Lizzo vs The Mean Fat Shamers – A Business Lesson on Marketing Brand and Racial Stereotypes

Recently, you probably saw various news reports and video clips where the talented, award winning musical artist Lizzo was brought to tears regarding some comments referring to her as “mammy” and other derogatory fat shaming terms. Before I continue, I wanna be sure the sensitive YouTube algorithms don’t hit me up for discussing this topic given that certain social media platforms are taking down fat shaming posts and videos. I have absolutely no interest in fat shaming or criticizing Lizzo in any way.

Instead, I am more interested in the bigger business and socioeconomic aspects of image and branding as it relates to negative racial stereotypes that affect us when we apply for jobs, present business proposals, buy a home in a well to do neighborhood, and so on. When I personally make a business pitch to companies, so that they use my cloud computing services, I have to put in that work to overcome these stereotypes. Is that fair to me? Nope, but life is unfair, so unfortunately, it’s just a cost of doing business for our people until we conquer this collective branding problem.

So exactly what factors led Lizzo to cry about being called a Mammy? Many of us old enough to remember recall a painful chapter in American history when our people were stereotyped in the worst, dehumanizing way. I won’t say the entire list of stereotypes we’ve been subjected to back then, but three of them I think are safe to say are Sambo, Buck breaking and Mammy. And most of us remember the dreaded black face era in the entertainment industry back in the day.

But what makes these painful? And did such stereotypes affect how we got educated, got paid, acquired assets, and start businesses? Quite frankly, yes.

We couldn’t go to certain public swimming pools, theaters, restaurants, hotels and other public accommodations during the ugly Jim Crow era of racism. When our ancestors sought certain high paying jobs, they were pushed away from them, not simply because of the color of their skin, but the image of that skin color that was wickedly and deliberately branded into the minds of non Blacks in America.

Why did I use the term “branded?” The concept behind branding and marketing in general is very important, something that too many of us misunderstand, particularly influential artists, actors and pro athletes in the entertainment and sports industry.

To give you an example, some of our entrepreneurs are club and party promoters. When they organize an event, they use slick, well designed JPEG flyers to market them to a certain demographic of our people. What image do you usually see with such flyers? Do they use the image of old people in nursing homes on life support? Of course not. But why?

Because club events are usually associated with younger, attractive people, especially beautiful women. In other words, the brand of parties and club events is tied to fun times, sexiness, age and beauty, which is also the demographic the promoters are targeting. If they use old people in nursing homes as their image, no one would show up to their event because, whether it’s fair or not, the demographic of people who go to parties discriminates against the elderly in this context.

Likewise, when it comes to the institution of racism, our people are faced with a pervasive, pernicious and very dark image problem that we can’t afford to overlook. We have to address this collectively, especially as our economy is about to hit an unexpected brick wall in the months ahead, that adversely impact us more than any other group.

Going back to Lizzo, she’s a young artist who probably hasn’t had the chance to see beyond the immediate Mammy controversy that brought her to tears. The Mammy stereotype decades ago was that Black women were only good for being big, overweight maids, cooks and nannies for white children. This negative brand was imposed on our women from a certain tribe of white men who temporarily run this western world system. That’s right, I said temporary because throughout history, no world ruling system lasted forever.

By imposing this negative stereotype—this “Mammy” brand on sistas, as well as the lazy Sambo brand on brothas—they sought to keep us in the lower rungs of society, trapped in an economic prison of low incomes and low net worth. One bright spot in our history that was temporarily successful was the Black Wall Street era, aka Negro Wall Street, in various cities around the country. That’s when segregation actually benefitted us, as we focused on building cities within cities, a strategy that has actually worked for other oppressed people throughout history. The Jewish community in particular benefited from this strategy, as have Italian and Irish immigrants in the late 1800s, just as the Industrial Revolution transformed America and the world. In some of my videos, I bring up ways we can resurrect that golden era using the current digital cloud computing revolution. Check those videos out.

Sadly, though Lizzo was tearful about the Mammy comments, she and other artists who target our community and culture have inadvertently brought back this negative stereotype by repeatedly doing certain twerk dances and overly sexual gestures and content that are exactly the same things that white supremacists promoted back in the Jim Crow KKK era. In fact, it’s even worse today. I’m not just talking about songs and music videos for that WAP song that we’ve seen from Meg and Cardi B, but also similar content from black male artists like Lil Nas X and other rappers. Whether they meant to do this or not, they are marketing a very ugly, negative brand that associates our skin color with the very worst, degrading images that sticks in the minds of the public.

Our community can’t afford any more negative branding as it is. When we go to apply for a job, don’t think for a second that non Black interviewers don’t subconsciously bring up negative thoughts when they see our skin color. When we do a PowerPoint presentation to potential investors, we have to overcome that negative brand that Black celebrities keep reinforcing. The same thing happens when we apply for a bank loan: we have to overcome the still problematic credit redlining in part because loan officers and underwriters subconsciously bring up the negative brand associated with our skin color.

Folks, image is everything. And conversely, signs and symbols rule this world, which is why you see certain hand gestures and symbols in a lot of music videos, movies and even corporate logos and trademarks. Once we understand these important marketing concepts, then we can stop playing into ancient negative stereotypes like Mammy, Sambo and Buck breaking. Twerking at the distinguished TEDTalks did indeed play into the Mammy stereotype and we have to stop that. It’s one thing to do certain dances in the right context, but TEDTalks appeals to intellectuals and business leaders, the very people we Black business people will likely negotiate contracts with.

To elevate ourselves from being a permanent economic underclass in society, part of what we have to do is reverse the negative branding of these painful stereotypes, and push back against the entertainment industry, which is not run by our people, nor can we easily become executives, as Byron Allen and Bill Cosby’s attempts have shown.

They need us to be stigmatized by their negative stereotypes, so that they keep robbing us of our net worth while we struggle. We all know that Hollywood exports negative stereotypes of us to the world, so that when immigrants come here, they automatically assume the worst things about us while they also set up shop in our neighborhoods. In upcoming videos, I will continue to hammer home the need for us to promote a positive Black America brand to overcome the damage done by the entertainment industry. Until the next video, warriors, war and peace.

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