I had a silly project where I had to make a superhero, called Hyundai woman, for a dealership.
Client: Can you make her more Asian? Hyundai is Korean and we want to honor that, so can you make her have more slanted eyes?
A very difficult and picky client was looking for voiceover talent. She did not want to pay very much but wanted someone “who sounds like James Earl Jones.”
By some miracle, the talent company found someone who sounded almost exactly like the real James Earl Jones. I excitedly played the clip for the client. Her response? “Ewww. No. He sounds black.”
A "yikes" moment from the Clients From Hell archive.
I worked at a company that designed products and wrote books for the arts and crafts industry. One of my first assignments was to design a line of stickers that fit on bottle caps. I did a sheet of cartoonish faces, with several skin tones, to make the sheet inclusive.
While reviewing the product line, my boss made a face at the sticker faces sheet.
Me: Are they too silly?
Client: No, they just all need to be this color.
She pointed to the lightest skin tone.
Me: I was hoping to make this set inclusive, so all kinds of kids would see themselves reflected in them.
She wrinkled her nose, and said that our customers were mostly white, so our products should be white. Yikes.
I made the corrections, and started noticing that this happened a lot. Photos in our books? White people only. Hand shots? White hands only. Image collections? White faces only.
At the last trade show I did with the company, a long-time customer came up to me, and asked if we had any products that looked like her. She was an older black woman who walked with a cane, so I asked her to be more specific. She indicated her face, and I quietly said "Not at our company. Probably not ever at our company."
I quit shortly afterwards, started my own company, and one of the first things I produced was an image collection of black faces, named after that customer.
I have a client who likes to keep his office atmosphere "fun." His big thing is "silly monkey" - he uses this as an adjective to describe everything as if he's the host of a kid's TV show. "Silly monkey coffee," "silly monkey meeting," you get the picture. His employees tolerate it because while he is embarrassing, he's not the worst.
I happened to stop by the office one day when he was having a meeting with someone - I'm not sure what about - but what I remember CLEARLY was when he asked one of the people he was meeting with if she was a "silly monkey woman."
She was black, and the look she gave him still gives me spasms of shame and anxiety years later.
I don't think he noticed.
I'm a makeup designer for a local live theatre, I have my services advertised on the internet. A supervisor from some branch business calls us.
Client: Would you do complicated makeup for non-actors? Say, applying full body makeup on office workers?
Me: I suppose you could do that. What kind of makeup would you need to be applied on office workers?
Client: Well we have a problem. Our executive-level manager will be visiting our branch later this month and all our employees are White. It wouldn't look good if there were no employee diversity at our location. If we hired you could you work your magic on a few of our employees to make them look Black, or Chinese, or some other minority race?
I was developing a storyboard with several named characters, representing diverse ages and ethnicities.
Client: We like diversity, but the old people are ugly. Can you replace them with younger people?
Me: OK, here you go.
Client: We like diversity, so no gender-specific pronouns in the descriptions of the characters.
Me: OK, here you go.
Client: We like diversity, but can you change the character's names so that they are all NORMAL? For example, the Asian guy should be named, say, Tom Smith.
Client points out one man in a stock photo I'm editing for him and says:
Client: I know our service has to appeal to all kinds of people, but this one fellow... can you make him look less black? So he looks more 'tech-savvy-urban-social-media-influencer' black and less 'wandered-out-of-the-jungle-only-talks-in-click-language' black.
I work for a real estate developer. We had a client who, when finally decided on a flat to buy, found that the parking spot that they liked had already been bought by another client.
Client: I'm not racist but you sold it to a foreigner rather than to us on purpose so you could sell me a more expensive parking spot and scoop a bigger commission.
Well, do long as you're not racist.