Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Are Goofy Ideas Racist?


Back in the previous century, New York’s Catskill resort area was affectionately known as the Borsht Belt.  Per Wikipedia:

“Borscht Belt, or Jewish Alps, is a colloquial term for the mostly defunct summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains that were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews from the 1920s up to the 1970s.  The name comes from borscht, a beet-based soup that was brought by Jewish immigrants to the United States” United States.”

If you’ve seen Dirty Dancing, you’ve seen the Borscht Belt. 


It would entirely understandable if one of the resort owners were to have said to his colleagues, “You know, we’re doing OK with the Jewish market, but how about the other 90% of New Yorkers?  What’s keeping them away?  Do you think we have to change the food or the entertainment?”

A businessman in Atlanta recently had this sort of conversation with his staff.  He wondered out loud why he wasn’t attracting a representative share of white consumers to his enterprise.  He speculated that the user experience might be appealing to this market segment.  Obviously, if his operation is not a attracting a desired consumer segment, there must be one or more reasons.

For musing out loud as to what those reasons might be, Bruce Levinson is deemed to no longer worthy of owing or operating his business, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.

In nearly 40 years (yikes!) of advertising and marketing, I’ve been in countless meetings where we have questioned why a particular brand was not getting its share of male consumers or female consumers, or young people or other various and sundry consumer segments.  It’s what happens in a business.

We like to say that, when searching for a solution, “there are no bad ideas”.  Let’s get everything out on the table and then test it with data, logic and research.

This Atlanta businessman’s diagnosis may be right or it may be wrong.  The best way to kill a bad idea is to air it.  Expose it to debate and see if it stands the test of reason and critical analysis.  Chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley, Jr., was famous for saying, “When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”   Successful management demands that all ideas be heard, weighed and judged.  If bad ideas make it out of the boardroom and into the marketplace, the consumer will be final judge.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar agrees.  In an opinion piece in Time he expresses plain common sense:  “I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats.

And you never know, an idea that others think is “bad” may be hit a la Airbnb.

Back in the ‘70’s a raucous sit-com, All InThe Family, rocketed to the top of the ratings.  American viewers were sometimes shocked and mostly amused by the lead character’s relentless tirades of ethnic stereotypes.  In the end, Archie unveiled the elephant in the room and Americans confronted their stupid prejudices.

But if you really think any of the outrage about Levinson or two-time NAACP Award Winner, Donald Sterling is about racism, you are sadly mistaken.  It’s about thought control, about political correctness gone wild.  It’s about making people afraid to be themselves and speak their minds in private, even to the business colleagues or lovers.  Nothing is safe.  The PC Police are listening.

Meanwhile, in a not unrelated story, Harry Reid and the Democrat Party are trying to push through SJR 19, a bill that would allow Congress to selectively control political speech.  It’s nothing new, Lincoln did it in the War Between the States, and Federalists jailed dissenters using the Sedition Bill over 200 years ago. 

The people in control simply cannot tolerate free thinking and will stop at nothing to quash it.

As they would say back in the Catskills, “Oy gevalt!” 



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