Marketing and the African American Experience

Jennifer Baszile, holding her packed audience at the Princeton Public Library, revealed her years of teaching at Ivy League schools – telling stories, drawing out audience members, getting laughs, tweaking her message. The author of “The Black Girl Next Door” was the featured speaker at the National African American Read-in last February. She speaks to the Princeton Regional Chamber on Wednesday, May 19, at 7:30 a.m., at the Nassau Club. Cost: $40 ($25 for members), http://www.princetonchamber.org

Baszile is a graduate of Columbia with a PhD from Princeton, and she was the first, and lone, African American woman teaching in the history department at Yale. After eight years, seeing a dearth of “real stories” about the supposedly (but not really) post racial society, she left to write her own coming of age account and is now a business consultant and entrepreneur.

For the chamber she draws on her entrepreneurial background to address “Five Fatal Online Marketing Myths that can Kill Profits and Sales in Any Business.” I’m figuring that she will infuse that topic with her down-to-earth family experiences. According to a U.S. 1 article, her maternal grandfather had owned businesses and real estate in segregated Detroit, and her father had fled from a rural town in Louisiana to be an entrepreneur, a metals distributor for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles.

Marketing is marketing, social media is social media, but Baszile has a rather extraordinary willingness to speak from her experience as an African American growing up in a mostly white suburb. I say extraordinary because the topic is generally not discussed. In the African American community, says Baszile, if you live through a difficult moment, you don’t talk about it. You just keep going.

“My parents had no idea what an integrated girlhood would look like, because they had segregated childhoods,” she said in a speech at Google in Manhattan. Her questions about why they were living there made the adults uncomfortable. “Though prejudice was supposed to be gone, we kept running up against hostility that no one wanted to admit.”

Said Baszile: “In suburbs around the country, kids did the difficult work of working out what integration was going to be in this country. My friends and I carried the weight of integration in this country in seemingly insignificant interactions – on the dance floor, at the makeup counter, and on the soccer field. It was kids who laid the stones on the path of the arc between Martin Luther King and President Obama.”

As for business: “As a child of an entrepreneur, it’s my life experience,” she said in the U.S. 1 story. “I have a lot of empathy for people figuring out how they are going to cover the payroll because that’s a conversation we had. I know that conversation and I know that challenge and that’s part of the reason I have a passion for marketing and working with business owners.”

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