This commercial aired the other day during the Thanksgiving parade. It’s from the investment bank JP Morgan Chase.
Let’s watch together:
Nice, isn’t it? All Mom and Apple Pie.
When it finished, I turned to my husband. His immediate reaction? “I’m not sure that commercial had enough white people in it.”
I followed with, “Was there a single person of color in that ad?”
After watching it again, it turns out there was: there was an African-American family near the beginning, and there seems to be an Arab-American serving coffee at one point.
Actually, it’s a really nice ad. So why did it feel so disingenuous? Why did we both think “Oh, puh-leeze” half-way through it, even before we saw the ad sponsor? Are we just that jaded?
Let’s listen to the messages again:
- This is America, where everyone gets an equal shot at success
- If you work hard enough, you can have a good life here
- Freedom is what happens when people work hard and have an equal shot
- Everyone here has a loving supportive family. It’s called America.
We all grew up with this. If you read this blog, I’ll bet, by the time you were six years old, you could have held each of those statements to be self-evident.
And that’s the problem. If you are reading this, you were probably well-fed and well-parented as a child, you got a good education in a public school, you had all your vaccinations and went to the doctor every year, you went to libraries, and museums, and the zoo. You were told by teachers and parents that you could be anything you wanted to be. This is all good stuff. Life wasn’t handed to you on a silver platter, by any means – and there were doubtless periods of financial struggle for most of us -- but you didn’t feel like you were walking through life with one leg hobbled, either. These messages make perfect sense to you. I know they used to make perfect sense to me.
So it’s unthinkable that this wouldn’t be the case for everyone, right?
Let’s look one more time:
This is America, where everyone gets an equal shot at success. That is, unless you are unlucky enough to be born in an urban minority neighborhood. Because if that’s the case, you probably aren’t getting nutritious food every day, because there are no grocery stores nearby. But there are lots of fast-food places, and corner stores that sell pre-packaged white flour and sugar bombs, and beer and lottery tickets and cigarettes. And there are schools, but nobody wants to work in those schools, because the city has given up on the neighborhood and they are under funded and the buildings are in disrepair. And your parents (or grandparents) are on government assistance. And they don’t have jobs, not because they don't want jobs, but because there aren’t any jobs nearby and there isn’t reliable public transport to get them to work at other jobs away from your neighborhood. And nobody has a car. Except folks who make their living preying on others. And your parents can’t afford to get a job anyway, because if they get jobs they have to pay for day care, and day care will eat up so much of their paychecks that they live better on government assistance. And because none of the adults you know has a job, there isn’t anyone modeling “work hard and you’ll succeed”, for you. Still feel like there’s an equal shot there?
If you work hard enough, you can have a good life here. That is, so long as you have a college degree and you have a skill set that others want. And so long as your paycheck isn’t provided by any sort of public works. Because if you are a cashier, or a garbage collector, or a day care provider…or a teacher…or a fire fighter…or a social worker… you can work 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, and still not make ends meet, let alone afford more education or to try to take a risk and move up. Because many CEOs makes hundreds of times what the average wage worker makes (and that CEO sure doesn't want his tax dollars going to educate a bunch of "urban" kids). The CEO of Hostess Brands makes enough money, by himself, to pay for 700 bakers. That’s a lot of Twinkies. It might be enough to pay healthcare for the entire payroll. Go ahead, work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at minimum wage. Let’s see if you can afford an apartment and food and healthcare and utilities for you and your children. Because it’s not about equity. If you aren’t getting ahead, you’re just not working hard enough. Work harder.
Freedom is what happens when people work hard and have an equal shot. And for those who are in a position to be rewarded for hard work, and who had an equal shot to begin with, there is a lot of freedom to be had here. Freedom to enjoy good health. Freedom to pursue education and to make a bigger impact on the world. Freedom to help make others more free.
But it's freedom to hold others back, too.
If you aren’t in those lucky groups, it doesn’t feel very free. It feels like a trap.
And America doesn’t feel much like family. Unless your family includes one really rich relative who makes 400 times what the rest of you make and tells you that it's your own fault that you're poor.
JP Morgan Chase, if you REALLY believe what you're saying, then use that considerable income of yours to help make this country what you claim it is. Spread the message that America NEEDS to be the America of your commercials. Invest in programs that help schools and communities. Encourage the companies you invest in to pay a living wage to everyone, and maybe only pay your CEOs 50 or 100 times what they make.
It'll make the world better. And it'll be good for your business, too. You just watch and see.