Well, the PCUSA has done it again in terms of missing the mark (big time) and branding/marketing only this time, instead of a relatively cute dog in a pink sweater, it’s a campaign that makes plays on stereotypes of race and gender and portrays the recipients of mission not as vital members of the body of Christ with whom we can partner, but poor recipients in need of various types of handouts. Let’s take a closer look. For this post I want to focus on the two images which are the most disturbing to me. Incidentally, these are two of the images that are not highlighted in the PCUSA’s news article that has been receiving a lot of traffic in the last few days. I can speak to the first image directly and out of personal experience because it features a woman. Take a look:
A beautiful young and confident looking woman with the bold headline that says “Needs to be put in her place” with smaller type that says “Math 101 to be precise” and then even smaller type talking about how a gift to the Christmas Joy offering can provide schooling to girls who need it. It’s clever and provocative advertising, to be sure. It’s edgy. I like the typography. It looks professional. One problem: It hurts. I’m not as beautiful as that woman, but I’d like to think I have the same level of confidence. And guess what? People have said that I need to be put in my place. The intent of this ad is to say “Oh look, some people say women need to be put in their place, we’re saying that women need help and support to get an education. See? We turned it upside down!” Yes, yes, they did. I get it. Get it as I may, I look at that image and I see myself in that photo and I think of all of the times men have said subtly (or boldly) “That’s ok, sweetheart, we got this one.” The ad is intentionally offensive. The second ad I’m going to talk about is much harder to write about because it hurts even more. It’s truly an embarrassment to the denomination I love:
A young African American boy juxtaposed against the words “Needs help with recurring anger issues.” Then in smaller print “his country’s” then in smaller print words about how the world is unjust and full of famine. This ad reminds me of two friends I’ve spoken with about how it is to parent an African American boy. In both cases, the mothers choke up as they talk about the sense of powerlessness they feel as their sons experience the type of racism that this ad is based around. The ad’s intent, again, is to say “we’re not saying African American boys are angry! We’re saying the world is an unjust place!” Yet no matter how you dress it up, the fact remains that, in the context of everything we have been through as a nation, the PCUSA approved an ad campaign where a young African American boy is juxtaposed against the words “recurring anger issues.” I can’t imagine the hurt this ad causes African American sisters and brothers. I would encourage you to comment on the posts, though, so that those responsible can begin to reflect on the hurt these ads have caused. My boys are Colombian Americans. It’s a stereotype that Colombians are drug dealers. How would I have felt if there were an ad with a little Colombian boy and really large type floating around that said “Looking for Some Coke” and then in smaller type it says “Coca-Cola, that is. Buy these boys a soda!” I would be heartbroken. I wouldn’t think it was edgy or appropriate or funny or a way to raise funds. I think I would put my face in my hands and have a good cry. This ad is inflicting a similar pain on my mama friends who have black boys. I hurt for them. I am ashamed this ad has anything to do with my denomination. How could they not know that this would be a problem? I was not around for the process of approving these ads and discussing them. Through the beauty of the internets, however, it appears that the powers that be did know about the concerns and chose to ignore them. What were they thinking? Seriously. What. Were. They. Thinking.? It’s ok to hurt people as long as a lot of money is raised? It’s provocative and that’s a good thing? It appears that the intent of these ads is to make them unforgettable and memorable. They are that, for sure, but at what cost? At the cost of actually hurting people. Not only are the ads plays on race and gender stereotypes, they seem to go against the model of partnership and mutuality that the PC(USA) tries to excel at. Our missionaries are called “mission co-workers” our Hunger, Peacemaking and Disaster programs seek to work at a level that is not “you vs. me” but rather “us.” We have an entire grantmaking organization called “Self Development of People (SDOP)” that seeks to empower grassroots organizations. Each of the ads proposed by this campaign sets up the giver as someone who can help the “other.” At no time is it ever suggested that the girl who needs to be “put in her place” is a partner in all of this. (And we didn’t really mean she needs to be put in her place, it’s just a ‘made ya look’ type of thing) This ad campaign needs to be removed and an apology issued. We wanted to do the right thing and raise a lot of money for causes we all believe in and we went too far. We should have listened to minority voices and we didn’t. We will do better. Two important things before I let y’all have the floor in the comments 1. “Special Offerings raise money for good things.” This has come up again and again on numerous threads and discussions about this campaign. I agree wholeheartedly. Special offerings raise money for Presbyterian DIsaster Assistance, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Self Development of People, Young Adult Volunteers, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and (hello!) Racial Ethnic Leadership Development. I (or my husband) have benefited directly from each and every one of the programs I just named. We owe a debt of gratitude to the PCUSA for providing these programs and for the good work they do. All the more reason to not jeopardize the future of such amazing programs by rolling out such a divisive and painful campaign. There will be a cost to redoing the materials for this year. There will be an even greater cost for not redoing them. 2. “PCUSA needs relevant and good marketing that appeals to young people.” Yes and no. I agree that it can be helpful to have a well designed and beautiful campaign to inspire people to give money to a cause. I was impressed by the gifts catalog that was put out for Christmas this year. It made me want to show it to people and encourage them to give. That said, slick marketing campaigns only go so far. In my experience money starts flying out of wallets when people hear the stories of what God is doing and how lives are being changed. I will encourage my congregation to give to special offerings, as I always do. I’ll be looking closely at the denomination in the coming week to see what materials they propose I use to do that.