Beyond the Racial Melting Pot

Trends / Realness
Angelina Bambina
Tristen Norman
Dec 17, 2021
One can argue that for diversity and inclusion in the United States (U.S.), race or ethnicity is an aspect of identity of the utmost importance to consider—especially in all major arenas: policy and legislation; technology and media such as the news, film, television, and advertising; and cultural industries like fashion, art, and music. Here is a country that has codified and enshrined race into law, defining itself by way of racial hierarchy to justify the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Indigenous people and their tribes.1 The consequences of those choices are manifold and affect racialized people of all backgrounds in ways that society is collectively untangling to this day. For brands and advertisers, the disentangling of the racial hierarchy has been full of peaks and valleys over the last decade or so.
On the one hand, the industry certainly understands the basic need for the representation of communities of color. Conversely, these efforts are still fraught with big myths, misunderstandings, and misfires. Even before last year’s “racial reckoning,” many advertisements had been focused on being more racially diverse. According to a study conducted in 2019 by Deloitte Heat analyzing advertisements from 50 top spenders in media, it was uncovered that 92% of brands showed a person of color. However, upon closer examination of how these communities are depicted, they found that only 15% of people were represented by more than their skin color.2 Some similar patterns also show up in our most popular visuals at Getty Images.

For example: people of color are more likely to be shown in multiracial groups than white people; some non‑white racial groups are more likely to be depicted than others (Black Americans and Latinx Americans are represented more compared to Asian and Pacific Islander Americans or Native Americans); and stereotypes persist when any person of color is depicted, regardless of their background.
 The U.S. reports the highest rates of racial or ethnic discrimination in the world
The persistence of gaps like these in visual representation has real world impact: the U.S. reports the highest rates of racial or ethnic discrimination in the world, according to our Visual GPS research. It is especially pronounced if you don’t identify as white: people of color are more likely to cite their race or ethnicity as the reason they experience bias (over 30%). When drilling down even further, we also found that skin color, assumptions about your background, your nationality, your lifestyle, alongside the way you speak are among the top reasons people of color experience bias in their lives. These are just a handful of examples, but it’s clear that bias is happening on multiple fronts and the way of addressing it needs to be just as layered and nuanced as true and authentic.
It’s clear that we need to begin a new chapter for visual storytelling based in the reality for people of color in the U.S., especially as racial demographics are becoming more complex. The latest census has found that people of color now represent 43% of the U.S. population, up from 34% in 2010.3 This is due in large part to fewer people identifying as white as culture and language shifts, and many more opting to be recognized as multiracial instead. Immigration is also playing a huge role in our cultural and social shifts. For example, Latinx Americans remain the largest ethnic group in the U.S. after white Americans4 (due in large part to immigration in the ‘80s and ‘90s), the population of Asian Americans is growing rapidly as immigration from Asian countries now outnumbers immigration from Latin American countries.5 But this isn’t just about Asian and Latinx Americans: 10% of Black people in the U.S. are also foreign‑born and are increasingly identifying as Latinx or multiracial, illustrating more diversity in Black America than previously recognized by the media.6

Setting aside some of the alarmist aspects of the U.S. political climate, most Americans are not afraid of the sweeping scale of any of these realities, especially when it comes to seeing it represented in advertising. Our visual GPS research has found that 67% of U.S. consumers agree that it’s important for brands to celebrate “diversity of all kinds.” Change is needed now. If brands and advertisers are committed to diversity and inclusion in the way we know them to be, it’s time for racial and ethnic representation to evolve.
Real People = Real Bodies