These last few weeks have been powerful; as a growing movement for systemic change has swept across this country and the world. I am confident that this movement will also sweep through industries from media to fashion, food to advertising and everything in between.
Discrimination & Racial Injustice. I believe that it’s time for change.
I have spent as much time being angry as I have being excited. I am angry that it’s 2020 and we are still having to argue for equality and an end to racial injustices. But I am excited by the wide spread revolution and the apparent willingness by so many to learn, listen and change.
As a non-white Australian, I can’t can’t count the number of times someone told me to go back to where I came from, or called me a racial slur – it’s happened that many times. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked where I am from, and ‘Australia’ isn’t a sufficient answer.
But, if I am honest, I consider these as trivial incidences compared to what are the structural systems of discrimination that the world is fighting against now.
Racism is about a lot more than name calling. This is about recognising that many of the systems, industries and structures of our daily lives are set up, or were set up, with discriminatory practice in mind. But none of these are forever and everything can be changed.
If we are willing to do so.
I don’t believe that everyone is deliberately racist. I don’t believe that everyone is deliberately ignorant. I can’t blame people for not knowing facts or true history if it wasn’t taught to them. I become frustrated when people choose to NOT LEARN, when they are UNWILLING to listen when the facts are presented to them. No one is perfect, but we can all do more to listen and learn.
Apathy is a true demonstration of privilege – because you know you can take no interest and no action, and you will be fine.
But where to start with change? How about in the industry I’ve been involved in since graduating Uni.
Having worked in the Australian marketing, advertising and media world for nearly 18 years, I have grown accustomed to being the only non-white person in the meeting, but I have started to see this change over the last few years. [I do know that with my Anglo-Irish name, I carry a privilege that others don’t. It’s also fun to not be what people are expecting when I turn up to a meeting.]
We need to recognise that there are some serious changes which need to be made in representation of all peoples in the media landscape – from on-screen talent, to writers and journalists; from creative directors to talent in advertising campaigns.
We should recognise that as an industry, media and advertising help to frame many people’s thoughts and opinions – what we say is ‘good’, or ‘beautiful’ or ‘on-trend’ is what people believe.
What if we thought more carefully about perpetuating negative falsehoods when we talk about what is ideal. And what if inclusion wasn’t done ‘to fill a diversity quota’ or for the purpose of ‘tokenism’. What if we didn’t accept that ‘Australians don’t want to see people like that in Ads’. (These are all statements I’ve sat in meetings and accepted, which makes me feel guilty)
If our industry can be so influential as to convince people to buy what we want them to buy, and to tap into their emotions to drive them to do what we want them to do – then why isn’t our industry using that influence to make systemic changes to attitudes and behaviours around race, equality and proper representation?
We also need to stop giving voice to those who don’t have anything positive to say.
In 1996 I marched against Pauline Hanson’s divisive politics and in 2020, Pauline is given prime time television interviews on matters she’s ill-informed about – purely to generate ratings and controversy. This is not good enough. There are many more talking heads which are given airtime to fan the flames of division, simply because we know that it will generate eyeballs and clicks – but at who’s expense?
I don’t claim to be an expert in this space, but I will never stop trying to learn, to listen and to share that knowledge with others.
Here are my tips:
Until the advent of social media, media and advertising has been about broadcasting outwardly and lacking the ability to really listen. When we take the time to listen to those who are saying ‘enough is enough’ we learn, we grow and we understand.
It can be incredibly uncomfortable to hear someone tell you something you don’t want to hear, or that challenges your preconceptions about the past – but when someone has a lived experience, or is showing you visual evidence – don’t dismiss them because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Work through it.
UNLEARN AND LEARN
It is a cliché, but racism is taught. You’re not born with it. It’s enhanced by our history lessons, by the media we consume and by those around us. If we can learn racism and racial injustice, we can unlearn it.
READ books which challenge what you think you know.
Even easier, WATCH movies and documentaries which tell the stories of BIPOC, and present you facts about history.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE
It can sometimes be uncomfortable to have conversations about race with those in your life – I am guilty of avoiding topics of conversation with friends and family if I don’t think they will agree with my point of view. It’s time for us all to get uncomfortable together!
DO call out your friends, colleagues or family if they say something you believe is racist;
DO try and engage them in a conversation about facts, tell them stories you’ve learnt or your own stories;
DO push your clients to challenge the perceptions of what representation in advertising campaigns means.
DON’T worry if you can’t get through to people, some just don’t want to learn.
DON’T BE EMBARRASSED IF YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND
It’s not always easy to understand and empathise. Don’t be embarrassed if it takes you longer to understand – but don’t drop put on the brakes because you don’t understand straight away. For real structural change to happen, we all have to learn and for some that takes longer.
Do you part and support those around you who are BIPOC and asking for support – don’t assume everyone wants or needs it.
Sign up to newsletters, blogs and websites which tell stories about BIPOC experiences.
Support BIPOC-owned businesses, here’s a few Indigenous-owned businesses I am buying from right now:
And I am researching activities for my next domestic holiday here https://www.welcometocountry.com/
Words by Dylan Reed