4 questions I’ve asked myself since the return of #BlackLivesMatter

In the days and weeks following #BlackOutTuesday – a social media initiative to post black squares to encourage people to focus on the issues surrounding Black Lives Matter – my algorithm updates have significantly evolved from roaring rage to barely there.

In some ways I’m slightly relieved. When everyone’s talking at once it’s hard to know which voices are the most credible, as well as who’s invested in continuing the conversation long-term.

Change can’t happen in this space overnight because it’s so personal. Yes, we’re all working towards one, shared goal. But, #BlackLivesMatter is a hashtag that carries so many highly-sensitive experiences, underpinned by socio-economic inequalities, that in order to make improvements we need to question ourselves and develop confidence in our own narrative before we can work together at closing the gap.

Emoji hand fist in various skin tones to showcase diversity,

I’ve been on social media long enough to know that people get irate about race once in a while, throwing their arms up in the air because of the lack of diversity in education, workplace and the media. And, it’s always a welcome reminder. But, personally, it’s the conversation that’s happening one week, one month or even one year later that I find more intriguing.

We’ve seen statues fall with ease, but don’t statutes make the real difference?

What’s been personally challenging for me during this time is the worry that friends, family and colleagues will automatically categorise my mixed race heritage as the lead factor of my identity – when that’s not how I necessarily define myself. It’s just one section of my identity and for someone else to make that decision for me, undermines who I am and how I want to be perceived.

I like the idea that our intersectionality can ebb and flow based on how we’re feeling at any given time. I’m in charge of me, after all.

That said, since the rise in #BlackLivesMatter conversation, here are a few questions I’ve been asking myself:

Do brands actually understand the importance of integrity?

It’s easy to issue a social media post to stand in solidarity during times like this. But, earlier this month brands were positioning themselves more than just allies; they were making firm statements to do and be better. Yet, quite quickly, the major players – such as NikeSpotify and L’Oréal Paris – were pulled up for having all-white board members.

Even if brands could justify the decision-making process for every white board member present (and lack of BAME representation), they would’ve missed the point. To consumers it doesn’t feel right and, off the back of posting a black square, it implies hypocrisy.

Now, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategies and positive discrimination is a blog for another day. But, in essence, before grand gestures of empowerment can be used to ‘win’ customers over, brands really need to think about their organisational make-up, history and digital footprint. Maybe a better place to start is by explaining their role in the movement, outlining who they’re listening to (to guide them on this issue), or issuing a heartfelt apology to show how serious they are about progression.

All of this comes before trying to smooth over the sales pipeline as part of a tick-box exercise. Which, coincidentally, includes ‘throwing money at the issue’. It helps, but it won’t go away as a result of one-off donations.

Getting it ‘right’ takes time. For the record I don’t think any brand that tried to speak out got it right. If they felt they had to back the hashtag in the first place, it implies their customers can’t clearly interpret their inclusive brand values through their marketing or operations all-year round. A major case of organisational ‘imposter syndrome’ was certainly snowballing.

As a result of sitting back and waiting with integrity, brands may miss out on hashtag opportunities. But, that’s fine because protecting and advocating the Black Community is not an opportunity to win points.

Will Marcus Rashford’s campaign success encourage more athletes to speak out?

Anyone who has the commitment and dedication to pressure the government to redirect its funding to continue the free school meals initiative this summer, benefitting up to 1.3m children, is OK in my book. And 22-year-old Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford accomplished exactly that this week – just before the revival of the Premier League. (So, he’s not only an activist but he’s also got excellent project management skills.)

Footballer Marcus Rashford wearing red t-shirt clapping hands while on football pitch.

He’s now part of a cohort of Black British athletic activists, which includes Raheem Sterling, Anthony Joshua and Dina Asher-Smith, who are happy to use the pitch, ring and track as a part-time platform to speak out on issues, call out injustices and influence fans. But, they’re doing it in an incredibly authentic and heartfelt way by focusing their campaigns on their experiences.

They’re great spokespeople for change because they’re used to performing under pressure and don’t deviate from the end goal. Although Marcus was working closely with FareShare to achieve his aims, it was his story, his reality and his face the Government would have to deny – along with the BAME community who continue to live on the poverty line.

So, while Joe Wicks’ was our sporting saint at the start of lockdown, blessing us all with gift of exercise, it’s Rashford who will hopefully see us through to the other side – fuelling young people to face the day and giving them a fighting chance against their peers.

Is it OK to lead from the back on this issue?

With just 4% of Marketing Week’s Career and Salary Survey 2020 respondents identifying as mixed-race (compared to 88% who identified as white), it’s misleading to state that the industry has a race problem. It’s had a race problem for a long time; the sector has just been satisfied to report on the facts without encouraging change.

It’s not just a case of introducing more people of colour into the workplace; it’s also about creating a positive working culture that enables people to have constructive, yet occasionally uncomfortable, conversations that uncover solutions for how everyone can up their game.

That said, it’s important to acknowledge that not every person of colour will want to lead the charge in this area, nor have all the answers. As much as I value a safe, working environment (and appreciate the opportunity to have some influence in this space), I shouldn’t feel a weight of responsibility to inherit an organisational issue as my personal passion project. My front-line encompasses a lot of areas and it’s more than the 9am to 5pm.

Band-Aid fan of diverse skin tone shade plasters against blue background.

How much longer until I can blend my body in with fashion?

Nude shoes, nude tights and nude underwear to match my skin tone is still considered a luxury item, stocked by exclusive department stores. So, not only do I have to go out of my way to get what I want, but I also have to spend more. (Yet, statistically, I’m more likely to earn less. Go figure?) Yet, I’ve never appreciated that this is a form of systemic racism within the industry.

But, it’s not just fashion that risks ‘dehumanising’ BAME customers – plasters are hurting people too.

Some brands have already made waves in this area, but Johnson & Johnson’s Band-Aid brand used the recent movement to pledge a range of plasters in various skin tones to support the fight against racism (after discontinuing a similar attempt in the past.)

When I’m expected to fit into the same box as everyone else, but not treated the same as everyone else, life can get tiring. I deserve the opportunity to feel at home in my own skin – and that includes my right to camouflage my cuts, bumps and bruises.

All comments expressed are my humble opinion and I’m always open to learning more. Start a conversation with me using the comments or tweet me on @dmhwhite.

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