“I’m not a tourist, I live here”. Cute slogan, right? It’s catchy, its quirky and it oozes of city pride. Washingtonian magazine recently launched a campaign to help boost their subscription sales by offering a select group of DC-area influencers with a large Instagram following a shirt with this slogan emblazoned on the front and in return asked for Instagram posts urging their audience to subscribe to the magazine.
The posts started coming in. Some on the Metro. Some in Georgetown. Some in Chinatown. All with these cute t-shirts on proudly showcasing that they are not tourists and in fact live here in DC. And all of them were White. Oops, let me retract. All of them were White with a sprinkling of Hispanic and Asian.
If you are a person of high melanin count like me and expected to see someone who looked like yourself, you wouldn’t because they did not choose us. We, the 47% of the city’s population were not represented, not considered.
The internet exploded and asked Washingtonian this question: “Um, you could not find a diverse group of Washington DC residents to use”.
Instead of being honest about their true intentions, the President and CEO, Catherine Merrill Williams sent out a blanket apology explaining their process for this campaign and that they wanted to showcase the diversity of the readership they serve.
A quick peek into their publication and you will see the readership they serve. A cursory glance at their Instagram feed and you will have to scroll down 11 rows to find the first person of color. In fact, for 2018 thus far, there are only seven photos in their Instagram feed depicting any people of color (and one is a balloon) and they have already published 90 images. While we encompass 47% of this city, we only encompass less than 7% of their marketing. It’s clear who their target audience is.
White. Privileged. Financially well off. Most likely living in the wealthy suburbs of Virginia and Maryland.
Same as the influencers they chose for this campaign. They portray the above readership.
Before writing this, I spoke to several bloggers involved in this campaign and got some details. The emails for participation started rolling in at the end of March of this year. They were asked to rock the shirt in a post and urge their audience to subscribe to the magazine to get a shirt of their own for a special discounted rate (Washingtonian provided a specific URL to the influencers to include in their Instagram caption that offered this deal). In exchange, they received the shirt, promotion by Washingtonian, and a year-long subscription to the magazine. Per a representative from Washingtonian, a set number of influencers were chosen to start the campaign. Some, if not all of these initial influencers were tagged in this photo on the Washingtonian Instagram account. Washingtonian’s goal was once that group of photos was posted to the influencers’’ Instagram accounts, they would roll out a next set of influencers. Would the next set be a true diverse representation of Washington DC? Why wasn’t the first round of influencers a true representation of the Nation’s Capital, a place known around the world as Chocolate City?
Washingtonian Magazine’s idea of diverse is the sprinkling of non-Whites used and the lack of Blacks present.
In the 13 hours since the apology was posted on Instagram, I spoke to 11 different Black bloggers in DC to ask if they had been asked by Washingtonian to participate in this campaign. Most did not even know what I was talking about. Because duh- #WashingtonianSoWhite.
This is not saying that other Blacks were not invited to participate because I do not have their list but I do fault them for having a slideshow and not including a single Black person. I also feel that if they had reached out to Blacks and more diverse group, they would have mention this in their comments and apology.
Washingtonian has a very idealistic portrayal of DC. They do not want to speak on its rich Black history but instead showcase all the “whiteness”. This is loud and clear with whom they chose for this “I’m not a tourist” campaign.
I understand completely that this t-shirt is a remake of the t-shirt that graced their 1976 cover. We get it. You wanna bring that old thing back. But by having mostly Whites wearing it, you are sending a message to we Black residents that we should stop being mad that Whites are flooding all of the neighborhoods and pushing us out. Whites are not tourists and Whites live here. It’s a reminder that Washingtonian is trying to send a message to the world that DC is no longer “Chocolate City” and if you see Whites everywhere, please don’t assume they are tourists.
#WashingtonianSoWhite but we are not standing for it any longer.
The Internal Problem
Washingtonian Magazine is not the first to run a marketing campaign that was extremely exclusive or offensive and they will not be the last. It was only a year ago that Pepsi offended us all. We hear about these offenses every other day and we are outraged every single time. But yet, nothing is really changing. The apologies are expressed and the excuses keep rolling in but these companies are not fixing their internal problem which is a lack of diversity within their own workforce.
By employing people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, walks of life, and ages, problems like these would be few and far between. There is nothing more effective than a fresh set of diverse eyes to offer feedback before a campaign is presented to the world. I mean- how can a group of 20-something White interns and fresh out of college employees (many who moved here from another state) catch that “hey, we don’t have a diverse representation of DC in the bloggers chosen”.
#WashingtonianSoWhite in everything they do.
The Washington DC area is home to nearly 500 bloggers. How do I know that? I have been blogging here for over 7 years and I belonged to a networking group with all of us. The membership was over 500 strong and quite diverse.
Yet campaigns in DC almost always ONLY showcase the same 20. A splash of Asians here, a sprinkling of Hispanics, and rarely any Blacks. This part of my piece is not to beat a dead horse about them but to discuss us- bloggers not Blacks.
We, bloggers HAVE to do a better job of asking questions before accepting campaigns. We often get so excited to be a part of something that we never stop to question what that something is. Now my fellow bloggers who participated in this campaign are suffering tons of backlash for being involved and not speaking up about the lack of diversity. And that is not right. The problem lies with Washingtonian and not them.
I cannot blame the bloggers in this #WashingtonianSoWhite campaign because they just did not know. With a shirt that screams DC pride, the assumption was probably that there would be a mix of participants, from bloggers to Native Washingtonians. And frankly- it is rare that we, bloggers ever ask who other participants are because we focus solely on what we will bring to the table.
But what I do find troubling is the silence. Silence is loud. If you are not addressing that this campaign’s lack of any Blacks is WRONG then you are a part of the problem. If you can use your platform to help a magazine sell subscriptions, then you can also use your platform to help effect change.
Because we are the change we wish to see.
I know after seeing this mess, I will be a lot more cognizant of asking questions before accepting work. As bloggers, we are building our own brand and we must be careful to align with others who share our vision and ideals. We cannot and should not sell out.
It is clear that Washingtonian Magazine does NOT want Washington DC to be seen for its diverse nature. It is clear that they believe having one or two People of Color constitutes diversity as long as no Blacks are included. It is clear that Washingtonian Magazine has a targeted readership and only wants to engage that readership. It is clear that is why they are struggling in subscription sales and need to use these tactics. It is clear that Washingtonian thought we would be ok with their half-ass apology.
Well we are not. We do not believe you and we demand better.
Below you will find screenshots from the outrage.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.