Anyone reading this understands the power of words. Words allow us to share vital information, create new ideas and perhaps most strikingly, influence our thought process. Words after all have consequences. So when the folks at Cadbury decided to compare super model Naomi Campbell to a chocolate bar in their latest ad, what exactly were they saying? And is the supermodel right to be offended? You be the judge.
As a woman of color, I’m very cognizant about the way in which we address ourselves, the way African Americans refer to each other and of course the way others refer to us. Naomi Campbell is rightfully troubled by the perplexing actions of Cadbury even implying – let alone openly stating – that she is “chocolate” anything. It’s yet another example of corporate insensitivity towards minorities and proof that advertising rooms are still largely devoid of diversity.
The conversation surrounding race and terminology didn’t of course begin with Naomi Campbell and Cadbury. A few years back, National Action Network, under the leadership of Rev. Al Sharpton, created the Decency Initiative aimed at combating the rampant usage of inflammatory language. But even as many continue to regularly use words like “ho,” “bitch” and “ni@#a” to address one another, when has it ever been okay for someone else to call us by such names?
Let’s even take it back to childhood. Growing up, many of us had nicknames and pet names given to us by our mothers, but would we ever let a non-family member call us by such a name? On the hit MTV show, “Jersey Shore,” we often see cast members call each other “guidos” or even “guidettes,” but would any of them ever tolerate a non-Italian referring to them as such? I think not.
As we continue to sort out the indecency of Cadbury’s not-so-subtle reference to Naomi Campbell, will we as African Americans continue to call each other “chocolate?” Will we denounce the use of the word “ni@#a” or will we just make sure no one else uses it? Will advertising execs start to think of the imagery that their words create and the impact of their actions? Or will we continue to live in a world where we are so removed from those different from us that we don’t even know what’s appropriate to say?
Let’s hope it’s not the latter.