Brand of Exploitation: Danger of 'Sweet Brown' Strategy
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

Sweet Brown, enough is enough. (Image: File)

Sweet Brown, I’ve had enough.

Some of us chuckled and laughed out loud when we first saw the viral video of Sweet Brown, recounting for a local news station how she escaped a fire at her apartment complex. Some grimaced at yet another stereotypical newscast featuring a minority in an urban community making a fool of themselves.

I can’t lie. I initially cracked up at the autotune remixes and other workplace chatter surrounding the gold-toothed, country-twanged woman’s very interesting details of getting bronchitis after inhaling smoke from the fire, ending her recollection of events with “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Sweet Brown has gone on to appear on various talk and news shows and even got a local commercial deal.

Recently, I saw a video clip of Sweet Brown, featured on Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 in October, and I could no longer laugh. My usual side eye replaced any possible chuckles. The clip includes Sweet Brown participating in comedic skits and she even sits down for a one-on-one interview, where the host says, “We need a mascot for the urban community… Teach everyone in the city about the dangers of fire, and I think that person should be you.”

Mascot? Major … Side … Eye…

Maybe I’m being a little too sensitive, but Sweet Brown is among a string of so-called microwave celebrities who gain popularity and build pseudo-brands from stereotypes and ignorant imagery. She joins the ranks of Antwan Dotson, Honey Boo Boo, and Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan, where serious situations and life issues turn into an opportunity for viral media exposure and 15 minutes of superficial fame.

The message this sends, especially to youth: Forget strengthening marketable skills and using intellect. I can act ridiculous, perpetuate it by milking opportunities, play into a public fascination with subculture stereotypes, and get paid.

Why build a brand foundation on being the butt of jokes or the torch bearer for offensive racial and socioeconomic depictions? Why not build a brand on real talent or something of substance? The Beyonces, Oprahs, Diddys, Jay-Zs, and Obamas of the world didn’t have to act a fool on a cell phone video, Youtube channel or newscast to get to where they are. Even successful comedians make strategic branding moves that will ensure people still respect them at the end of the day.

Some may read this and say, “Have a sense of humor Janell. It’s not that serious. At least she’s getting money.” But at what cost? I’d like to believe that Sweet Brown has other skills than being a walking, talking, exploited stereotype. Yet, she serves as yet another detrimental, get-fame-quick case study for youth who should be empowered to overcome negativity and ignorance, and encouraged to excel in tangible, competitive talents that will instill pride and ensure long-term wealth.

When it comes to building a brand legacy, it’s important to ask yourself:

  • Am I in full control of what people think of me and my brand, or am I letting others hold the puppet strings?
  • What will people say about me when I’m long gone?
  • How valuable is my integrity, self-dignity and self-respect?
  • Can I stand firmly on the foundation I’m building now for the rest of my life?

If shucking and jiving is something you’re comfortable doing to get money, then by all means, be my guest. I’d rather have the freedom and priceless value of integrity, intelligence and purpose to build a brand I and all those after me can be proud of. Tap-dancing for short-term checks and fame? Sorry boo, but ain’t no real bosses got time for that.

What do you think of the popularity of Sweet Brown and her brand? #Soundoff and follow me on Twitter @JPHazelwood.

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Janell Hazelwood

Janell Hazelwood is associate managing editor at Black Enterprise, managing content across core areas of Money, Career, Small Business and Technology. She is also a featured blogger with My Two Cents, providing insights on branding, millennial career development, employment trends and leadership. She was previously a content producer and copy editor for Black Enterprise magazine, working across several editorial sections. The Hampton University graduate got her start in the newspaper industry, having worked for companies including The New York Times and Scripps Howard News Service. Her works and insights have appeared on The Huffington Post, MadameNoire, E!Online, Brazen Careerist, CBS News, and Arise TV.


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