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It has not been the best day for Washingtonian. D.C.’s glossy monthly magazine received a wave of backlash today over its ill-attempted marketing campaign for its new t-shirts. The shirts, which read “I’m Not a Tourist. I Live Here,” were advertised on the magazine’s Instagram account in a series of photos featuring various well-groomed young people modeling them in picturesque, unironically tourist-y locales. It didn’t take long for people to point out the problematic obvious: There wasn’t a single black person represented in the photos.
D.C. is historically known as Chocolate City and, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 47.7 percent of D.C.’s population is Black or African-American. You wouldn’t know that from the Washingtonian photos—advertising a shirt for people who live here.
The Instagram post in question has since been deleted, but in the 24 hours it was up, it amassed hundreds of comments from people calling out the magazine for its exclusionary marketing campaign.
On Twitter, even more people took Washingtonian to task, including At-Large Councilmember David Grosso and local author Jason Reynolds. There’s since been a counter-shirt campaign launched in direct response and activist Tony Lewis Jr. has planned a photo shoot of native Washingtonians this weekend at Union Market. A few hours after Washingtonian deleted the Instagram post, the magazine posted an apology from CEO and President Cathy Merrill Williams on its website. “To fellow Washingtonians: As a native Washingtonian, I am very sorry that our latest ‘I Am Not A Tourist’ marketing campaign did not represent the wonderfully diverse city in which we live,” Merrill wrote.
She goes on to explain that the marketing campaign for the t-shirts was just the “beginning,” and says the magazine “solicited pictures from a diverse group of people and put the pictures up in the order they came in.” In a follow-up email to City Paper, Merrill explains the process that went into this campaign. The people in the photos, which include people behind some of the District’s most popular Instagram accounts—Laurie Collins, who runs the Instagram @dccitygirl; Justin Schuble, the man behind the popular @dcfoodporn account; and Diego Downtown—were selected by members of the magazine’s audience development team, and “included people of all races and parts of the region.”
Merrill says that only one photo was shot in the office, and it was someone on their staff. They sent t-shirts to the people they selected, most of whom Merrill says have large social media followings, and asked them to pose in the t-shirt and send them in. Merrill didn’t elaborate on who else was asked to participate in the marketing campaign, but isn’t sure if they are going to move forward with it given the backlash. “We are evaluating and will see over the next few weeks,” she says.