I write this reflecting on America’s recent election of its first female Vice President, and that she is Black and South Asian. A moment of resounding celebration for women of colour around the world, particularly pertinent after a truly exhausting and tiring year for the Black community.
| Communicating over Black History Month
With Black History Month 2020 having now come to an end, it’s offered me a chance to sit back and observe if organisations have changed their external communications approach since they committed to do so back in June. In September, I wrote this piece asking charities what moves they’ve made to become anti-racist. I expressed my concerns that Black History Month would be used as a comms opportunity, a chance that some would exploit to rehash messaging on how they still intend to be better, but are not actually being better yet. I encouraged leadership teams to spend October doing work offline and step aside if (and only if) their Black staff decide they want to use this time to express themselves and celebrate.
White people, as you read this, please honestly reflect on your reactions and actions to Black History Month campaigns and comms in October. And why you may have had an opinion one way or the other.
| Small steps towards genuine anti-racist communications?
So, what communications trends did we see and are we seeing the first steps towards genuine anti-racist communications and inclusive narratives?
Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of tweets of support and solidarity, in some cases from all white organisations (…Please can you instead put your energy into your recruitment and retention ASAP). There were fuck ups and even bigger fuck ups, which I won’t give energy to in this piece.
One trend I noticed this year, which I’ve not seen on this level before, was white people – white women, using their reach and influence to raise the profile of brilliant Black women. For instance, #ShareTheMicUK saw 70 female celebrities with a combined audience of +175 million hand over their platforms to Black women. This subsequently inspired other and less prominent women to do the same, including white female leaders in the charity sector. This is a fine start and suggests a recognition of the power held by white women relative to women of colour. But it was just one moment in time. The next step here, for genuine and sustained impact, is directing audiences to Black platforms and accounts, rather than us having to take over white spaces to be heard.
Another trend (I say trend because it’s been one month so by no means behaviour or social change) was interest and education around the diversity of Black British history. The amazing Black Curriculum was referenced and spotlighted a lot, as well as prominent figures from different parts of Black British history. As Lavinya Stennett, CEO of the Black Curriculum told us and something that really resonates with me “As a British born Jamaican, growing up there was no clear connection to how we are connected to Africa and its richness… The focus in schools is only on the transatlantic slave trade”.
Unless you’ve not been living under rock, you should now at least know about Mary Seacole and Ignatius Sancho. The optimistic side of me feels that this narrative and its importance is starting to stick! But there are many more stories that need to be platformed and we must ensure we embed empowering Black British history into the National Curriculum.
| There’s nothing better than Black joy!
Undoubtedly though, the best comms were the celebrations of Black joy from Black people. My CharitySoWhite colleagues and I celebrated why we love being Black with some of the best talent in the sector. Black Ballad kicked off their three month Black Women In Britain campaign to platform voices outside of London. The Black Farmer launched new products as a fundraiser for the Mary Seacole Trust.
| What’s next?
So what is next? Matthew Phillip, Executive Director of Notting Hill Carnival perfectly said “Every month is Black History month” and this is true for the Black community. Comms people shouldn’t forget this statement – if you’ve enjoyed learning about Black British history and discovering the incredible abundance of Black talent and joy on your timelines, then continue to push for it and platform it. The work has only just started.