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.

Reveal, Empower, Propel: Design Education for a Tenacious Community

Herb Vincent Peterson
Associate Professor of Design: Coordinator of Graphic Design
Co-Founder of Marion Design Co.
Division of Art + Design
Indiana Wesleyan University

Wendy Puffer
Assistant Professor: Coordinator of Design for Social Impact
Co-Founder of Marion Design Co.
Division of Art + Design
Indiana Wesleyan University

No larger than 30,000 people and deeply bruised by a downtrodden economy rooted in racial tensions, the rustbelt town of Marion, Indiana begs to become triumphant once again. A community previously slated to become the thriving metropolis of the Mid-West, now promotes a residue of the past with blighted storefronts, broken homes, and vast and vacant warehouses. Here lies the real crossroads of America. Never before has there been such a need to see Design as a mechanism to reveal a true identity within a community and empower its people to propel forward into a new chapter of vibrant life.

How can design empower radical change? How can students learning design employ empathy to develop relational design practices and drive trust in a community plagued by deep trauma? What is the responsibility of University design programs connected to rust-belt and blighted American towns?

This is the story about a social design studio and the subsequent movements that change how we consider community activism and design education. The studio of faculty and undergraduates face wicked problems head on while gaining experience conducting ethnographic research with community members. The environment of unbridled growth of ideas, reflective of the academic model of the middle ages, encourages individuality and freedom of thought. Through an immersive experience where students learn to become design leaders, the social design studio of Marion Design Co. utilizes design thinking strategies engaging community toward authentic relationships, bringing much needed hope and innovation.