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“You may not drive a great big Cadillac, gangsta whitewalls ...” William DeVaughn
Branders and ad lovers gushed over the ad battle between Cadillac’s Poolside ad and Ford Motor Company’s response. Critics, pro and amateur, weighed in on both ads. How, then, did the gears of the conversation shift from cars and work habits to …. afros?
In the Cadillac ad, a successful, middle-aged man waxes on about the benefits of working two weeks in August while others lollygag. The fit executive walks through his lavish home past his comfortable family in his shorts, changing into his tailored suit. Next he’s readying to drive to some office in his polished new Cadillac – the spoils of success. It’s a new take on “Made in America” that seems to have missed the mark according to critics.
Ford Motor Company counters with its own ad featuring Pashon Murray, the founder of Detroit Dirt. She stands there in her jeans with her afro as fly as Pam Grier’s or Tamara Dobson’s, giving her own monologue on hard work. She talks about why she and her colleagues get dirty to green up The Motor City. She goes to her minimalist apartment, changes from her jeans into her own stylish suit and gets into her Ford Hybrid, reinforcing the need for products that benefit the environment.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Comments on the AdWeek article listed above spiral quickly from a discussion of the ads into a conversation on Pashon’s afro. First, some watchers, believing that Pashon is an actress, ask why they needed someone with an afro? The inference in the comments was that the afro was aggressive, almost confrontational. Other readers come to her defense, sharing the history of her work as an eco-activist.
Of all the imagery in both ads – the homes, the pool, the dirt, the cuff links – the focus in on Pashon’s hairstyle? To many, the Black woman’s natural hair is always political. To them, the ‘fro says she’s ready to fight, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Here are some of the comments:
Jen E (responding to Greg): “Was the afro necessary? Seriously dude? This wasn’t a hired actress. This is a real person. As stated in the article, she’s Pashon Murray, the founder of Detroit Dirt, a sustainability consultancy and advocacy group. And she rocks that afro!”
Helen: ” Is straight hair necessary? Why doesn’t everyone curl theirs? Are you seriously asking whether or not someone’s natural hair is “necessary”?”
Jose: “seriously? Do you live under a rock? The afro is back and it is back STRONG. I work right across the street from a high school and you see both black and white kids with ‘fros. Oh… Wait… I am just feeding a troll.”
You can check out the article and read more of them for yourself. The conversation goes on and on, with her hair as the launch point for an even more spirited racial online fight. The actual discussion of the cars? Nearly nonexistent.
Should we expect this still? Put a Black woman in an ad or a movie and within minutes her hair will be a central topic of conversation. In a recent discussion between two award-winning authors Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Adichie, the two begin to discuss why Black women’s hair is central to Adichie’s new novel Americanah. The two go on to discuss the rationale:
“I think hair is a big issue. … I think Black women’s hair, in particular. … People can write books about baseball, and people can intellectualize the discussion around baseball. … If you can do that, why not Black women’s hair … which has a history, which has political meaning, which is so deeply layered, and which I think the world doesn’t know enough about.” …
“When a woman wears her hair a certain way, they tell her she’s not professional or they tell her that she can’t get the job. …. If you ever get to interview a Black woman, can you please not make any decisions based on how she wears her hair?” Chimamanda Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun (movie in production) and Americanah
Perhaps it will never change. The public will see a Black woman rocking the afro and see someone coming at them with fingers wagging and loud put-downs. For her? That hair matched her funky retro 70’s earrings that day.
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