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"Innocents Abroad and Us": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1980 (year approximate) to 1995 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. On the lack of minority representation in advertising.

Digital ID



man001004. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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I don't remember the name of the song but the refrain ends with "...why is everybody always picking on me?" Every now and again that question pops into my mind and generally it has something to do with what appears to be a stagnation of racial perception even as it grows.
You might wonder how can something be simultaneously stagnant and growing? Easy. The stagnation has to do with the negative perception and treatment of black people not only in the United States but elsewhere in the world and the growing portion has to do with the seemingly ever-increasing groups who are jumping on the bandwagon.
Perhaps it has something to do with what appears to be something of a humain trait of having disdain, even hatred, for where one comes from. One ultimately always comes from Africa because Africa is where it all began for all of us.
Many times I have mentioned how the overwhelming majority of local businesses consciously shun including black people in commercial advertisements. Certainly we see Bill Cosby, Sammy Davis, Jr., the Pointer Sisters, Stevie Wonder, Hagler, Harnes, Tyson and other entertainers on an almost daily basis. What we don t see are black people as patrons/customers. When was the last time you saw a black couple in a television spot eating in a local restaurant or shopping in a local Mall? Rarely if ever. Even in those rare instances where such might occur, blacks are far in the background, on and off camera so quickly as not to be noticed or of such a complexion as not to have their blackness immediatedly noticed.
Those businesses which ignore us in their marketing efforts are quite happy, nonetheless, to have us spend our money in their establishments. They do not advertise even in black-owned or centered media efforts. They only take, take, take and they do not ever give. In short, they don't like us because if
they did, they would treat us differently.
Perhaps I should rephrase that because being treated differently does not necessarily mean that we would be treated better. We must be careful with how we use that word "different.11 We were once treated "different" and it was terrible. Nationwide, once upon a time, black children were depicted as little "pickaninnys" while black women were shown as "aunt jemimas" and black men as "sambos." From the Gold Dust Twins to the Creme of Wheat man to Uncle Ben, who was a credit to his rice, they were all less than credits to the black race. They were shown with lips as large as their faces and eyes that resembled black eggs over easy. They were "rastus," "coon," and watermelon eater. Above all, they were grotesque. We do not want to be presented in that manner.
There was a time after that wehn we were shown as normal looking middleage and older people. However, during that time we were depicted as speaking "cullid" languages such as "ise," "ah'm," "yassah," "gwine," "shucks," "lawdy," and so on. We do not want to be presented in that manner again.
Currently, we see an occasional black person in national advertisements. The overwhelming number are older blacks with a smattering of children. There are some younger women but they rarely share the screen with young white women with the lone exception being the "Spuds McKenzie" bit and young black men are an endangered species. You will see black men like me—a little old, a little overweight and a little balding--much more frequently. I don't know why but its true.
So, you might ask: "what does all of this have to do with the price of rice?" Well, I'll tell you--it has to do with another Pearl Harbor only this time without the bombs. Further, this time, the results are far more catastrophic than they were on December 7, 1941. In that little attack there were lives lost and property damaged and destroyed. I wasn't around then but I've seen the documentaries, the movies and have read some of the books on the subject. I
don't know how many times I've heard FDR's voice say: "Vester, on December
7, the Japanese Empire..." You know the rest--"a day of infamy," a declaration of war, the whole country becoming mobilized--you've seen the movies.
As far as those movies are concerned, there were only white GIs at Pearl, only white Americans in the States were outraged, only white young men who rushed down to sign up, only white soldiers kissed by their sweethearts as they boarded trains and busses and ships to go off and risk their all in the name of "Duty, Honor, Country." Ok. In the 1940s, we were "colored" and even though they did have black and white film, they had not developed color. Maybe that's why we were left out.
But this time—this time there is color and what is being attacked is us. Last year the Japanese Premier took his cheap shot by declaring that the reason that the educational standards of the U.S. were plummeting was because of the presence of blacks and other racial minorities. A sneak attack if ever there was one. Did Ronald Reagan get upset? No. Did he go on national radio or television and describe those utterances as the mutterings of a madman racist? No. De we go to war? Absolutely not. After all, that attack was only on certain Americans—Americans that a lot of other Americans would just as soon has seen in Hiroshima in 1946 or beamed back up to the Enterprise or gone back to wherever the heck they came from. And what did we do? I'll tell you. We bought 380zs, Mazdas, Mitsubitchis, Toyotas, Nissans, Gonys and all the rest. We told them it was ok to insult us and we would show our appreciation by buying more of their products. We're funny that way.
Now what? As if that were not enough, in Tokyo and other places in the Japanese Islands, enterprising entrepreneurs have dregged up half-century old stereotypes of black people—the sambo image again—and are using them in merchandizing their products. They think slack lips, buck eyes, exaggerated everything is really in vogue and they're loving it. They wouldn't think it
was funny if somebody depicted them as having buck teeth, slanted eyes, monkey-like faces and gorilla mimiced postures while behaving in sinister, diabolical ways. No they wouldn't. They would see something wrong with that right away. Well, that's how they were shown once upon a time and some of them charged racism and so forth. Great. But when it comes to us, they don t see anything wrong with it. Remarkable.
Somebody pointed out to them that those grotesque caricatures were racist and offensive especially to black people--a lot of other people also don t like them and their response has been in effect: "Wei 1 they don't bother us." "We think they're cute." "The kids love them." "They're a lot of fun." Can you believe that. Haven't they heard; the offending party rarely sees anything wrong with what they do. They didn't see anything wrong with bombing Pearl Harbor. Did that make it alright? Not by a long shot. Americans saw something wrong with it and did something about it. So they don't see anything wrong with sambo mannequins. That figures. We see something wrong with it. Japanese Americans see something wrong with it but they ain't talking—after all, its just us.
Got a question for you; "what are we going to do about it." We don't have any standing army or navy or air force or an atomic bomb or anything like that. We do have a little money and the right to decide where we spend it. We can either subsidize foreign racists or the racists we have right here at home. Might not seem like much of a choice but it is. When these people over here get too far out of hand, we know where they are and we can get there even if we have to walk. We've done it before and we can do it again.
I'll tell you this, I'm not buying another blasted thing that's made in Japan. They need my money more than I need their insults. Furthermore, if I'm ever walking down an American street and some tourist says; "Look, there's one—just like we got back home in Tokyo—I'm taking his picture and I don't have a camera. I'm just going to mash him up and put him in my wallet.