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EPISODE 3 | February 28, 2022

Ethnicity is Authenticity

With Dr. Jason Chambers and Dani Jackson-Smith


It is the last day of Black History Month in America. Here at Edelman our theme has been Joy-full: Manifesting Wellness and Unity with programming that has prioritized self-care and community along with personal and financial health. As a bonus episode for this month, Dani Jackson-Smith talks with Dr. Jason Chambers author of Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry about the importance of understanding history. 


Episode Transcript

Dani Jackson Smith [00:00:01] It's all you are at work after hours and back at home exploring every layer, finding out what makes you uniquely you and letting that shine back out into the world. It's authentic 365, a podcast that takes a glimpse into how some of the most inspiring people among us express themselves and make magic happen. I'm your host. Danny Jackson Smith, VP at Edelman by day, community enthusiast and lover of the people always. Its the last day of Black History Month in America, and here at Edelman, our theme has been Joy-full: Manifesting Wellness and Unity with programing that has prioritized self-care and community, along with personal and financial health. As a bonus episode for this month, I'll be talking with Dr. Jason Chambers, author of Madison Avenue and the Color Line African-Americans in the Advertising Industry and note, he is also my former professor at the University of Illinois. Dr. Chambers, let's start with this Where are you from?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:01:02] I am originally from Central Ohio, a small town named London, Ohio, which probably most people have never heard of. But it's about 20 minutes outside Columbus, so it's almost right smack dab in the center of the Great State of Ohio.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:01:14] When did you first start getting passionate about advertising?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:01:18] You know, I'm one of those weird people who always kind of paid attention to advertising. I can remember watching it, watching commercials on Saturday mornings in-between cartoons, back when kids still did such a thing. So I've always kind of had an interest in advertising. I've always been one who kind of paid attention to advertising. I always I grew up in the last heyday of the jingle, the advertising jingle. So I've always liked advertising in some form, some form or fashion, even from a very young age.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:01:48] OK, so at what point did you say or begin to shift this passion for advertising into really digging into the history of advertising?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:01:58] That was something for me that came in graduate school. I'd always had an interest in media. For example, I edited a Black newspaper, Black student newspaper when I was an undergraduate, so I was always going to go either. You know, I was always going to be in some way shape or form connected to media, whether it was going to be journalism, whether it was going to be advertising, whether it was going to be something in the realm of of production. So I'd always had an interest in media. But I went to when I went to graduate school to get an advanced degree, advanced degrees in history. It really was a set of classes that I took that studied consumers and studied the way that people had evolved as consumers. And I combine that with an interest, a growing interest then of studying the history and the story of African-American business enterprises, African-American as business owners and a variety of industries, or African-Americans, as high level employees, executives and a variety of industries, so that the various things media and advertising and business, those interests kind of all came together into a study of African-Americans' participation in the advertising industry. What we have been able to do as business owners, as high level employees, how we had or had not been able to matriculate in the advertising industry. Those are those things all came together at that point.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:03:18] And what really stood out for you in the research that was that you were beginning to do at the graduate level?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:03:26] I think the things that stood out for me, perhaps not so not so much in a good way, is the way that our story in advertising had really been obscured or ignored or overlooked. One of the things about history that you learn is that it's not that stories don't exist, it's that stories just haven't been told or stories just haven't been known. And so for much of advertising history, for much of advertising story was really a story of White men. We didn't even really, this is back in the 1990s, early 2000s, I got my Ph.D. in 2001, so I'm in graduate school in the 1990s. Back then, we didn't even really consider the story of women. It was still rare to consider the story of women White, Black or otherwise in advertising. So advertising was very much a story of what what had White men done in concert with other White men. So White men on the advertising agency side of things and White men on the client side of things, how the two of the two of those groups come together to form the relationship that we've come to know between advertising agencies and clients. So even in the landscape of women, we might have winch and one woman's name. If you'd studied advertising extent, the story of advertising extensively, maybe you heard the name of Helen Reese, or maybe you you'd heard the name of Mary Wells Lawrence. But other than that, you didn't get any story of the role of women in advertising that had been overlooked or not really told at that time. And certainly a company that would have been the story of African-Americans. And so based upon what I knew of African-American history, I can say with confidence that confidence that there is virtually no industry, none whatsoever. There is no industry in America that African-Americans have at least not tried to enter in some way, shape or form. You can't find one. Now, whether or not we were able to do so, whether or not we were able to be successful in doing so, that's a whole other question that's getting into the details. But in terms of whether or not we tried to be in advertising or whether or not we had tried to be in a particular industry, I knew that there had to be a story there and I wanted to find that out because even even if we were absent from the industry, let's just say the the stories of African-American absence and advertising were correct, then I felt that there had to be a story there as to why we had been absent. Why hadn't we've been able to operate in the area of advertising? Why had we perhaps chosen not to try to operate in the area of advertising? Because the the history of African-Americans in newspapers, the you know, that original form of print media, the stories of African-American newspapers go back as far as there's almost as far as there's been anything worthy of calling it the United States of America. So if we'd been in newspapers and it doesn't take a genius to see, you didn't have to be a genius publisher or editor to see the value of advertising dollars to your newspaper, then there had to be some. I knew there had to be have had to have been some effort for African-Americans to get into advertising. And I wanted to and I wanted to know what happened.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:06:31] I am over here smiling because I remember sitting in your advertising history class as well as your race and ethnicity class at the University of Illinois and just learning so much. What was the journey like starting those classes?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:06:47] The advertising history class had been there even before I had arrived. That had been something that had been in some way shape or form, part and parcel of the of the department. Even, you know, almost from the very beginning, when it was founded by Charles Standage, the race class was a little bit different because the race and ethnicity class. Even back then, you know, you're still having to assemble a lot of, you know, disparate materials because, you know, we didn't have really an extensive there's not really an extensive historiography or is not really an extensive area of academic study that that it tried to capture the story of race and ethnicity, its connection to advertising, the role of African-American consumers, the role of consumers of any race or ethnicity. So trying to capture that and encapsulated into a class it and make it make sense, it was challenging. It's gotten it's gotten subsequently easier over the years. But you know, our respect for the industry's respect for consumers of various races and ethnicities is something that has ebbed and flowed over the years and depending upon how it's either ebbing or flowing, dictates the level of resources. In some way, shape or form dictates the level of resources that are available to use for instruction in some ways.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:08:03] What year was it when you when you taught that class the first time?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:08:06] That would have probably been around 2006, 2007.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:08:09] When I think about that class, which I still have the course packet for and I use as a reference and a resource. I think about then the journey to you as an author and the publishing of your book Madison Avenue and the Color Line, which I believe was three years later in 2009. Is that correct? That's correct. I'm thinking about what you just shared, you know, the lack of resource and a lack of information there. And how did you see creating Madison Avenue and the color line filling that gap?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:08:43] That's an excellent way to put it Dani, because that's exactly how I saw it was filling that gap because of the resources that were available that that purported to tell the story of advertising, you know, the books like the mirror makers or Soap Sex and Cigarets or a variety of other titles. And there aren't that many, but even the ones that tried to purport to tell the story of advertising in the United States of America, we were at best the story of African-Americans was at best a few paragraphs or, if we were lucky, a few pages. And so I saw myself as filling that gap to provide the story of, you know, African-American participation, to go back to the nineteen teens and see those first efforts of African-Americans attempting to combine a respect for a respect and a respectful treatment of African-Americans as consumers, but also to combine those with business enterprises. Because after all, advertising is a business to make money. But going back to the nineteen teens for people like a gentleman out of actually out of Chicago, Claude Barnett, who who one of his first forays into business was to try to run an advertising agency such, you know, loosely defined. Not something that we perhaps recognized this as an agency today, but, you know, the creation of artwork, creation of copy and and the placement of same for various businesses. So, you know, looking at his letters and his efforts to interest businesses around the country in, you know, targeting African-Americans as consumers and then obviously utilizing his agency in his own kind of knowledge of media and its knowledge of advertising to be able to do so. And so there are there are many stories like that from that 19-teens period forward African-American striving to found agencies or African-American striving to use their own expertise or interests and being artists or writers to find a place for themselves, musicians as well. To find a place for themselves in advertising. And so you know that book covers, you know, those various stories and so people whose names had otherwise been kind of lost to history. Claude Barnett at Branford and David Sullivan and and many others to tell the story of what they had had, what they had to endure to try to get into advertising, to try to impact and change the advertising industry, to try to impact and change out treated or even perceived of African-American consumers to get rid of some of the derogatory and stereotypical negative imagery connecting the advertising industry, connecting the civil rights movement to the advertising industry and things of that nature. And so that book does kind of all of those things in ways that no other source had done to that time. And so I really did see it and do see it. Still, even you know where we at 13 years later, I still see it in that way because as a as a resource, it still functions in that way because many of those names still aren't, you know, still aren't as widely known as I would, as I would prefer.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:11:49] I think that's an amazing point because, you know, while we may know the Tom Burrell's or the Carol Williams, there's so much about our history, in particular our advertising history that many of us don't know because maybe we didn't have to take that class in school. Or, you know, it's not a priority on the journey, but it is really vital when we think about the work that we do moving forward. So before I go into talking about the work, let's take a pause to talk about authenticity, right? Because I think it's something really special about the connection between history, preserving history. And then, like you said, your your your passion that you've carried throughout to where you are today. And there is a through line there that I would like to explore around your passions and how that's carried through today. And maybe how that ladders up to maybe how you perceive or define authenticity for yourself.

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:12:49] I heard it as described as an African proverb. Perhaps others have heard it described differently than that's fine when it comes to these types of things. But it's the proverb of only when the Lions have historians will the hunters cease to be heroes. And for me, that is an absolute truism of advertising. Advertising is the story told according to the people who are in power at the time. The people who are who are in power because they have the money or they have the time, or they have the resources to tell a particular story. And when it came or interested, even in telling a particular story. And so when it comes to the story of advertising for far too long, it's been the story of essentially of the genius of White men. And that is a it's it's simply incorrect. It, as I said earlier, it overlooks the role of women. It overlooks the role of racial minorities that overlooks the role of people of different gender identities, of people, of people of different sexual orientations like much but like much of our history, and it is exactly that much of our stories in a variety of categories. It is exactly that. And so it is it is an inauthentic telling of what happened. Right? It's a telling of a particular point of view. Again, the genius of White men. But it's an incorrect point of view, and it's a it's a point of view that damages everybody else, but it also damages them because, you know, it essentially says it leads them to from our own present time in twenty twenty twenty two to look back and consider that there was a point in the world in which, well, White men were simply masters of the universe, and that time just needs to come again. No, you weren't. And you never have been. That's the story that you've told yourself, and that's the story that's been replicated. But it's been done so because it has allowed you to overlook all of the contributions of everybody else that you'd rather ignore right to to hail your own genius and to justify your own continued positions of power. So it's an it's an inauthentic representation of what happened, but it's one that far too many people still want to celebrate the facts of history, not the story of history, but the fact of history don't bear that out, but you nevertheless want to continue to celebrate this inauthentic ideal. Again, much to your own detriment, let alone the detriment of the rest of the country. And so my my own purpose and my own role in this, as I see it, is to bring that authenticity, to bring those facts to light. And then we could we can encounter the facts and we can discuss the facts later. But to encounter them rather than to ignore them, I believe, is my role and really my my greatest contribution.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:15:30] And how does that also play out? Let's say, like if you had to say, Hey, here's how I define authenticity. How would you define authenticity?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:15:39] I define authenticity as the truth, regardless of the consequences. The facts, regardless of the consequences. Telling the story of African-Americans in advertising, for example, doesn't mean that it's a story of un of unparalleled celebration. There's been fits, there's been starts, there's been successes, there's been failures. There's some places where things could have been done better, been done differently. But authenticity requires that. That truth telling it in it requires encountering both the the victories, as well as the failures of all of our various stories and looking at how they combine together into the tapestry that is, you know, that is America, that, you know, that is advertising in the United States of America. So I define authenticity as a way of centralizing truths. Right. And it's not individually defined

Dani Jackson Smith [00:16:32] in your journey to live authentically and put out authentic work. What type of challenges have you come across?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:16:40] I think the biggest challenge is disbelief, right? Disbelief that that there actually was a people don't often don't often think that things that they haven't heard of must be can't be true or to say it a little bit more elegantly. We normalize that which we've been taught and anything that stands outside of that, which we've been taught. We put a certain filter on or people have a tendency to put a certain filter on to say, Well, that can't be true, because if it was true, then that's what I would have been taught. Well, no, not necessarily. And because then we get into the politics of storytelling, we get into the politics of history because those things, you know, those things are there as well. You know, we we strive for objectivity, but there really is no such. There really is no such thing because there's a there's a subjectivity in the questions that you even ask. There's a there's a subjectivity in the the resources that you choose to highlight, even as even as a writer. And so I think the, you know, one of those biggest things is has been again, that area of disbelief that that the African-American contribution could have been that great because people will say, Well, if it had been that great, then why haven't we talked about it more than White? Why haven't African-Americans be, you know, created greater and larger agencies? And why have there only been so few African-American CEOs of major agencies? Well, then we can get into. Well, I'm glad you asked. Now let's talk about racism and racist policies. And that's where that's where people hold their hand up and says, say, well, well, well, hold on a second. That's that's where I that's where I get off. And and my response has been, if you want to encounter the truth of the advertising industry, then you have to encounter the central truth that it is an industry that was founded and exclusion. It is an industry that was founded on keeping people out. Right. That's what Dr. Kennedy means when he talks about the idea of a person can be doesn't have to be racist to practice the practice and support racist policies. And as an industry, advertising has long been filled with racist policies that have been replicated without for a long time, without much question.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:18:58] Now when we talk about, you know, responsibility who is responsible for ensuring that history is told correctly,

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:19:09] Ultimately, I think it's I think it's all of us. But I have also been one who has said that as an African-American, as an African-American storyteller, if, if, if I want our stories out there, then I have to participate in their telling. Does that mean it can be only African-Americans who tell African-American stories or women who tell women's stories? Men who tell men's stories would have, you know, absolutely not. But I always felt a special responsibility to do so because I knew about so many of the distortions of history that were connected to African-Americans. You know, I'll give you a big one. You know the story of the happy slave ride that the happy slave, if you if you think about that, the happy and the the singing, the happy singing Darcie that was often used also Houston and for a long time in the advertising industry. But that myth of the Old South. It's such a...I'll refrain from blue language. It's such a lie, right? It is absolutely positively, unquestionably such a lie. But people still use it today. Right, the south, this in the south that it was better. This and it was better that. No, it wasn't. No, it wasn't. Factually, I can demonstrate it factually. No, it wasn't. It might have been better for a few, but I knew that and I know that. But if you're going to get around that and you're going to change that narrative, then you have to have people who are willing to push back against that type of narrative. And I always I always wanted to be one of those historians who pushed back. One of the scholars who pushed back, really.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:20:47] I was reading the article that you were in in the Guardian and you say ethnicity is authenticity. Can you explain that?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:20:58] Well, what I meant by that, by that was in that piece, we were talking about the use of stereotypes. We're talking about the use of stereotypes like Aunt Jemima, the the expert Black cook, the happy, whether she was a happy slave or a happy former slave. She was so happy with her, even with her old slave holding family that even after freedom decided to stick around on Masta's Old Plantation and cook breakfast for Masta and his family. And so I said that that image was utilized in things like, you know, Aunt Jemima products or the smiling servants of Uncle Ben's or the smiling servants of Cream of Wheat, among many others. A number of others that were there are no longer sold or have been lost to history for a variety of reasons. But what I was saying in that phrase of ethnicity is authenticity is that stereotypes were used to provide a vision of authenticity of the product. And so if such an expert Black cook as Aunt Jemima offered her recipe of pancake, a pancake making to the, you know, to the Quaker company, for them, for the making of their Aunt Jemima pancake mix, then that image of this ethnic person, this Black woman was used to convey a sense of the authenticity of the product. Right. So the ethnicity itself becomes a marker of authenticity. So it becomes a marker of the truth or the value of the product in question.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:22:27] From a historical standpoint, as we know, history repeats itself in certain points. Maybe what you you would see moving forward?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:22:36] I think the way that I would answer that, Dani, is that, you know, time is linear, but people are not right. People have a tendency to ebb and flow, will take two steps forward as we take one step back or two steps, two steps forward and then take three steps back. It's, you know, you liken it to somebody who's who's trying to get in shape, right? You know, we just came out of a few weeks past the new year now and, you know, past the point of, you know, New Year's resolutions, right? When people resolve that, this is going to be the year that they get in shape and they're all in on it for days and maybe weeks. But now as we enter February and you know, we just got 12 inches of snow here in Champaign a couple of days ago. Now we enter the time where it gets really hard. It's not as easy to get to the gym or it's not as easy to keep working out, or it's not as easy to to keep eating right. And so, you know, we maybe have the tendency to slide back into the comfortable. Well, that's what I mean. You know, the calendar has moved linear linearly. We've gone from January to February and life. But as people, we took a few steps in my my example here. We took a few steps forward. We took us a few steps towards getting in shape, but then we took a maybe a step back towards kind of backsliding into my prior behavior of bad eating or or, you know, sleeping in rather than getting up to work out. Well, I think I think the same thing, you know, with advertising, I think people can be and have been people can be earnest in wanting to do different or wanting to see change or wanting to see different voices and and faces and locus of power in front of and behind the camera. But my question is what? What happens when it gets hard? What happens when we're, you know, we're past the energy. And so I think that, you know, those of us who are interested in seeing continue change in this industry, we have to recognize that that there will inevitably be a feeling of, you know, well, we've done enough or we've we've we've tried long enough or we've we've invested enough. And when you know, when that happens, just like the person has to push through, you know, getting up to keep going to the gym, you know, we have to continue to push through and say, No, we haven't done enough. No, a few dollars here or a few months of attention doesn't outweigh, you know, a hundred plus years of racist policies in this industry. You know, something like the advertising industry that you know, the advertising industry. If I can speak about it historically for a moment. You know, we consider the advertising industry to have been born somewhere in the 1880s 1890s, and by that I don't mean that nothing like advertising had been around before. I'm talking about the foundation of agencies, agencies that have roles and offices and things that we might recognize today are copy media placement, what have you. That's a very much an 1880s 1890s kind of phenomenon when we first start to see that. And so as an industry, then we've been around for hundred and forty years. Right? So for the one hundred and forty years, the overwhelming majority of it has been spent with racist policies in place. The overwhelming majority of it has been spent striving to exclude anyone but White men and for a long time for much of that history. I'm talking, we're talking primarily Christian White men. We're the only ones who are welcome to enter. White men who came from exclusive institutions were the only ones that were welcome to do, couldn't be Italian or Jewish or or Greek and get a job, you know, and many agencies until the 1960s, even if you were a White man. So it's been an industry of exclusion for most of its history. That's what it is at its foundation. And so a few months or, you know, a few years can't change that or even a few investments can't change that. Not not overnight, because in historical terms, what we've experienced in the last two years has actually has been overnight. And if we allow ourselves to, you know, take our eye off off of the, you know, the various goals that we have, then I think that we will see a backsliding into traditional actions or to traditional behavior because that's what that's what it's been for most of its history.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:26:42] What advice do you give for people to remain authentic, to keep pushing and not be on the sidelines? You know, I'm sure, as you say, like we take one step forward, two steps back. There's this ebb and flow of, you know, maybe people get a little worn out of of staying in the fight or staying at the at the head of keeping things moving forward. So what advice do you give?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:27:06] One of the biggest and best pieces of advice I ever got was to find you, find yourself a support group, find people and they can be in the industry or without. But you find yourself a network or a group of people of people or persons to whom you can vent. A network or a group of persons to whom and with whom you can yourself be. You can be authentic because there is a there is a relief in that right. It's like, Dr. Dubois said, all those many years ago, especially about being African-American and, you know, working in the in the broader White controlled world, which is that one ever feels is Tunis. When you're trying to push back or you're trying to push through policies that have been in place long before you, and many of which, even if they only exist as norms will be and perhaps will be in place after you that will wear you out and you will get the desire to retreat from the fight. Right. And I just I just want to go to work and be OK. I get that. That happens. So, you know, you take your strategic breaks and then, man, you got to get you got to get back in the ring, so to speak, because somebody somebody got in the ring for all of us, somebody got in the ring for me to and stayed in the ring for me to be able to operate in the way that I do in the academy to have a place it somewhere like the University of Illinois. There had been of time, which I wouldn't have been welcome here. There would've been a time which you wouldn't have been welcomed here unless unless we were sweeping and maybe not even then. So, you know, that's what we have to do until there is a time which we have to do it no more. Hmm.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:28:42] Yeah. And I'm not good at sweeping, I'm so bad at it, so I think that's just a really good point. You know, in terms of someone opened the door for us, you know, our made the way so that we can be present and staying encouraged, leaning on each other to support each other and keeping the door open and making it, you know, nonexistent for the next group of people that come through. Why do you think learning about the history of advertising specifically around race and ethnicity at the college level before you get into the workplace is important?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:29:20] Oh, that's an excellent question, because I think if if we can establish that such a thing happened then or a variety of things happen, whether it's connected to race or ethnicity, racism, what have you, then when you get out there and you get told these things and when you're in your workaday world just trying to get the job done, I need to get I need to get home myself. Type of environment, then it's not such a surprise. It's not such an uphill struggle for a person to come to understand the impact of racism or a person to understand the value of African-American media, or a person to understand the importance of multiple representations, the importance of people, the importance to people to see themselves respectfully represented. It's it's not. It's not such a heavy weight to try to grapple with because instead of being new to you, it ticks something in your mind that you're like, Wait a minute, I have heard that before and that that that does make sense. It resonates with you in a in a in a way that something that's absolutely new and is asking you to change the way that you're actually doing business. It resonates with you in a different way and allows, I think, people to make change or to at least to accept change or not stand in the way of change, to accept it and in a much more nimble fashion versus something that you've heard for the first time or something that's completely new to you or some group that you'd never been told and you needed to account for or even considered before in a particular product category category, you're being told no, that's that's actually not the case. And so setting that intellectual foundation for people when they don't have necessarily money or time on the line, right, the money up their, you know, their job on the line or the time of doing something extra or doing something new. That, I think is is the value of providing that the people when they have when they're in that point, they're at that point in their life, when hopefully they're, you know, they have the opportunity to, you know, really intellectually grapple with new ideas that college is at least supposed to be for in part.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:31:24] What have you seen from incoming students that feels new or feels inspiring or helps you to understand, like, Hey, the industry is changing.

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:31:39] I think the biggest thing, Dani, is, you know, if I had to point to a single thing, it would be their acceptance of diversity has changed in the 20 years that I've been here. I started in Illinois in 2001 and the sense of diversity or cross fertilization of ideals that is really broken down is not to say that people don't still group themselves based upon race and based upon ethnicity and other factors, gender identity and the like. It's not to say that that isn't there, but the acceptance of Hey, people want to see representation. It's important to show people of different groups. It's important to show people of different faiths and ethnicities and sexual orientations. The the questioning of that has decreased significantly in the 20 years that I've been here. You know, in a classroom, it doesn't feel like such an it's it's not even doesn't feel it's not such an uphill struggle as it once was to convince people that, hey, there is a value in diversity. It's becoming and it has become more of an accepted part of it and an ideal. So if you if you'll allow kind of an example instead of maybe 15 years ago, a student coming in and I'm trying to talk to them about diversity and diverse representation in media and advertising, and then perhaps having an intellectual attitude of, well, you have to convince me of that now. It's more of a. Well, of course there is. Mm-Hmm. You know, of course, there's a value of courses and importance of representation because, you know, they're they've at least seen more of it. Right. So they don't, you know, they don't look at their, you know, televisions or video screens anymore and only expect to see White people. Right. But it's important for them to understand to me how we got there and what what is preceded where we are. Because without that, there's always the potential for backsliding. Right. So it's important for me to talk to them about the time you know that I was laying. I was laying on my couch, just watching TV on an afternoon in an afternoon and a Lexus commercial came on a commercial for Lexus cars and the couple driving the car was it was a Black man and a Black woman, and I fell off my couch because up to that point and this is only, you know, 20, 25 years ago, up to that point, we had never seen it. You know, they didn't. They didn't use Black people to advertise luxury automobiles. Right? And so then we then we can get into the why and we can and can get into the how we got there and we can get into why that was such an astounding moment just for a person, you know, not even really that much of a scholar at that time. Or at least I wasn't watching TV with scholarly intent, but it was so surprising to me. So what if we can talk about those things and they can understand the moments that preceded the ones that in which we currently exist. Then it's also important for them to see and understand that, hey, you know, again, time is linear, but people aren't. So there's always the potential for us to backslide into prior things that were easy, more comfortable. Maybe we feel make more money, whatever the case may be.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:34:50] I love it. I love it. Yeah, I am. As you can say, I'm a I'm a fan. I'm a fan of knowing where you come from so that you can know where you're going, and also just so that you can see different perspectives. And I love that you shared that shift. Right. It seems like, hey, the work isn't as hard to convince people of the need of diversity right now or the value within a classroom.

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:35:19] Yeah. And so I think that's well said. And the thing is, if I can give if we can talk about it and encounter it in the classroom, then when you're out there as a decision maker, when you're out there as a person who has power, when you're out there, even as a junior account representative or whatever, a junior client representative and you have to choose an agency or recommend one or, you know, you're in a hiring capacity, you know, then ideally you carry that, you know, that you carry that with you when you do have some measure of power, influence, control, what have you. That you, you know, you can make your make, you know, help help to foster change in your own, you know, your own corner of the universe, if you will.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:35:56] How do you balance the workload as a professor? The dedication to, you know, being present and publishing articles, things like that and family life and things of that nature like how do you, you know, round it all out?

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:36:14] I think the thing for me over the years, I have learned to compartmentalize and pick a time to turn things off, right? You know, to turn things mentally off, you know, pick pick things that allow me just to, you know, separate out the, you know, the scholarship part or the, you know, the work in the intentional, the story, the storytelling, your fact finding part of me, you know, to just separate that out and not to do it all the time that at some point and in some places, you know, you can't stay immersed in it all the time, you know, or or it will eat you up. Right? It really it really will. And again, to, you know, to find the area where I think my skills are most optimally used and to operate in that area to try to foster and drive change rather than try to operate in every single possible area of the universe. Right. Well, I've got I've got to try to change this and I've got to try to change that and that and that that'll wear you out. And so you can't do all things, you know, all things equally well. And so, you know, I've chosen to, you know, figure out the things that are most important to me, family first and then do those things, you know, the both the the majority of energy to those things and then, you know, divided accordingly, you know, to the other things that are that are important to me as well. Right. But you know, when you when you're younger, you think I have to try to be involved in every potential issue and you just you just can't do that, but you can, but you'll just wear yourself out and find yourself in hospital.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:37:46] I think that's very well said because the amount of issues and the complexity of just managing an issue. Can take so much out of you as a person, right? So sometimes you feel like all right. And I definitely agree it is a is the graduating I mean, I'm late 30s now. I'm thirty eight. I just turned 38. So the me 38 versus the me at 21. Trying to understand like, how do you impact the world? How do you create change? How do you stand up for your community and maybe thinking like, OK, I can do it all. I can do, I can be on the front lines and I can tackle, you know, education and oh my goodness, we need to do something about real estate. And we, you know, there are a lot there are a lot of issues here. And I think when we think about systemic racism and the impact of systemic racism, we have to, you know, again, go back to the importance of community. And that's why we tap each other so well. You know, one person may be leading the charge from a real estate equity standpoint. You know, we can stand in this lane and lead the charge in diversity, equity, inclusion from education through time in the workplace, on the advertising side of things. And hopefully, we're in working together. We create a better society, you know, because you can't do it all by yourself.

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:39:20] Yeah. No, no, no, absolutely. I think that's very well said. And it's like, OK, some, some sometimes it becomes, you know, how how can I combine an area that I'm, you know, maybe there's a way to combine an area that I'm interested in, you know, with, you know, with my own work. You know, you mentioned real estate a moment ago and I was reading the couple, you know the story and there's been more than one. So you know, the story of the Black couple who had White friends show their house and purport to be owners of their house and the, you know, the valuation of increased by a half million dollars? Right? And so it's it's it becomes, you know, you you want to tackle the financial inequities of things, right? You want it. You want to tackle the, you know, the role of home home ownership and fostering wealth in fostering the ability to build wealth. What have you and stuff like? You know, I as as a historian, you know, well, I want I want to dig into that. I went to that story, to be honest. It's not anything. It's like, Well, that's not really where where I'm at. And so, you know, are there ways to combine that interest with, you know, with advertising and with the way that we show home- with even the depiction that even the depiction of home owners? Right. So, you know, you look for ways to try to tie your interests together, your passions together, I think with your work has been one of the things that I've striven to do. But then at the same time, also find ways in places where it's like, You know what? I'm I'm turning it off, right? And I'm just going to I'm just going to vegge out. And sometimes I just I just think about, you know, a picture that that I keep of Dr. King. And he was shooting pool. And it's like, you know what, even there was even points where Dr. King turned it off and said, Nope, nope. Or at least for these 60 Minutes or whatever. I'm just I'm just thinking about pool.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:41:10] I love it, I think that's a perfect way to end, you know, revolutionary civil rights activists or not. Sometimes you have to turn it off and just shoot pool. Yeah, that's it. These are the type of conversations, just real, authentic conversations that help us learn together and grow together. So thank you for sharing.

Dr. Jason Chambers [00:41:30] You are quite welcome. I enjoyed the conversation as well.

Dani Jackson Smith [00:41:34] And that's a wrap for this episode. Many thanks to you for watching with us. And until next time, keep it authentic all day. Every day. Shout out to our team behind the scenes Faith McIver, Emma Marie MacAfee, Trisch Smith, Denise Busch, Sarah Neil, Pamela Blandon, Emma Dowling, Ryan VandenBosch. Authentic 365 is brought to you by global communications firm Edelman.

About the Speakers

Dr. Jason Chambers, Associate Professor and the Associate Department Head in the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign —

Jason P. Chambers is an associate professor and the Associate Department Head in the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently teaches courses on advertising history, classic advertising campaigns, and the foundations of advertising philosophy. He is also the incoming Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the College of Media at the University.

A graduate of The Ohio State University, Dr. Chambers has presented his research into the African American consumer market both nationally and internationally. His work has been published in books and both academic and trade journals in the United States, Asia, and Europe. He has been invited to speak to gatherings of practitioners and academics throughout the United States, Canada, and Asia. He has also appeared on The History Channel discussing advertising history and his opinions have been sought by a variety of media sources including Advertising Age, Adweek, CNN, Forbes, Black Enterprise, the New York Times, National Public Radio and Newsweek, and the Washington Post. He has served as the head of the Advertising Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC), one of the largest bodies of advertising educators in the United States. Dr. Chambers has also served as a consultant on advertising history programs appearing on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In addition, he has consulted with national non-profit organizations, Fortune 100 companies as well as advertising agencies on matters of African American history, diversity, stereotyping and various consumer issues.

The University of Pennsylvania Press published his first book, Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry. It was called “A major contribution to the history of advertising, consumption, and African American history,” by historian Lizabeth Cohen of Harvard University. His second book, co-edited with Dr. Robert Weems, Jr., Building the Black Metropolis: African American Entrepreneurship in Chicago was published with the University of Illinois Press in 2017. Historian Quincy T. Mills of Vassar College described it as “A major contribution on the black metropolis as a black business movement, a black public sphere, and visions of freedom in the city.”

Dr. Chambers recently completed a biography of advertising legend Thomas J. Burrell currently titled, An Advertising Revolutionary: The Life and Work of Tom Burrell. This book is currently under contract with the University of Illinois Press.

Dani Jackson, VP, Influencer and Multicultural Marketing, Chicago —

Made in Chicago and matured in New York City, Dani Jackson is a multi-faceted cultural enthusiast and storyteller that is obsessed with curating spaces that build community. As a VP of Influence, Dani takes a people first approach to developing strategies and partnerships that connect brands with the core values of the communities that they seek to serve. With over a decade in the industry, she harnesses her experience in production, multicultural marketing and DE&I to provide clients with top-notch counsel.

Dani has been recognized for her leadership, winning the ADCOLOR 2021 Rockstar Award and the Chicago Ad Federation Rising Star Award. Outside of the office Dani is a filmmaker and works with diverse artists committed to making a difference in society through her endeavor, The Cre8tors.