GapKids has just illustrated the problem with companies embracing diversity simply for diversity’s sake.
The clothing brand recently released a new ad campaign featuring Le Petit Cirque, “the only all-kid humanitarian kid circus,” comprised of four young girls, Ava and Lucy, both 8, and 12 year olds Fanny and Angelina. I’ll be honest, when I first saw the promo image above I was inclined to chalk the brewing backlash the campaign was receiving to knee-jerk outrage. While I did question why Lucy, the young black girl, had such an apathetic disposition, because Fanny, the pre-teen using her as an armrest, wasn’t demonstrating her athleticism in the ad either, I naively assumed there was a method to the mayhem. I was wrong.
Lucy’s faint existence in this campaign is only exacerbated by the accompanying 1-minute commercial featuring Ellen DeGeneres interviewing the dance troupe. To put it bluntly, save for a scene in the opening sequence in which she’s shown balanced on Fanny’s legs, Lucy serves no purpose in the ad. Not once does Lucy speak and her lack of engagement — or inclusion — in the conversation is so awkward it really becomes the focal point of the ad, prompting commenters on YouTube to remark:
Soooooo she is to be seen but not heard.
The little black girl doesn’t speak. She’s not spoken to at all and she is not given the spotlight like the others. In the print ad her head is an arm rest. FAIL.
Good message. But what does the girl in pink do…she literally had no interaction/lines in the clip… it was quite glaring.
This video is an excellent representation of the difference between Diversity vs Inclusion
Bingo. Now I won’t go so far as to accuse Gap of not allowing Lucy to speak in this ad but I will fault them for not noting that she doesn’t and realizing that is a problem. It’s not enough to say, “There, we’ve got a black girl in our campaign, we’re diverse. Yay us!” Lucy should have been included in the commercial, not merely shown on camera, much less used to prop up a white girl’s arm.
I’m not surprised the nuance of that positioning was lost on Gap and it’s marketing team, but rest assured no black woman looking at this ad has missed what that imagery represents. Drawing parallels between this ad and the featured image of a 2014 profile on Garage magazine editor-in-chief Dasha Zhukova that appeared in Buro 247 which showed her sitting in a mannequin chair in the form of a half-naked black woman, Kirstin West Savali wrote on The Root:
“It could be argued that these images are vastly different, but the intense feelings they both evoke are not—the feeling that our black bodies are undervalued and positioned to serve as props upon which white bodies can be better appreciated and admired. If anything, the Gap ad shows how early that positioning begins.”
In the ad’s commercial, the three white girls comment how their dance group empowers not only young girls but everyone, yet I don’t know how a young black girl could feel empowered looking at this ad. In fact, I imagine if I had a daughter she’d ask me, “why does the black girl look so sad?” or “Why isn’t the black girl talking?” I wondered myself on first glance, why is the little black girl positioned in a way that’s semi-attitudinal? No matter what emotion her Lucy’s presence invokes, what’s constant is the observation that her representation is not like that of the other girls and because of that we have to ask why.
Sure, we don’t know what happened on set and what mood Lucy may have been in when the cameras began rolling. Maybe she’s camera-shy, maybe she didn’t like what she was wearing, maybe she wanted to do acrobatics in the commercial like her counterparts. No matter what took place behind the scenes, the fact that Gap didn’t see a problem with Lucy’s invisibility in the finished product is a problem, and it’s one that goes far deeper than Gap, Inc. We all have a responsibility, as this tweeter pointed out, to let GapKids know they don’t have a diversity problem, they have an inclusion problem, and we won’t stand for our black girls being used as props for white girls in any capacity. Don’t include us at all if this will be the end result.
— Rachael Perrotta (@plussone) April 2, 2016