Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Attack of the Glowing White Khaki Family

I once read that Gloria Steinem regularly writes feedback letters to companies and institutions, both of praise and of constructive criticism. Every day I see images and products that I believe deserve critical thought and community conversations – “Primitive” (a company started by two white women) naming lipstick almost exclusively after African, Latin American, and Asian nations or sacred sites, food branded as “ethnic” (as if all foods in the world aren’t ‘ethnic’) often made by people not from that background and commodifying culture in the process, at-risk plants used in the making of bugsprays and handwash, stock photos of glowing white, straight families used on the covers of books and magazines, etc. So this (Gregorian/Western/Christian) New Year, one of my resolutions is to start sharing my feedback with those who use images, ingredients, and terminology that I find problematic. After writing a few letters, I can use them as templates to use in the future, saving time and still getting my point across (hopefully).
I don’t know exactly why I’ve been so fixated on the Northeast Delta Dental (insurance) calendar, but it has been my inspiration for beginning a routine of letter-writing. Perhaps it’s because there are so many incredibly inspiring and informative calendars, such as Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar, that are daily reminders of what’s important to me and confirms my vision for social justice. It’s part calendar (with holidays and moon phases), part history lesson, and part wall-beautification, and I find its presence on my wall and in my life to be grounding and encouraging.

The Northeast Delta Dental calendar not so much.


Does your family look like this? (I know they're not wearing khaki, but you know what I mean, right...those glowing white families with khakis and pressed white button down shirts...)

I think it's important to be able to articulate why images that we're surrounded with are problematic, to be able to break down the theories and ideas around media, gender, racism, ableism, etc into simple terms. While it's completely legitimate to just feel on an emotional level, I want to pour my anger into words that can be received and will hopefully bring about positive changes, such as more inclusive images, expanded ideas of beauty and family, and less teeth-grinding from unspoken frustrations for me!
Here’s my letter:
Dear Delta Dental,
Greetings. I hope that this letter finds you well. I recently received your calendar and while I appreciate that your calendar is not full of corporate advertisement as most dentist offices are, I have concerns that I would like to share with you about the images you’ve used to represent your company and clientele.
While you can not necessarily tell one’s ancestry/ethnicity by their skin color and facial features, a quick look through your calendar shows that maybe 7 out of the 40 models are people of color. This country is made up of people from all over the world and contains the entire spectrum of skin colors, hair textures, abilities, family-makeup, shapes, sizes, etc. Your calendar does not reflect this and thus is not inclusive of your customers. While I myself am white with blond hair and blue eyes, I do not wish to adorn my walls with the small minority of people who look like me. I do not wish to be part of perpetuating the valuing of Eurocentric beauty over all others, inside or outside of my home.

The image used for the month of August particularly concerns me. Advertising often uses glowing white, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class family units to portray what “normal” families look like. While I appreciate that this photo is intergenerational, it reinforces a very narrow definition of family. Yes, some families do look like this. They also look like: two daddies, a range of skin colors, a transgender daughter, grandparents with wrinkles, kids with physical disabilities, single parents, and so on.
The images in our daily lives in places such as television, film, advertisements, grocery stores, dentist offices, and calendars, reflect what is valued, what is considered beautiful, and shapes how we view ourselves and each other. Excluding large groups of people from these images contributes to their systematic exclusion and oppression in our unequal society. Using a few people of color as decoration to a overwhelmingly white calendar perpetuates tokenization, giving the appearance of diversity/inclusively without questioning why white is considered normal or beautiful. Portraying a very narrow visual representation of what a “normal” family looks like creates stress for the many children who never see their own families portrayed in a positive way.
I am not putting your calendar on my wall this year and hope that in your creation of next year’s calendar that you take my thoughts into consideration. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you for your time.
Dana L Woodruff

more to come...
P.S.  Their response was less than satisfying, implying that their calendar accurately portrays their customers.  Perhaps they believe that all their customers are white, straight, and able-bodied, etc?!

1 comment:

  1. EXCELLENT letter, and excellent idea for a resolution. We all need to speak up and speak out. Way to go!