Diversity Training

I own a German car. As I was driving recently, it began to overheat. I took it to Vijay Bhat, who has worked on the car at my local dealership for three years and has done a superb job. Vijay came here from India 18 years ago. He’s married and has three kids. After I dropped the car off, I went to a hibachi restaurant. The chef, Ramiro Mendoza, is from Acapulco. He has been in the U.S. for eight years. He put on a great show involving fast-moving sharp objects, and the food was delicious.

What does the origin of these people have to do with what they do or how they do it? Absolutely nothing.

We tend to believe that multicultural marketing—Asian, Hispanic, African American or any other—has to be done by people who are part of those cultures and thus have relevant insights. This is the way we work, but I believe it is a fundamentally incomplete and flawed system.

Those of us in multicultural communications like to think our success is based on our work, not on our ethnicity. Our background does give us a unique perspective, but does that mean someone without that background cannot develop good multicultural advertising? Absolutely not.

Multicultural, in my humble opinion, is more of a mind-set than a geographic or ethnic descriptor, and as such should be an inclusive, not exclusive definer. I am bringing this up because certain coalitions and civic groups have recently been proffering the idea that if you need Asian work, you must go to an Asian agency or you are racist; if you need African American work, you must go to an African American firm or you are racist; and so on. But why?

Shouldn’t advertisers in a free market be able to choose their partners? Shouldn’t it be about who can do the best work, period? Most of the time that will be a multicultural shop anyway. Shouldn’t that be enough? Restricting choice contradicts what this country’s strength was built on: a dedication to maintaining a level of excellence in performance, regardless of where it comes from.

The historical aspect of this is not lost on me, so if you’re about to say, “Yeah, but what about all the years of prejudice and racism our people have endured, etc., etc.” (whoever “our people” happen to be), you need to keep your shorts on. By now, everyone in this country is sensitive to that. There are programs and legitimate organizations that ensure minority firms are given equal consideration and recognized for their diversity of ownership and management. Does this mean we should exclude companies because they happen to not be minority owned? Why? On what basis?

To do so is counterproductive to minority firms’ ultimate goal, which is to be recognized as great businesses for the work we do, not for where we come from. It encourages other enterprises to say, “They got it because they are minority owned.”

In order to survive, certain companies and coalitions have to justify their existence, and so they become arbiters of who is ethnically worthy to work on certain pieces of business and who can sell to whom or hire whom. Wars have been fought to abolish this kind of mentality. I for one am more than willing to go to battle to abolish it once again.