In my post yesterday about the new Amtrak ads, I mentioned that it was good to see same-sex parents of color in the media. In discussing the ads with a friend and educator who is Black and a lesbian, however, I came to realize my White perspective was only giving me part of the story.
When I showed the ad with the women and girl to my friend, she did not initially perceive it as depicting two lesbian moms and their child. Her take was that the image does not make it clear that the two women are in a relationship with each other, and inadvertently reflects the stereotype of a Black household that does not have a father present. The women could easily be read as a mother and aunt or mother and grandmother. (The woman in green seems to have a slight fading of the hair around her temples, and her hands somehow seem like those of an older woman.)
My friend pointed out that in the ad with the dads, the men are looking at each other, and one has his hand on the other’s shoulder. They are clearly a couple. The women, in contrast, are looking at the girl, and not touching each other.
Yes, the URL and logos indicate this is an LGBT-focused ad—but they are at the bottom, and could still cause perplexity such as “Why are that mom and aunt in an ad about LGBT travel?”
I admit that while I am aware of the “fatherless Black household” stereotype, I failed to see it at work here until my friend mentioned it. She of course does not speak for all Black people, just as I do not speak for all White people—but our exchange reminds me that there are always viewpoints and experiences that differ from our own, and layers of race, culture, geography, class, and more through which we each view our world.
It is good to see advertisers treating the LGBT community as a serious market, and as more than just the White, urban, young gay men who were the focus of early LGBT advertising efforts. But as advertisers expand their scope, they would be wise to keep in mind that the different facets of our community may reflect different perspectives of the same image.