He seems to be on a mission to present this Kumbaya version of current race relations in this country, which doesn't jive with the reality of America. And truthfully and honestly, that gets under my skin. Like his new book, The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy, Stoute, who started out as a Sony executive and is now an award winning marketing whiz, discusses how what he sees as the impact that Hip Hop has had on how people in globally spend their money.
To help promote his book, recently Stoute has produced a series of videos with Hip-Hop’s biggest names to discuss ways in they all realized that Hip-Hop had fully crossed over to white, mainstream audiences. His first video installment features Jay-z, who is not only a client of Stoute but also business partner to his Translation Advertising, an ad firm specializing in connecting huge corporations to "urban" celebrities for ridiculous amounts of money. Together, Stoute and Jay-z discuss how Hip-Hop has brought the world together and more importantly, has enable them to see their brands across a wider demographic, thanks in part to the new generation that no longer sees color. Also, they suggest that the concept of ‘selling-out’ just does not apply anymore because more and more black folks are invested in the new aspirational culture of the Hip-Hop.
Well I give both Stoute and Jay credit for recognizing that authenticity, creativity and in some cases talent have certainly given way to a more materialistic and denigrating aesthetic in hip-hop.
But this whole idea that Hip-Hop has somehow changed the global landscape is nonsense. First off, white people gravitating to what some would call as black music is not a new phenomenon. Likewise Black culture, more specifically musical culture, has and will always be popular around the world. Prior to hip hop, there was Jazz, Rock & Roll, Soul and Reggae – all with roots in the black community – which had and continue to have wide mainstream and global appeal. But while white folks, as well as folks of other colors, have gravitated to the music, never really meant much for race relations. That’s why the James Browns and, Chuck Berrys, as well as many black artist before them, used to have to enter and exit through the back door just to play to all white audiences at white only establishment. In other words, just because people enjoy our music doesn’t mean they like us. Furthermore, selling our art form to corporations, whose sole purpose is profit, hasn’t really help to mature the art form itself besides making Stoute, Jay-Z and a few other acts here and there rich. Before profits became the motivating factor within Hip-Hop, the music and the culture around it was much more political, much more relatable and more importantly, much more empowering. All we have now is a bunch of white boys calling each other niggers and that somehow we are supposed to see this as progress? Negros please.
Upon the release of the campaign, Stoute issued this statement, which said, “We want to be the first beauty brand that truly captures the beauty of the tapestry of skin types in America. When I say polyethnic, I mean women who are made up of several ethnicities. If you ask them what they are, they’re going to use a lot of different words to describe themselves. That’s in line with the Census data coming out — people are checking much more than two boxes. We believe we’ve put together a shoot that celebrates many different ethnicities, to become a mirror of what America’s really becoming.[...] “They will serve as cultural ambassadors in bringing forth this acceptance that the definition of beauty is now colorless."
Of course, lots of women took issue with this campaign for their lack of inclusion of women from the darker hue of the colored-woman’s spectrum. In essence, many women felt that "well, these daughter must be adopted because they don't look nothing like the Carol, that has been marketing to me and I've been using and supporting for years.” All complexions are beautiful and this whole “polyethnic” view is certainly nothing new to a people, who historically can claim Native American, Europeans, Asian and other ethnicities within its culture yet have always been considered Black American. But having said that using only black women whose beauty, and more particularly skin tone and hair texture, has always been the acceptable norm for mainstream audiences is not only not diversity but is also indicative of this twisted mindset within the Black community that the only way to capitalize off of our feminine beauty globally is by lightening up our aesthetic. Black women and girls are still having to fight to have their natural images seen and respected in not just mainstream cultural but also in cultural realms within the Black community, particularly within current Hip-Hop (a situation, which Stoute has gladly taken credit for), which has placed lighter-skinned women on higher pedestals than women similar in hue to the rappers themselves. Having a campaign, which tries to redefine Black womanhood, seems at the very least counterproductive.
I give Stoute credit where credit is due: He is a marketing genius and a master of the crossover illusion, who has helped to make many minority artists not only appeal to bigger audiences but also filthy rich. But Stoute and his brand of Post-Black marketing only seeks to leverage our lifestyles and culture contributions to assist corporations push their brands into new markets. And just because he was able to sell the idea of Lebron James chomping down on a burger in a McDonalds ad or Chris Brown dancing and singing for a Wrigley's gum campaign does not mean that the world has accepted African Americans. Nor does it mean that any of his personal achievements and financial gains has done anything to improve upon the position of African Americans as a whole in this country, which over the last few years has gotten worse.
If anything, Stoute’s entire views on the state of current race relations fits nicely into that old “if everybody was mixed up” meme, which has always been touted as the answer to racism by those who claim colorblindness. However, that thinking always puzzled me because we are not all equally partners in oppression. There are very real systematic assaults that have been put into place to ensure that Black and Brown folks in our society are subjectated and are viewed as less than desirable. Likewise, pushing this idea that folks have to be tan in order for them to be socially acceptable does not bode well for those who are just regular old black and brown and red and yellow and still believe they are deserving of equality and humanity.