Build community by recognising your privilege
In the last few weeks the world has become hyper aware of racial discrimination following the tragic death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests borne out of frustration and justifiable anger that these kind of events can still be happening across the globe.
The narrative that has emerged this time feels different. Perhaps it’s because we’ve had a major shake-up as a global community, or maybe we’re just more tuned in now, but it seems that people are taking their outrage one step further.
There are many of us who consider ourselves to be non-racist and feel indignation, sadness and a sense of uselessness at a system that seems so unwilling to change. But it’s clear from the online discussions, that this just isn’t enough, and never has been.
I experienced something of an aha moment recently. As most people would be aware, there’s been a meme in recent times that hasn’t just been popular, it’s actually now gone to the next level and it’s probably only a matter of time before it finds its way into the urban dictionary.
That meme is the Karen meme. If you’ve been living under a rock, a ‘Karen’ is a middle-aged privileged white woman who seems to have an insatiable need to complain the moment her sensitive, privileged needs are not met.
As a Karen, and a privileged middle-aged white woman, I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t experienced a range of emotions since it emerged. Frustration, anger, incomprehension. I’m about as far from that meme as you can get and I’m the least likely person to ‘ask for the manager’.
I’ve found it upsetting that something so personal as your name can be used as a term to describe someone so deplorable. And herein lies my aha moment. As the anti-racial discussion began to gather momentum online I was suddenly struck by how uncomfortable it has made me feel every time someone uses my name as a derogatory term, and how that discomfort is so insignificant in comparison to the casual racism that is rife in our culture, and that leads to far deeper, damaging and life-threatening discrimination across our society.
That realisation doesn’t mean that I won’t be affected when someone casually drops ‘some Karen needs to complain to the manager’ into a conversation, but I will use that discomfort to fuel action to create a more equitable future for all.
I’m starting with learning and education. The online conversations have produced several valuable resources, such as this excellent set of documents and this list of essential viewing, to help transform us non-racists into anti-racism activists, something that is sorely needed if we are to achieve any real change.
By educating ourselves, we can start to take affirmative action to educate others, change our work practices, change our lifestyles, check our unconscious bias and move towards building true community.
This is why taking part in online discussions is so important, especially if you’re a brand. But, a word of warning to the unwise. It needs to be genuine. If you’re just including a hashtag in your social media posts or changing your social media profiles to a black square, you are neither educating nor advocating, and you are certainly not aware. Even if you’re creating a heartfelt post of solidarity and support, if you’re not prepared to make any actual changes within your organisation, you’re woke-washing and jumping on the band wagon. What the world needs is for you to take those words and convert them into better practices.
This article by Mark Ritson demonstrates pointedly how brands need to be clear on their values and live by them. Even a brand like Nike, which has consistently advocated for equality appears not to match that value to internal operations. Or, perhaps, the wheels of change are taking their sweet time to reach the C-Suite?
At Underground Communications we’ll be learning together how, as individuals, and as an organisation we can use our privilege and our connections to create a better future. One that is a true community of diversity, equity and inclusion. Instead of feeling like what we can do is insignificant, we’ll be turning what we learn into a Reconciliation Action Plan with an emphasis on the action.
#BlackLivesMatter Always have. Always will do.