ADAMCZYK: A change in the culture, as noted in the commercials

Ed Adamczyk

I had a neighbor a long while back and I sometimes wonder, had he lived to this point, how annoyed he’d be about some current developments, and how much I’d have enjoyed observing him.

Since I am what demographic analysts would term an old white guy, I knew plenty of similarly old and white guys while growing up, and one in particular was a rather enthusiastic racist. He did not join groups or lead or follow campaigns, but expressed his special brand of tolerance by ranting at the television whenever a non-white person was presented. By the end he would not acknowledge much of a difference between foreign agitators he saw on the news and non-white football players or actors in commercials. He was not alone but I remember him in particular.

I, like many people with a certain maturity of outlook, rely more heavily on television than I once did for information and entertainment, and I sometimes wish that old guy from my past could see what I see these days. Man, would it anger him.

On news broadcasts, African-Americans now routinely provide opinion on non-racial issues. They are also featured heavily in commercials for cars, household products and investment services. An ad for a cosmetics company named Ulta offers its varied versions of beauty as presented by a rainbow of women, including those in Muslim hijabs and in U.S. military uniform.

Well, duh, one might be inclined to respond. All-white households are on the decline as population demographics change, and every race, gender, age group and however-you-slice-it needs things, buys things and watches television. Yet I remember when the television standard was all white, except for lets-go-out commercials involving a group of white people with a token black person or couple joining them.

Advertisements for household goods feature households whose members blur racial lines. White fathers with black children, a black soccer mom with an SUV full of young athletes of indiscriminate racial makeup, white guys married to Asian-descended women. Then there a male couples who do not resemble stereotype construction workers shopping at home fix-up stores, pairs of women doing the same, men who would never be accused of being “ruggedly handsome” selling laundry soap.

Nothing is said of it. Those are the people who are on television not to shock you but to convince to buy things.

This sort of thing was noticeable and prevalent on Canadian television about five years ago. I am pleased to see that this has become the way to do things in America.

Again, to many, all of this would seem self-evident, but I have the advantage of age, which does not necessarily bring wisdom but does offer a hell of a lot of recollection. I intend to eventually outgrow the notice of it, but for now I am pleasantly astounded and supportive.

The Census Bureau reports that in 2012 to 2016, 10.2 percent of marriages in America were of the interracial or interethnic variety, up from seven percent in 2005 and 1.7 percent in 1970.

“The largest of these is non-Hispanic whites married to Hispanics, which increased in 43.2 percent of U.S. counties,” the bureau’s website states. Of course, it relies on a respondent’s personal definition of the terms, the way Sen. Elizabeth Warren was once convinced she had Native American blood in those veins of hers.

So it’s a racially diverse country after all, with a middle class large enough to accommodate an assortment of races, households and other categories once regarded as non-traditional. I was a “non-traditional student” for my entire college career, incidentally – a part-timer older than most of his peers – and I reveled in it. It is a common occurrence now on campuses, as college bureaucracy works hard to reel in students with a reason for studying there and a capability of paying in cash or in employer’s tuition benefits, but back then my little cohort had the decided advantage of being outsiders.

The former outsiders of television land are now heavy economic hitters, and manufacturers of all that stuff they buy, as well as retailers who sell them, are behaving as though they have stumbled over new markets. The actors in the commercials remain good-looking. The moms are hip and smart, the dads are good-natured dunces, as usual. The children tend to be book- and laptop-wielding aspirants, instead of merely cute kids who can dance.

I remember a wave of bitter white guys in my life, whom I deliberately viewed as cautionary tales instead of role models. Wherever they are now, I hope they can see cable television.

Contact Ed Adamczyk at

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