservative values. But there are sectors in Americas heartland (and even some areas in ostensibly enlightened California) who are standing fast on their belief that God has mandated racial segregation and a violent confrontation is inevitable.

Mercifully, Trumps term is only for four years and, hopefully, he will realize the folly of aspiring for a second term.

And, hopefully, the browning of America is here to stay.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.