Byron Allen buys full-page ad blasting GM CEO Mary Barra as racist

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Mary Barra, General Motors’ chief executive officer, has been accused of racism by leaders of several Black-owned media companies, including Bryon Allen and Ice Cube

In a full-page ad in the Detroit Free Press, the heads of seven companies allege that Barra has refused to meet with them “consistently, over time and after multiple requests.” 

A group of Black media leaders, including Entertainment Studios’ Byron Allen (left), say General Motors’ Mary Barra (right) has refused to meet with them for five years. (Photos by Michele Thomas and Getty Images)

“You stand on stage, after the death of George Floyd, saying, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ when you have refused to acknowledge us,” the ad reads. “The very definition of systemic racism is when you are ignored, excluded and you don’t have true economic inclusion.”

The open letter and ad are signed by Allen, who is the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Allen Media Group (which owns theGrio), Ice Cube of BIG3, Cubevision and CWBA, as well as Roland Martin, chief executive officer of Nu Vision Media, Inc.; Todd F. Brown, founder of Urban Edge Networks and HBCU League Pass; Don Jackson, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Central City Productions; Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., president and chief executive officer of Black Enterprise; and Junior Bridgeman of Ebony Media.

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In the letter, they note that General Motors spends less than .5% of their advertising dollars with Black-owned media entities. They called that effort “horrendous, considering that we as African Americans make up approximately 14% of the population in America and we spend billions buying your vehicles.”

Sunday’s full-page ad is on page 3A of a daily mainstream paper in the city General Motors’ headquarters is based and Allen is a native. He and the other Black media leaders called for General Motors to increase their Black media spending to 5%. Allen noted that if GM could spent 14% of their ad dollars with Black-owned companies, reflecting the percentage of Blacks in America, “that would be economic parity, we’re not even asking for parity, we’re asking for inclusion.” 

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For five years, the men have been attempting to meet with Barra to talk about how they could garner more of GM’s ad dollars, but according to Allen, she doesn’t respond, the newspaper reported.

Two weeks ago, they emailed Barra, and instead of her, they got a response from Deborah Wahl, GM’s chief marketing officer, who said she’d meet with them. That triggered the group’s decision to write and run the ad in Sunday’s Free Press.

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According to the paper, Barra addressed the issue and General Motors’ ongoing progress toward diversity at the recent JP Morgan Global ESG Conference. “We continue to have conversations that make people a little uncomfortable because we believe once you’re aware of a situation and understand it better, it’ll lead to change,” Barra said. “We’re very aware of changing the culture of the company. Our goal is to create an environment where people can be their true self at work. If you can’t be your true self, I would think that would be exhausting and how can you do your best work?”

Barra has said that GM advertises with “minority-owned businesses,” but the ad notes that those businesses are often run by white women. 

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GM spokesperson Pat Morrissey said in a statement released Sunday that “General Motors aspires to be the most inclusive company in the world, and that includes how we allocate media spend. We have increased our planned spending with both diverse-owned and diverse-dedicated media across our family of brands.” 

“Additionally,” said Morrisey, “we continue to develop and advance initiatives like the Chevrolet ‘Real Talk, Real Change’ platform and support projects like ‘More than That with Gia Peppers,’ where we’ve partnered with the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters on a content series for Black American listeners produced and distributed by underrepresented businesses. In this same spirit, we will continue to have an open dialogue with Mr. Allen.”

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