In his book, How to Succeed in Business without Being White, Earl Graves, founder of Black Enterprise magazine, recalls one of his early successes, a sales call to a vice president at Hertz. He brought with him two of the heaviest hitters in the Civil Rights movement, Julian Bond and John Lewis, both Georgia legislators, demanding that the Hertz VP “show his appreciation and awareness of his loyal African American customers” by buying multiple full-page ads over a period of several months. The tactic worked. 

In those days, the argument was that multicultural marketing was the right thing to do. And companies had best do the right thing or a face a boycott.

When I got into this business, at the turn of the millennium, things had changed. Hispanics had surpassed African Americans as the largest multicultural segment in America, and few were questioning the wisdom of reaching out to diverse populations.  In one multicultural marketing conference after another, presenters, including myself, flashed slides showing the precipitous rise of minority populations, usually Hispanics, but Asian Americans too. Don’t market to minorities because it’s the right thing to do, was the mantra. Do it because it makes good business sense.  

The same could be said about Diversity and Inclusion. It’s a business must, goes the argument.  Companies need diversity in order to better serve their markets and increase employee satisfaction. And as many have pointed out, diversity, in today’s world, means more than having a bunch of straight white guys who are, well, different than each other. That won’t cut it. Sure, diversity of thought is good. But companies better darned well diversify in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. And don’t forget sexual orientation, gender identity, and people with disabilities. It’s a good thing, right? Of course it is.

However, a recent survey by Pew Research of nearly 7,000 U.S. adults shows that – surprise, surprise – not all Americans are on the same page in believing that diversity is a good thing for the country. Or even the right thing to do. And not surprisingly, there are stark differences by race, political party, and education.

Here is a statistic that caught my eye. Across party lines, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans say it is at least “somewhat good” that the U.S. population is racially and ethnically mixed. The key word here is “somewhat”. If we change the phrase to “very good”, only 39% of Republicans agree – compared to 71% of Democrats. A Pew Study done in December 2018 showed that 61% of Democrats think that the rise in interracial marriages is a good thing for the country, compared to only 33% of Republicans.

Not much changes when we look at Diversity and Inclusion.  64% of Democrats say it’s very important for employers to promote racial and ethnic diversity in their workplace; only 29% of Republicans opined the same. 36% of Democrats compared to only 9% of Republicans believe that a company should take into consideration an applicant’s race or ethnicity, in addition to qualifications, when hiring, in order to create a more diverse environment.

Clearly the divide is not just by party. For instance, the 2018 study showed that when asked about the impact of having a non-white majority on the country by 2050, about half of Blacks and Hispanics felt that this was at least a “somewhat good” thing; only about a quarter of Whites agreed. The 2019 study showed that as many as a third of Whites and a quarter of Blacks said they would be bothered if they heard someone speak a language other than English; again, it should be no surprise that only 14% of Hispanics said the same.

The partisan divide is pretty obvious. Take Donald Trump. Personally, I know very few people who don’t either love him or hate him. Regarding racial differences, history and old fashioned racism aside, part of the cause of divisions may be geographic. According to the Pew 2019 study, only a quarter of white adults say they interact a lot with Blacks and Hispanics in their everyday lives. Among Blacks, only a quarter say they have a lot of interaction with Hispanics, and only one-in-five Hispanics say they have frequent interactions with people who are Black.

There have been few periods in American history when we have been this divided. The 1960s? I don’t think so. The Civil War? Okay, I’ll give you that. What troubles me is that if you turn on CNN or Fox News, it is patently obvious that a house divided we are. But there’s not a whole lot of this being talked about, at least publicly, in the marketing realm. Go to any multicultural or D&I conference and you’d assume that we’re all on the same page. We are not.

As for me, I believe strongly that diversity is a good thing. I have zero doubt that my life has been incredibly enhanced by my interactions with people who look different than me and those of a different sexual orientation (That means you, straight folks!).  And I’ve seen diversity and multicultural marketing bring innumerable benefits to companies and brands.

But my fellow marketers. Let us not forget the troubled times in which we live. Let us fight the good fight, while at the same time realizing, for the sake of our brands, that we Americans respond differently to different messaging. We think differently. We act differently. And we consume differently.  To do otherwise is to pretend that the Emperor has no clothes.