Failed Marketing Campaigns

For some reason, a white evangelical college in the 1990s thought this photo made good sense in their recruitment brochure:

college ad

If you come to our school, you too can be surrounded by flowers and adorable black children. You will feel so good about yourself.

For those of us who are slow on the uptake, let me just spell out one way this is weird. This is an ad for college. Maybe there would be, you know, black college students there? Who is this little girl, and why is she in a field of flowers with this woman?

In all seriousness, white evangelicals have often found it easier to direct their ministries toward black children than to work collaboratively with black adults. The former allows paternalism to go unchecked, while the latter requires white evangelicals to be open to change.

5 thoughts on “Failed Marketing Campaigns

  1. Do you know some things about this picture that we don’t? Could she be her daughter? The daughter of a close friend? Why it it assumed that there is any issue here?

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    • She could be! Again, the problem is context: in a college recruitment brochure, here’s a photo that has no discernible connection to college. The rest of the brochure stresses a theme of preparing for ministry and has another similar image, so it hits a strong paternalistic note.

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      • Isn’t paternalism a basic tenet of most Evangelicals? { I had to look the word up in the dictionary. I was having trouble connecting to what you were saying.}. Why would it be surprising that this picture is a result of paternalism?

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  2. Della, I don’t think there’s anything surprising about the picture. I just thought it was kind of funny. Insofar as evangelicals place an unusually high value on respecting authority (children to parents, congregation to pastor, college students to administration, etc) you might argue that paternalism in general is a feature of the tradition. But I’m speaking more specifically here of a long tradition of racial paternalism in which many white evangelicals tended to view African American Christians more as immature objects of ministry than partners in the Gospel. That sensibility is one way to read this ad. Why else would it have been made, and why else might it have appealed to the prospective white evangelical student?

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