The media has long been blamed for perpetuating discrimination of the kind that leaves anyone who isn’t male and white at a social disadvantage. Despite big changes to policy and corporate best practice, modern life and the design vessels used to communicate sentiment continue to bear the legacy of that discrimination.
Design – from architecture to advertisements, packaging to everyday products – all play a part in this machine. How we select and buy into a brand or product reflects a little about our own identity and values. Nowhere is this clearer than in the way we choose greeting cards to commemorate, celebrate and reflect a sentiment.
Greeting cards are one form of communication we willingly choose to bring into our homes or bestow on others, and our continued exposure to subtle design codes built on a framework of bias makes us particularly susceptible to absorbing messages that perpetuate discrimination.
As a black woman married to a white man, I would say I’m like millions of other couples the world over. But when I try to buy a greetings card that celebrates our anniversary, I feel isolated – like I must be the only person on the planet living in this situation. Where people of colour and the LGBTQ community have won many social victories in relatively recent history, it’s astounding to see that there are still very few greeting card products on the market that reflect the reality and diversity of relationships today.
When I first started thinking about setting up a business that addressed this very gap in the publishing market, the absence of such greeting cards seemed so glaringly clear yet, to many I talked to about this, they were practically blind to this fact.
Take a look around any major mainstream greeting cards retailer. There are cards celebrating Eid and Passover, congratulations cards for the newly divorced, and specialist cards that commemorate or give gratitude to a whole host of obscure occasions – from potty training or loss of milk teeth to ‘Thank You’ notes from a beloved pet.
For me, the last straw went when my husband bought me a greetings card for our anniversary that featured penguins – because it was the only one he could find that had a ‘black and white couple’ on it! The hilarity of the situation all but masked our frustration with an inconvenient truth: that our love was not deemed relevant enough by publishers to create a quality product that adequately celebrated it.
To address this undeniable chasm in the market might seem overly sensitive. But it’s ‘small’ things like being able to shop for a card that reflects your life and your relationship status that indicates a much bigger, more significant vision. It’s a vision that illustrates a society that acknowledges, accepts and respects you as an individual and that of the life you live – whether you’re Black, White, Asian, disabled or identify as LGBTQ.
That greeting cards producers have failed to service a huge proportion of modern society reflects more than just a loss of commercial opportunity. It represents and reinforces the accepted norms, perceptions and stereotypes of what loving relationships should be: romantic, white and heterosexual.
Meanwhile, the publishers that do address a diversity niche (see Hallmark’s Mahogany offering for African-Americans, VIDA for Latinos, as well as its LGBT card range), the designs are, at best, generic; at worst, steeped with highly staged images of love that seem more consistent with the kind of stock imagery used in life insurance or PPI adverts. Whether intended to or not, these card ranges have been tagged on to the mainstream offering like a cursory afterthought; a corporate tick box for the sake of saving face and appearing to stakeholders like a more modern and forward thinking business.
The ‘proper’ design job instead has been left to a small collective of independent disrupter brands you frequently see on Etsy and Not On The High Street. Small greeting card publishers such as Strangefruit and Colorblind have the right idea – using photos on greeting cards that actually represent minorities. But even then, both interracial and LGBT couples remain radically underrepresented and underserved by the very brands catering to the minority market.
The nuances of coupledom signify how wonderfully complex we humans actually are. But when was the last time you saw a greetings card that represented an interracial LGBT couple? Or a New Baby card that celebrated a mixed race parentage? These might seem uncomfortable truths, but it is exactly this gap in the market that I am intending to address with the launch of HueTribe. Rather than being an exception to the rule, I am intent on setting the gold standard for card design that is representative of the colourful and socially diverse world in which we live in today. Anything less is a disservice to the modern consumer.
Tineka Smith is the Founder of HueTribe, a new greetings cards e-tailer that celebrates the beauty of interracial and LGBTQ relationships.