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Understanding What Is Tone-deaf and What Is Appropriate Around Multicultural Holidays

Every year when Cinco de Mayo rolls around, businesses across the nation publish tongue-in-cheek social media posts that include sombreros, ponchos, tacos, and donkeys. They intend to celebrate US/Mexican culture in a fun and silly way, but that is not always how it comes off. These types of celebratory posts highlight harmful stereotypes about their culture or don’t go far enough to speak to Mexican culture’s breadth and beauty to many Mexican Americans. The posts are meant to be fun but come off as offensive and alienate the exact ethnic group the company is trying to reach.

Right now (November 1-3) Mexicans and Mexican/Americans are celebrating Dia De Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Many people misunderstand this as “Mexican Halloween”, which could not be farther from the truth. The face painting and colorful decorations are meant to celebrate and welcome home deceased loved ones. It is not macabre, scary, or in any way related to trick-or-treating, so any blogs or social media posts that suggest that it is will immediately appear culturally insensitive to anyone in the Mexican community. Incidentally, if you are looking for a fun education on the meaning behind the holiday, check out Disney’s animated movie Coco from 2017.

The next time your law firm is considering drafting a blog or social media post about an international holiday, consider these things:

  • Is it meant to be funny or silly? If so, then think twice about your message. 
  • Does the message uplift the culture you are speaking of or does it merely recognize them? For example, a post of a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo acknowledges Mexican culture, but a blog about how Mexican culture has integrated into American culture for the betterment of every citizen positively lifts Mexican culture.
  • Are any caricatures included in your publication? This can consist of both visual and written caricatures – neither are a good idea. 
  • Does your post highlight real people or merely the idea of the culture you are celebrating? When it doubt, choose a real person and highlight their heritage and influence. If you speak about culture broadly, you run the risk of missing the mark.
  • If this post was written about your culture, would you be happy, or would you roll your eyes? It is vital to put yourself in the shoes of the people you are representing. 

Multicultural marketing is not easy, and it requires a deep understanding and respect for every culture you are trying to reach. The next time you plan to speak on an international holiday, think twice about whether or not you are helping or hurting.

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