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Influencing change and being anti-racist through comms

18 June 2021

The events of 2020 brought Black Lives Matter into the forefront of people’s minds, but the presence of racism isn’t new news – so how can we as communicators make the change to be actively anti-racist?

Communications is the glue that holds everything together – it influences strategy, the delivery of an organisations work, and it can shape relationships both internally and externally. This puts us in the perfect position to drive positive change. In our biggest seminar to date – The role of comms in building an anti-racist brand we looked at how we can be active allies and build anti-racism into who we are and our work. Here are our top takeaways…

Storytelling and comms are vital to achieving change.

One theme that resonated throughout the talks was that change starts from within. Charity So White’s Jonathan Cornejo reflected on his own personal experiences of trying to fit in and how he became a better campaigner by embracing his true self, challenging beliefs and pushing for a change.

This change can be uncomfortable as we veer away from our comfort zones and our focus on objectives and KPIs, but behind every successful campaign there is a story of how something new helped influence hearts and minds. By embarking on our own anti-racist journey, learning from those with lived experiences, being brave and critical at what went wrong and looking deeply at stereotypes within our communications we can move forward to transform positively.

We can start by having honest and intentional conversations – look at the power dynamics within the organisation, empower and allow stories to be told, learn from them and have these people at the heart of strategy and development plans.

Use our comms superpowers to lead the charge  

As comms teams we are perfectly positioned to lead the charge and help our organisations embed and drive anti-racism. Brand by Me’s Collette Philip shared a great quote to ponder over – “Anti-racism is about working tirelessly and consistently to surface, highlight, tackle and counter racism in all of its forms.”

So, what are the reasons why we are in this perfect position?

  • We understand the importance of insight – we understand our audiences and know the danger of making assumptions. To make change we need to understand the perspectives of people with lived experiences of racism – and they are our core audience in trying to be anti-racist.
  • We operate at different levels – talking to a variety of people internally and externally and racism also operates at different levels, from institutional to personal.
  • We’re good at learning and trying new things. Start by unlearning what we already know, question the tried and tested and look for new ways to do things. This will help in breaking down the systems of oppression and deep-rooted racism. We shouldn’t let the unknown stop us.
  • We do a lot – delivering to demands, with limited resources and small teams and these are the people we need to lead and deliver change.

In our journey for change we can create our own barriers, so these are some things to avoid:

  • Acting as gatekeepers – if people have to go through someone to get things done it can limit the ability for others to share their insights and expertise. Instead, bring in those with lived experiences and work as a team.
  • Controlling the message – this can undermine any efforts to make change. It’s better to embrace the discomfort by being transparent and honest.
  • Focussing on making everything look good – if we are just looking at this it can stop our ability to actually create change by acting as a smokescreen, obscuring and preventing change and we won’t be able to combat the issues that need tackling.

Own it so we can do something about it

With anti-racism becoming part of the DNA of an organisation it can become a source of genuine change, recognising past mistakes to work out how to move forward.

The panel discussion made up of Collette Philip, IIED’s Natalie Lartey, The Wellcome Trust’s Melissa Paramasivan and NCVO’s Sarah Vibert reiterated the points from the talks of unlearning what we know, listening to each other’s stories and being transparent with the work being done.

Sarah Vibert shared that at NCVO they have been actively tackling racism by accepting where they are and authentically talking about failures – changing the narrative and the way they use language with comms at the forefront.

Melissa Paramasivan made an important point of being there to support colleagues working on anti-racism projects but also establishing a space where people can have open conversations beyond any workshops or training. Natalie Lartey assured that it’s not easy and we need to talk about why its uncomfortable, but we can still choose to seize the opportunity to transform and shift our ideas.

Top takeaways from the panel

  • Let those with lived experience be at the centre of the work and support them emotionally and with the resources to make it happen.
  • Have a plan of action that everyone owns and commits to
  • Lean on the allies we have and use that power

If you want to rewatch or missed any of the talks you can find it all on-demand here.

For further reading check out:

We have collated the day’s Twitter action below!

Image: Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Adel Hanily

digital content officer, CharityComms

Adel is the digital content officer at CharityComms, managing the social media channels and supporting content planning. She has a background in various sectors including event ticketing, PR, and charity content. She is passionate about communications and helping those with personal or physical barriers to succeed.