Black Organizations: Authenticity through "an obligation to our own"?

by cv harquail on September 5, 2008

What makes an organization or business authentically “Black”?

[Or for that matter, what makes an organization authentically “feminist”, authentically “Mormon”, authentically “Republican”, and so on?]

By my definition, an organization is authentically “Black” not when the majority of its members or employees are Black, but when the organization promotes the interests of the Black community.

west cary group big Because the question of “what makes an organization authentically Black” is one I’ve been pursuing in my academic research, I was intrigued by a column in last week’s Advertising  Age, Five Rules for Black Agencies , by Moses Foster , head of the West Cary (Advertising) Group . From his perspective as the owner of a Black advertising agency, Foster argues that black-owned agencies have a particular role to play in the advertising industry. The particular role of Black-owned agencies, he argues, is to hire & develop talented Black advertising professionals.

Foster’s column continues a long-running conversation in the NYC Advertising community about the lack of African Americans in the business , and it needs to be understood against this context. [See these stories from earlier this summer about diversity initiatives in the NYC Advertising community.] So, keep in mind that there is more to the story….and check out the comments under his article, too.

Foster’s Five Rules for Black Agencies include (as written):

1. Do exceptional work.

2. Don’t settle for Black business (alone).

3. Don’t get caught in the “Chuck D Trap” (i.e., don’t assume that you can represent every Black person’s point of view).

4. Don’t kid yourself; your agency didn’t just happen to be diverse.

5. (Recognize that) We do have an obligation to our own .

In his colloquial and practical language, Foster recognizes that no Black organization can represent every black person or black community, because there is a diversity of ideologies/beliefs systems about why racism exists and about how members of the Black community should work for equality. And, Foster recognizes that there is a critical distinction between an agency that employs Blacks and an agency that is a Black organization. A Black organization demonstrates its commitment to the Black community, however it defines that commitment.

It’s rule #5 that creates the important distinction:

Acting on a sense of obligation to the community it claims to be part of
is what makes an organization authentically Black.

Foster’s implied emphasis on creating job opportunities for other Blacks is an individualistic approach, and just one of many approaches . There is more that a Black agency can do. As Foster himself reflects, he found the stories of Black entrepreneurs like John H. Johnson to be so impressive, because:

They created jobs for black talent, created respect in the industry for black-owned businesses and helped to favorably shape America’s perceptions of black people.

If the ultimate goal is to improve the standing of the entire community, Black agencies should not only (1) create opportunity for Black advertising professionals, but also (2) represent the Black community in the advertising industry and (3) represent the Black community effectively through the agencies’ products (in this case, through the advertising & media messages themselves ).

A more complete way to understand Rule #5 is:

Recognize an obligation to our own,
– for nurturing their talents,
– for establishing organizations they can be proud to be part of, and
– for creating work that represents the group well enough to help
change perceptions.

What do you think? What is it, in your view, that would make an organization authentically Black?

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