Dr. Tommy Whittler: How marketing and media can save Black boys from Genocide
Dr. Tommy Whittler: How marketing and media can save Black boys from Genocid
By Dr. Tommy Whittler
It was May 1995 (not really sure of the year). I was teaching during the 4-week summer session at the University of Kentucky. One morning, a young, white sorority student came to class with a very sad expression on her face. As she sat down, she lit a candle in class. I asked her what was wrong. Tearfully, she told me and the class that Tupac Shakur had been killed. Her entire sorority was holding an all day vigil in his honor.
I am sure that, in my face, she saw my disbelief in her despair for the death of a black rapper. She went on to say that she loved Tupac and his music and his messages. Naively, I always thought that he was a thug and a menace to society.
That image was reinforced when I learned that he had been killed in a stupid dispute involving East versus West Coast Rappers. Say what?
These talented, young men are turning money hands over fist and they start “cappin’” one another over a geographical rivalry? Okay, I could almost see if they battled over women and money, but this dispute involved “street cred” or reputation. Very sadly, this battle took two leading members from each side – Tupac Shakur and Biggy Smalls.
I am not a listener to rap music. I am 57 years old. The only rap music I had was by Das Effects, “They want effects, some live effects.” That was the song I played during my 40s on the way to the health club for competitive basketball games. This song put me in my battle mood; it was the my “war song.” Other than that, rap did nothing for me.
But this morning while listening to The Steve Harvey Morning Show, Tupac’s “So many tears,” was playing. I found myself bouncing and nodding my head in the mirror. Nice beat. Meaningful lyrics. Steve commented that this song was real nice … I got on iTunes and downloaded this song onto my iPod.
And then a thought hit me. The city in which I live, Chicago, has a serious problem with shootings. Young, innocent children are being shot during daylight and early evening hours in random acts. No one has a solution, not even the mayor, Rahm Emmanuel.
In my consumer behavior course, we were talking about the organization of memory, how our minds consist of a network of associations. Thoughts, meanings, and feelings are carefully organized by our brain. These associations are not random. If one thought is triggered and it is connected to other thoughts, then a chain-reaction or a snowball effect occurs. The key is to make salient a key thought that will trigger other thoughts.
I asked my students if television advertising could step in with its expertise and “speak” to gang-bangers who take innocent lives. They were doubtful. The gang-bangers would most likely not watch television, they said. One student said that this group would ignore any such messages because the reason for the random killings was to get initiated into the gang. That was news to me.
But I told my students of a Nike campaign years ago directed toward young girls. The campaign was titled, “If you let us play …” It showed several grade school and high school girls playing basketball, volleyball, softball, and running track. Several little girl say that by letting them play, they will graduate from high school, they will go to college, they will get degrees, they will make something of themselves. I was always moved by this commercial as I believed it gave young girls hope. As I read statistics on how the teenage pregnancy rate in America has declined, I cannot help but think that this commercial tapped inspirational thoughts in these young girls.
Similarly, the NBA ran a commercial to stop teenage violence. In an advertisement with Alonzo Mourning appearing as a high school student, a group of guys bump into him. Rather than respond to the instigation, Alonzo shakes his head and continues to his class. Why couldn’t a commercial featuring a burial of a young student be advertised on television? Why couldn’t an imprisoned young man be shown sitting in a cell alone? Why couldn’t Tupac’s, “So Many Tears” be played in the background? I have only listened to this song a couple of times, but Tupac mentions tears at a funeral of one of his homeys killed by a bullet. Surely, such a song could tap into the minds of these wayward men and get them to reflect on their murderous ways. As it stands now, they are not thinking. They are simply “caught in the moment.”
Tupac was killed in the same way that these men are killing others. One would hope that his song “from the grave” would be heard.