GM Denies Black-Owned Media Industry Leaders' Accusation That CEO Mary Barra Is Racist

General Motors reportedly denied accusations of racism involving its chief executive officer, Mary Barra, after a group of Black-owned media company leaders publicized the allegations in a Detroit Free Press advertisement on Sunday.

Pat Morrissey, a spokesperson for the automobile corporation, reportedly told the news outlet that GM aims to foster inclusion in all areas of its business, including advertising, despite Black media industry leaders' remarks suggesting the opposite is true.

Individuals who signed the Free Press ad—Byron Allen, Roland Martin, Todd F. Brown, Don Jackson, Earl "Butch" Graves Jr., Ice Cube and Junior Bridgeman—each own or otherwise lead prominent media conglomerates. They offered it to the newspaper for publication after multiple requests for meeting time with Barra. They sought to pitch an inclusive advertising idea to GM, according to a Free Press report released Sunday.

The group of media moguls reportedly hoped to craft a new advertising strategy with GM executives, one that would result in at least 5 percent of the corporation's ad budget allocated to Black-owned companies, said Allen in comments to the Free Press. However, as the founder, chairman and CEO of Allen Media Group explained, Barra declined the group's attempts to schedule formal correspondence between them "constantly, over time and after multiple requests."

The group has continued outreach efforts, unsuccessfully, for roughly half a decade, Allen reportedly said. When members contacted Barra again several weeks ago, GM's chief marketing officer, Deborah Wahl, replied and shared intentions to meet with media leaders in Barra's place. This response reportedly precipitated the group's decision to speak out about GM in the context of alleged systemic racism in Sunday's advertisement.

"You stand on stage, after the death of George Floyd, saying, 'Black Lives Matter,' when you have refused to acknowledge us," the ad reportedly stated, referencing Barra's public advocacy as demonstrations against police violence and racism erupted across the U.S. last summer. At the time, GM also pledged to donate $10 million to "organizations that promote inclusion and racial justice." The company donated $1 million to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, according to a statement issued in June.

The Black-owned media industry leaders who backed Sunday's Free Press ad noted that Barra's actions toward them over the past five years contradict GM's official stance regarding racism.

"The very definition of systemic racism is when you are ignored, excluded and you don't have true economic inclusion," they reportedly pointed out in Sunday's ad.

General Motors, Racism
A group of Black-owned media company leaders accused General Motors CEO Mary Barra of racism after the executive continuously ignored its requests for business meetings. Above, the logo for the General Motors Company is seen at the top of its World Headquarters and Renaissance Center complex o August 17, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

"If you say status quo is OK, that's wrong. That is racism. Let me be clear, that is racism. But if you get to the table and you lean in to effectuate change, then you are showing the world you who really are," added Allen in additional remarks to the Free Press. "This is an opportunity. The numbers will never lie. You're either doing business with Black-owned media or you're not in a fair and equitable way."

Morrissey reportedly told the newspaper that GM has already established plans to refocus ad spending in ways that enhance diverse representation and cultivate partnerships with "diverse-owned and diverse-dedicated" media companies. He also said that GM will continue to engage in discussions with Allen.

"We have increased our planned spending with both diverse-owned and diverse-dedicated media across our family of brands," Morrissey said, according to the Free Press. "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."

Newsweek reached out to GM for further comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.