Adland and media: We need to change the way we do business if we are to become anti-racist

Simone Smith from McCann explains why recent events have been so heartbreaking for the black community. As she puts it: "We’re tired. We’re sad. We’re angry."

I’m a PR professional whose role is to communicate behind the scenes, but I’ll be honest: I’ve grappled with the ‘right’ and ‘appropriate’ way to join the conversations about race and equality that have surfaced with rigorous force over the past week.

I feel it would be remiss of me to not say something, particularly as a senior member of the industry and, more pertinently, as a person of colour and as a black woman.

I’m also someone who has parents who are both black and white and dealt with Apartheid and the White Australia policy directly. And I’m someone who has lived, worked and made a home in America for a very long time, including during the Rodney King riots in the 90s.

A Black Lives Matter protest in 2014

It has been very difficult to watch the horrific events of the past week.

I have experienced all types of prejudices and racism on multiple levels, more so in my own home country of Australia than anywhere else, so it has had a personal impact on me, as I’m sure it has for many others.

For people of colour, prejudice is something on our minds all the time, day in and day out. Even in the simplest life interactions, it sits underneath like a mostly quiet yet constant hum, buzzing under the surface. It’s so present that you learn to live with, and bury it, but it sits with you always.

You learn as a person of colour in a mostly white society – where you are often, even if only politely and without bad intent, are looked at or treated differently because of the colour of your skin – to let it sit.

You only mention it, or talk about it, with certain types of friends or people who have experienced it themselves. People who are not ‘uncomfortable’ talking about these things because you don’t want to come across as the ‘angry black or brown person’. You want to be treated just like everyone else, so you behave ‘within the lines’. But the reality is, you’re not treated like everyone else.

We are at a point where we’ve let things simmer under the surface for so long, through so many difficult moments of injustice and hurt. And we’re at breaking point. We’re tired. We’re sad. We’re angry. We’re heartbroken. We’ve had enough.

We are experiencing the very personal grief and sadness and frustration of what is happening right now, even right here in Australia. It is a heavy weight, and it extends far beyond the horrific injustice of George Floyd’s death. It continues to happen, time and time and time again.

It’s 2020, and the time for ignorance has passed. We are all responsible – me included.

In my work over the years, I’ve struggled with mainstream ideals of ‘diversity’. I feel like we’ve reached a point where the representation of all races should be normalised, and not just a box that needs to be ticked from a creative point of view.

Whilst it’s not my job as a person of colour to educate others on our history and why things are at this point, I thought: If my voice isn’t represented on issues that affect my community, I am complicit in the status quo.

So. I encourage you all to consider actionable things you can do in your own lives, or in the business of what we do, to incorporate real change, no matter how small (trust me, it counts).

Please do your homework. Think about and understand what you are posting and sharing. What are you doing in your non-social media life that ensures you are not perpetuating racism? We appreciate the solidarity, but what we want to see and feel is that you actually care enough to:

  1. Change the way you do business.
  2. Hold our leaders and politicians and people in power and law enforcement accountable.
  3. Treat us equally in your everyday, working and family lives.
  4. Be diligent and non-biased in your reporting and sharing of our stories. Make sure you have representation from black and brown voices on your TVs and, in your newspapers.
  5. Fight and stand with us to create real reform for the hundreds of years of oppression we have faced.
  6. Educate your children on racism.
  7. Talk to your teachers and make sure there are the right types of messaging and storytelling in curriculums.
  8. Consider the representations in your branding and in advertisements. Are people of colour shown in powerful ways?
  9. If you appreciate and love black music and culture, understand and acknowledge where it came from without appropriating it.
  10. Be enraged for our Indigenous communities and Black Australia. The same things have happened to young black people in police custody here. Elevate their stories, report accurately, and do something to show that their lives matter.

My voice and experience is just one of many personal accounts. But I’m writing this piece to open up dialogue that can effect change. I hope it encourages others to speak up about their thoughts and experiences.

Simone Smith is PR director at McCann


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