I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, “that doesn’t look right…”.
I was around 8 years old and had excitedly slipped on the Superman costume that my mom – after excessive begging – finally bought for me for Halloween. But after rushing to the mirror, it took me about 2 seconds to realize that I actually looked nothing like Superman. It wasn’t just the lack of muscle (come on, I was 8) but I remember concentrating on my face, my eyes, my hair – everything looked different. I was almost in shock. And believe it or not, that was the first time I truly realized that I wasn’t white. It took a couple more seconds, but I shook it off, and I told myself that although it’s not ideal, I still love Superman, so this is good enough.
However, that “good enough” feeling didn’t last beyond that Halloween. From then on, my mom always believed that I was obsessed with ninjas because I was always a ninja for Halloween, but the truth is, I didn’t get tired of Superman, or Batman, or all the superheroes I watched on TV, I was merely disappointed that I could never live up to what I saw. Ninjas, on the other hand, often looked like me – it was the comfortable choice.
Fast forward to today; this past year has been challenging for the world, and life-changing for many, myself included. I recently added the title of “father” as a way to describe myself, and pair that with the COVID pandemic and the death of George Floyd, it’s truly given me pause and made me reflect on my past, as well as the future we’re creating for our children.
A bit on my past; in my early 20s, I spent the better part of a decade volunteering at Schema Magazine, where I found like-minded folk that, among other things, wanted to see more of – as well as a change in how – POC were portrayed on screen and on stage. It’s founder, Alden Habacon, a highly respected Diversity and Inclusion Expert and one of our trusted advisors at AndHumanity, taught us about concepts like interculturalism and intersectionality, but more importantly, instilled in us the belief that people that looked like us belonged in the spotlight. And it was during my early years working at Schema Magazine that I chased that belief; I started a sketch comedy group called “Asians Bleed Red” (it had an all Asian cast), all the while directing and producing several short films that were created by and starred Asians. I was doing everything I could to reconcile my childhood disappointment, in hopes that audiences would realize that people that look like me belong on screen and on stage.
However, it’s sad to say, but at this very moment, “Asians Bleed Red” no longer exists, and I haven’t directed or produced a short film in over a decade. What happened? Well, the arts at that level didn’t pay well (or anything at all), so I pivoted toward a profession that could combine my passion for the arts, whilst also paying the bills – I started a marketing agency with my sister.
I’ve run My Loud Speaker Marketing (MLS) with my sister, Tammy, now for over a decade. We’ve had our ups and downs like any company, but I can easily say that growing MLS is my proudest career achievement to date. However, while I feel we’ve always done things the right way at MLS: empowering our team, caring about our clients, treating stakeholders with respect, we haven’t truly crossed that threshold where we can confidently say we’ve made the world a better place.
I’m truly hoping that changes with AndHumanity.
AndHumanity, to me, merges everything I was pursuing in my early 20s with everything I learned growing My Loud Speaker. It’s as though everything important in my life is funneling into this one entity. Since about a year ago when we started this AndHumanity journey, I’ve learned that there are many, many, practical reasons to invest in inclusive marketing, but the most important reason is that we should. The thing is, as marketers, we have this magical opportunity at our fingertips; as a profession, we are often tasked to make things out of nothing – a blank canvas to write, illustrate, photograph, and just create. But with this magical opportunity, comes responsibility. Millions and millions of people see the content our industry creates, and we have to – as a whole – use this magical opportunity to shift perceptions for the better. We have to portray the world as we actually see in front of us – beyond the surface – with all the nuances, flaws, and true depth that we as humans have. Doing this will give more opportunities to the disenfranchised to share their complex intersectional identities, which in turn will create more empathy for other humans who don’t look, act, or react as they do. And on a more personal level, it will give children of all backgrounds someone to look up to that actually looks like them.
Ultimately, what we create as marketers can change perceptions for the better, it can change actions for the better, and it can change the world for the better. And frankly, aiming for anything less is just not good enough.