Digital ContentTwelve unwritten rules control Black Americans, according to new Encyclopedia

Advertising creatives launch new Unwritten Rules Encyclopedia to help eradicate racism
Marcom Weekly StaffFebruary 1, 2021

“Black lives are controlled by an unwritten rule book,” according to a new interactive encyclopedia created in part by Hawkeye associate creative directors Alex Pierce and Roneka Patterson.

Unwritten Rules Encyclopedia is a stunning display of a set of social rules that dictate how Black people, more often than not, live and go to work. Visitors may listen to the rules narrated by one of the 21 creators of the project, read annotated contexts for the rule and read stories submitted by those affected by the rule. The mission is to ultimately erase the rule and the encyclopedia provides four ways to support it: learn, donate, sign or act.

“Reaching a tipping point last year of witnessing the horrific deaths, harassment, and just casual racism directed towards Black people in this country, we wanted to express our frustration at all of it in a meaningful way,” Pierce tells Marcom Weekly.

For example, the site mentions Black hair worn naturally or with certain styles is often deemed “unprofessional” and is sometimes banned by school and office dress codes. Supported by reports from TV One and Today show, Unwritten Rules Encyclopedia lists this as rule number two, “Make Sure Your Hair Always Looks Professional,” and is narrated by Patterson herself.

“Don’t have a name that’s too black,” or “don’t drive at night with your cabin lights on” are among several rules listed across six categories. Unwritten rules like these and others are learned in early childhood and impact everything Black Americans do.

According to the Encyclopedia, the rules follow Black Americans when they are shopping, and they can feel the anxiety of the rules in their chest when they see the police. The rules shape every career move they make and restrict their freedom when they travel (e.g., “Green Book”).

“We took our time with this and we made sure this was cooked before we jumped into action. I am proud of the level of detail in this,” says Patterson.

Pierce adds, “We wanted to do something smaller and push as opposed to biting more than we can chew and throw out a bunch of things.”

What’s an unwritten work rule that isn’t on the list but maybe in the future? “Don’t be too don’t be too aggressive,” Pierce suggests. “I think showing assertiveness or showing autonomy and not showing deference to, maybe, your white co-workers can sometimes come off as having an attitude or disrespectful… That’s like a specific work thing.”

The website will continue to feature updates including more rules over time. Pierce and Patterson also ask that visitors support the encyclopedia by checking out each rule, share their stories and add to the growing list of resources.

“We’re challenging the ideas of privilege by talking about the black experience. We’re inverting that conversation,” says Pierce.


Unwritten Rules team: Adam Johnson – copywriting, Dallas, T.X.; Allan Manaysay – copywriting, Dallas, T.X.; Alex Criner – strategy support, Dallas, T.X.; Alex Pierce – creative direction, Dallas, T.X.; Alejandra Camargo – visual design, Dallas, T.X.; Ashley Ayer – creative support, illustrations, Dallas, T.X.; Gina Lipschitz – creative support, illustrations, Dallas, T.X.; Jaylynn Davenport – creative support, illustrations, Dallas, T.X.; Jen Tan – strategy support, Dallas, T.X.; Kelly Shunneson – visual design, Dallas, T.X.; Kiley Mabry – creative direction, Dallas T.X.; Loraine Miranda – project management, Dallas T.X.; Matt Emrick – developer, Denver C.O.; Myia Thompkins – strategy lead, Dallas, T.X.; Nick Brombal – developer, Seattle, W.A.; Noemie Love – copywriting, Dallas, T.X.; Roman Flute – motion design, Dallas, T.X.; Roneka Patterson – creative direction, Dallas, T.X.; Rosie Ulloa – visual design lead, brand design, Dallas T.X.; Tiffany Chan – copyediting, Dallas, T.X.; and Tish Loh – creative direction, Dallas, T.X.

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