General Motors on Monday dismissed claims of racism aimed at its CEO Mary Barra by a group of black-owned media executives pushing the automotive company to increase its ad spending in minority-owned outlets.
Weather Channel owner Byron Allen, rapper and media mogul Ice Cube and five others placed a full-age ad in the Sunday Detroit Free Press expressing frustration over the how the automaker spends its ad dollars, saying that GM only spends about .5 percent of its ad budget on minority-owned publications.
Efforts to meet with Barra have been rebuffed, the group said, asserting that black media are the victim of “systemic racism.” The group demanded the CEO either meet with them or resign.
Barra declined a request for comment.
The automaker, “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," according to a statement issued by GM.
GM spokesman Pat Morrissey said GM spends “significantly” more than .5 percent with black-owned media.
He also noted some of the projects the automaker has backed. These include the Chevrolet division’s “Real Talk, Real Change,” a project aimed to encourage discussion about race. Well-known black filmmaker Spike Lee was a lead participant in the launch of the latest-generation Cadillac Escalade last year. And GM, said Morrissey, is also sponsoring a project looking at racial issues called “More than That with Gia Peppers.”
As with other media outlets, the automaker’s Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl has met with Allen and other members of the black-owned media group on “a number of occasions,” according to GM. But the group wants more.
"We are requesting a one hour Zoom meeting with you and several of your key board members and us, the largest Black Owned Media companies in America, so we can resolve this very important issue and have a long-term partnership that’s mutually beneficial for General Motors and the African American consumers," the ad stated.
Barra became the first female CEO of a major automaker in January 2015 and has made diversity a cornerstone of her tenure. Just last week the company appointed two new members to its board of directors: former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner and COO of the National Basketball Association. The board has become the first of any major corporation with a majority of female directors.
But the ad run over the weekend positioned that as little more than show.
“You stand on stage, after the death of George Floyd, saying, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ when you have refused to acknowledge us,” the ad says of Barra. “The very definition of systemic racism is when you are ignored, excluded and you don’t have true economic inclusion.”
“Mary, we and others firmly believe that if you continue to hold the position that Black Owned Media doesn’t deserve meaningful economic inclusion and we are not worth meeting with, then you should resign effective immediately,” the ad declared.
Paul A. Eisenstein is an NBC News contributor who covers the auto industry.