The best part of my yesterday was chatting with so many talented black millennials about the Nielsen study I shared in Thursday’s column. The study called Young, Connected and Black, described their demographic as digitally sophisticated and technologically adventurous, with powerful networks and vibrant online lives. While they are seen as rich targets for marketers, they’ve yet to see their influence felt at the tables of power.
I asked two of them to weigh in:
“I suppose, I shouldn’t be surprised that we are seen as a good for advertisers, but grassroots efforts and protest is seen as disruptive (duh) and unhelpful,” Heather Barmore told me by email. She’s been a blogger and education lobbyist for more than a decade, and currently works in digital policy and engagement for the mayor of Washington, DC. “Years ago, I would speak at conferences about why people – marketers, big brands – don’t listen to young people of color,” she said.
Her network is filled with people like herself, who are focused on re-shaping the world. Why ignore them?
“We were having conversations about policy, politics and social justice – first among ourselves, but in recent years they’ve spilled online.” For Barmore, her cohort’s ability to drive policy is the real missed opportunity. “We have a voice now and so many black millennials want to use our platforms for good – for change.” Little by little, they’re being invited to the real world conversation, she says, but not fast enough. “If only those in positions of political power and the general public would take us a little more seriously,” she says.
Alix Montes, who works in marketing communications, says that when it comes to corporations embracing black millennials’ energy, what’s missing is courage. “Brands are so scared to be progressive when it comes to racial equality. They’re scared of what they stand to lose by being inclusive, but in reality, they have so much more to gain,” he says. “Our social capital, ability to organize and digital talents can accomplish so much if organizations are willing to tap into the values they don’t realize we share.”
He feels your pain. “Think about the Starbucks “Race Together” campaign,” he says. “[Howard] Schultz tried to get other CEOs to speak up, but a lot of them left him hanging. These brands are scared to take a stance because conversations about race can be polarizing and they don’t want to isolate anyone. However, every time they choose to stay silent, they isolate black millennials.”
It’s also time to stop co-opting black ideas and embrace black capacity, he says. “Meet this talent where they are. They’re not always going to be in a referral from an Ivy League or in the traditional pools of talent that organizations rely on.” He says Airbnb or Facebook could have avoided many of their bias problems if they’d been smarter from the start. “I’m a part of a GroupMe called Blacks In Tech. It has since evolved into a community on Slack. Consumer tech companies would be out of excuses if they spent time interviewing members of the Blacks In Tech community.”
Barmore is similarly pointed. “Don’t sleep on us young people of color or make assumptions that we are just about one thing. We are so much more than a source for the latest fad.”
It’s been a tough few months, so I’ve filled the links below with as much good news and inspiration as I could find. Have a stress-free weekend! Next week’s going to be a wild ride.