Is being an ‘American’ really that bad?

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Somewhere in America, there is a child crying in the lap of its mother, distraught over the fact that it has fallen victim to some dumb, childish name calling. And as that mother tries to soothe her child, out pours those reassuring words: “It’s not what people call you. It’s what you respond to.”

Now, if that ain’t good public relations advice …

Enter Raven-Symone, who, a couple of nights ago, made a candid pronouncement on OWN’s “Where Are They Now” that she didn’t want to be labeled as gay or African American. Her declaration got the Twitterverse, blogosphere and other social media communities in a tizzy. She’s not gay, despite her homosexuality and more important, she’s really not African American. She’s just a human from Louisiana who loves other humans.

“I don’t want to be labeled gay. I want to be labeled a human who loves humans,” the child star-turned-mega millionaire professed. “I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American. I’m not an African American. I’m an American.”

Thanks to the actress, “Americans” have received a slew of new labels. Liberals will now chase you for your progressive attitudes, while the conservative cats will hunt you down to represent them with such “We Are One,” “God Bless America ideologies.” Heck, Frankie Beverly and Maze may even pull you onstage to sing their signature song, “We Are One.”

Meh … probably not.

Self-identity and intellect has always been an issue since the implementation of “Separate, But Equal” laws (which was derived in Louisiana, by the way). Fast-forward more than 120 years and Raven-Symone’s ideals reflect many in her generation. They want to be accepted as American, not African American, Jewish American, Hispanic American, Asian American or even gay American. But honestly honey, we’re all Americans as soon as we get that social security card and our credit file is established.

“ … I have darker skin. I have a nice, interesting grade of hair. I connect with Caucasian. I connect with Asian. I connect with black. I connect with Indian,” she said. “I connect with each culture.”

And this is where marketing falls in line. When one fills out their financial aid application, there’s an entry for race. When applying to college, there’s a race box. There’s even an “Other” box, but there’s no box labeled “American.” Raven-Symone just became a billboard for Louisiana, a state which has an Indian-American governor and known for its gumbo of Creole and Cajun heritages.

“You’re going to get a lot of flak for saying you’re not African American,” Winfrey told Raven-Symone. “You know that right?”

That young lady got more than flak after that airing. She got attention. She got mentions and hashtags, and corporate America was watching.

Companies will target Americans who look just like Raven-Symone and thanks to ad tracking, those who identify with her, as well. It’s already happened.

Do you remember the criticism General Mills got over a Cheerios ad with that interracial family? Well, the public’s response to the ad was phenomenal because it was relatable.

Let’s face it, America. This world is no longer just white or black.

So as marketers, how do we respond? Connecting with people isn’t about following the latest trend or label. It is about understanding what empowers your audience and how to influence their decisions.

Our personal experiences are largely driven by culture and they shape our view of the world and how we experience it. As communication professionals, we have to strike the perfect balance of honoring culture and core values while also valuing the consumers’ current point of view. It’s not that newer generations don’t care where they come from, they do. But they also care about where they are: right here in the moment.

We live in one heck of a melting pot and more viewers and consumers are becoming Americans, just like Raven-Symone, whether we like it or not.

By Nikki G. Bannister, nikki@etchedcomm.com

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