On a recent Friday afternoon I heard a commercial spot advertising the opening of a night club. Which is not unusual in and of itself, because it was a Friday. The thing that caught my attention was the fact that it was being promoted as an "Intoxication Party". They offered an open bar to anyone 21 and over.
At first I thought I was hearing things. After all who would actually promote intoxication as if it were a benefit? But after further investigation, I discovered that is was true. This kind of advertising is irresponsible, reckless, and dangerous, and the fact that this was promoted on an African-American owned radio station, speaks volumes.
According to a study done by The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, African-American's are targeted by alcohol companies more than any other group. As a result African-American youth are overexposed to advertising at a substantially younger age, through TV commercials, magazine ads, radio spots, and billboards. The fact that African-American's have such a high level of media consumption increases the exposure to such advertising. So by the time they are of legal drinking age the many have already consumed some kind of spirit or beverage that contains alcohol.
If you drive through just about any African-American neighborhood in the country you will see a proliferation of ads for malt liquor, alcoholic beverages and distilled spirits. When I was growing up I remember one billboard in particular in which there was a Black woman scantily clad in a leopard bikini, strattling a malt liquor bottle. Besides the suggestive nature of this billboard it was also desensitizing, and for years I found nothing wrong with it. I eventually tried malt liquor, and because of its potency, availability, and low price point, all of my teenage friends tried it also. Today, 25 years later some of those same teenagers have grown into adulthood, and have become fixtures in my old neighborhood most have remained loyal to the same brand of malt liquor first consumed decades before. There but for the grace of God, go I.
The Johns Hopkins study also sited Hip-Hop culture as a possible influence. In an analysis of the most popular rap songs done from 1998-2009, it was discovered that between 2002-2005, 64% of the songs referenced alcohol. As opposed to 44% found in songs released from 1994-1997. Another study of American popular culture found that rap and R&B music had more alcoholic references than any other genres. With 24% of all R&B songs referencing alcohol.
It is clear that African-American's are targets of this kind of advertising. I've seen it my entire life mostly in magazines and periodicals filled with articles on self improvement, and social issues in between ads for Hennessy and Newport. Advertising dollars are indiscriminately accepted as revenue without taking often loyal readers into account. Magazines like Ebony, and Jet have been staples in African-American households for decades, and have probably had liquor and cigarette ads in their magazines for as long as they've been around. So magazines such as these, geared toward The Black Community should accept some responsibility. Just like the local radio station owned by an African-American who accepts revenue from proprietors of an establishment bold, and audacious enough to promote intoxication. Ultimately we are are accountable for the choices that we make. But if something like alcohol has become a pervasive part of American culture cross promoted by an ever present, massive media machine, it makes the choice that much harder.