Written by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)
Founded in 1867 in Washington, D.C., Howard University is arguably the most prestigious historically black college and university in the nation. One of the reasons it's so well-known—aside from the famed Homecoming celebration and its notable alumni—is for the role it's played in African-American culture and American history.
Though the student body is composed of various ethnicities, it's still predominantly black. That's why students returning from winter break at the end of last week (and many others) were confused as to why a Giant grocery store ad welcoming Howard students back featured a young, white woman.
POSTRACIAL pic.twitter.com/62xpatbgXH— Desus (@desusnice) January 13, 2014
The ad was unique to the O Street Market location and intended to inform students that the store—which is near Howard's campus—had re-opened while they were home for the holidays. The advertising misfire resulted in a viral backlash that Giant was forced to address. Spokesman Jamie Miller attempted to explain the situation in an email to the Washington Business Journal. "Unfortunately an incorrect stock photo was used in the ad and we apologize for this oversight," Miller said, making sure to wish students "a successful semester." But the damage had already been done.
Mistakes happen, but a gaffe of this magnitude is akin to accidentally texting a dick pic to your mother. The explanation that Miller offered is probably the only one there is, but it's still on a "My Twitter got hacked" level of unacceptable.
The image made its way to my Twitter time line this past weekend, accompanied by outrage and confusion from the Howard University and non-Howard communities alike. As a Howard graduate, I understand the widespread disapproval, even if it was a mistake. Am I offended? No, but that doesn't lessen the impact of the error. Mistakes happen, but a gaffe of this magnitude is akin to accidentally texting a dick pic to your mother. The explanation that Miller offered is probably the only one there is, but it's still on a "My Twitter got hacked" level of unacceptable. Another reason the ad could be unsettling to the Howard and local communities is because it speaks to a larger issue looming in D.C.
The nation's capital is growing, with the Census Bureau estimating that it added over 13,000 people in 2013. The elephant in the room regarding this growth is that it's made D.C., once proudly—and irrefutably—known as "Chocolate City," considerably less chocolate. Last June, the Census Bureau released a report which revealed that just over 50 percent of D.C.'s residents were African-American as of July 2012. As the overall population grows, the District's African-American population seems to keep shrinking: According to that same report, D.C.'s African-American population was 50.8 percent in July 2011 and 51.6 percent in July 2010. By contrast, blacks accounted for 71 percent of D.C.'s population in 1970. Times are changing, and rapidly.
Perhaps some of the unrest over the erroneous Giant ad comes from concern regarding a future with an unfamiliar demographic shift in D.C. that will be reflected on Howard's campus. The latter is unlikely, and the frustration comes from irresponsible advertising on Giant's part that reflects poorly on them as a brand, more than anything. Even as the face of D.C. changes, the face of Howard University will always be the same. That's something not even a misplaced image can shake up.
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