African Americans in Advertising: Images, Stereotypes, and Symbolism

Dissecting social, cultural and historical meanings in images is to explore the dynamics of social power and ideology that produced them.

Omari Souza
Assistant Professor
Texas State University

Through advertising, designers play a vital role in crafting a product’s identity. These identities construct cultural “myths” and morality of products, teams, political affiliations, and their respective consumers. A brand is a visual signifier of a lifestyle that imbues the consumer’s social status with the economic and social value of the products they use.  While this may have positive economic implications, the consumer’s subscription to various brand narratives can encourage tribalism in addition to negatively impact the understanding of others.

For example, the characteristics and symbols that have historically been used to represent blacks in advertising have forged permanent images of African Americans into the American psyche. These characteristics have exceeded the conventional boundaries of symbols and evolved into an icon. These icons have had detrimental impacts on African Americans who reside in western society. 

The work of dissecting social, cultural and historical meanings in images is to explore the dynamics of social power and ideology that produced them. This research examines the manifestation of widely shared social assumptions of African Americans in Advertisements of the Jim Crow South. The 1940s psychological experiment Doll Test will be used to contextualize the impact of these images and will conclude by drawing parallels between racist ads of the past and current Ads that echo similar motifs.