Following my Instagram Live with RÅN Studio on Wednesday 1st July, we decided to provide a blog post for anyone that missed it and for those interested in broadening their understanding of White Allyship. We talked about what can be done as a freelancer, SME or creative to support the Black community in the UK and beyond. Read on to find out more.
RÅN: We would like to introduce you by saying that you have been delivering presentations on racism, most recently for Women’s Society, and have talked about what best practice looks like in the workplace. You identified that there is a need for other entrepreneurs, freelancers and agencies to have conversations about racism and look at best practices internally and with their clients.
Dionne: The purpose for me is that I feel entrepreneurs and freelancers that are white may not know how or where to start with supporting the anti- racism movement. So as a freelancer and black woman, I wanted to start the conversation. It isn’t my job to do, but at this moment, it's something I feel able to do. I delivered a webinar for Women’s Society, a group of empowered female entrepreneurs and freelancers following a conversation with the founder about diversity and inclusion; I then extended that offer to some of the other networks I’m a member of. That’s how we got talking, you took me up on that offer, and here we are. Using your platform to educate and show that although conversations regarding racism may be difficult, they are very necessary. I hear often, that Britain doesn’t have the same record of police brutality, or that racism isn't an issue in the UK, but when you realise that the first piece of legislation challenging racial discrimination the Race Relations act didn’t happen until 1965 (I mean my Mum was born in 1962) and that it wasn’t until the 1968 amendment that the use of the ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ signs was made illegal that you start to realise our proximity to these issues and it being our “past history” is not as long ago as people want to believe.
TAKING MORE RESPONSIBILITY RÅN: We have connected to speak about the importance of taking more responsibility as a business owner or freelancer, doing more than just delivering a project and engaging in conversations about diverse representation. How can we challenge structures within the client’s brand/organisation who we might be working with?
Dionne: Yes you can definitely be taking more responsibility. Take a look at how that brand or organisation has positioned themselves in any other conversation. What picture does their organisation paint? Can you see diversity in the way they work and the people they employ? Are they forward thinking in the way they recruit. You can be looking outside of your traditional networks, when recruiting or outsourcing work. The McGregor - Smith review says you should be setting targets inline with the makeup of the area geographically: ‘look at the make-up of the area in which they are recruiting to establish the right target. For instance, the proportion of working age people from a BME background in London and Birmingham is already over 40%, with Manchester not far behind’.
DELIVERING A DIVERSE PROJECT IS NOT ENOUGH RÅN: We found that stepping into an organisation and delivering a diverse project is simply not enough. To bring an awareness of diversity beyond a project’s completion requires more work. Can you tell us your thoughts on this?
Dionne: I personally feel the companies you’re working with should be happy to be approached about these issues. More importantly, if they have already invested in doing the work within their organisation, they won’t be caught off guard when you ask the question. Simple and actionable things like being more engaged with the black community, listening, reaching out to black freelancers, entrepreneurs and creatives whose work you admire as well as working with white clients who are happy to commit to doing the anti-racist work, is a small but massively powerful change. It's important to understand that as a white business owner/freelancer you are in a position of privilege, so you can and should challenge those around you. If BME talent is fully utilised, the economy could receive a £24 billion boost.
ANTI RACIST POLICY RÅN: One of your suggestions was that we can check whether our client has an anti racist policy. What else would you suggest white brands like us, white small business owners or white freelancers could do?
Dionne: Of course, If you’re asked to be a panellist or ‘expert’, do you question the range of voices, background and experiences that are also being invited into the conversation. What is your proximity to black people in your professional and personal life? What hashtags do you follow, can you broaden the searches, curate your feeds and become more familiar with black owned businesses in your industry and beyond? What literature have you read by black writers? Do you know black people that work in the same industries as you? Change the lens you use and the media you are exposed to in your everyday life to broaden your awareness.
DIVERSE COLLECTIVES RÅN: You also spoke about how we can create diverse collectives in order to keep the conversation going, keep growing our diverse network, keep inspiring and help one another. We love that idea. Can we talk about it more? That’s something that could be so easily achieved, especially in a time where we can connect virtually to anyone in the world and have these conversations. This idea is very beautiful and has a huge potential. Dionne: Absolutely! A study in 2015 by McKinsey management consulting firm showed that companies in the top-quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians; and companies in the top quartile for gender diversity, 15 percent. There isn’t a question at all about the benefits of inviting ethnic diversity into your business. In terms of increased creativity, productivity and output as a brand it is immeasurable. At this point, businesses are already being held under increased scrutiny to take action. I don’t feel any industry is not included in that. Creating real change must start now.
NOT SEEING COLOUR RÅN: We wanted to ask the question about people not seeing colour and how this narrative is not helpful within businesses and organisations. We often found that when we talked to clients about making sure that the project represents the black community, they almost seemed terrified that we said the word ‘black’. By saying the word ‘black’ we brought the colour into the room and with it, the conversation about race. It’s important, isn’t it, to bring these conversations and colour into the room?
Dionne: I feel like you answered your own question with that one. By not recognising colour, or stating that you don’t see colour; you’re ignoring difference, you’re ignoring diversity and effectively not recognising that your ways of working need to be inclusive. Just like you would recognise someone in a wheelchair might need help if there was no lift in a building. You wouldn’t just say ‘I don’t see them as not able bodied’, you recognise that things might need to be done a little differently to remain inclusive. Failure to recognise that someone is black, or someone is white; ultimately keeps us in our comfort zone, ignoring the different cultural experiences we may have.
ACTIONABLE PLAN RÅN: It could be useful to finish off with a loose, actionable plan. As a conscious business owner or freelance practitioner what are the first steps that someone can take in their practices and communication both internally and externally?
Dionne: Critical self- inquiry, reading and listening, there are lots of people that have been doing the work for a long time to raise awareness about the ways and places racism still exists in the UK! People that dedicate the majority of their working life to dismantling damaging stereotypes and systemic racism within our society. Please go and read ‘Why I’m no longer talking to White people about Race’ by Renni Eddo- Lodge. She is the first Black British author (not female author; Black author in History) to take the overall No.1 spot in the UK’s official book charts. Kelechi Okafor, Activist, actor, social commentator and producer of Say Your Mind podcast. Akala - Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire and ‘Race in the Workplace’ the independent report published in 2018 by Baroness McGregor Smith (CBE). Baroness McGregor - Smith said “It is no surprise that leadership and culture play a key role in creating obstacles while also providing the solutions that enable BME individuals’ success.” Your actions today can be the difference between how you're remembered as a company, a person and a brand.
LEARN MORE RÅN: Thank you, Dionne, for spending the time to chat with us. We would like to direct our audience to your work and link to the podcast. Dionne: 1.The links to my work can be found on my Instagram bio: https://www.instagram.com/livingmotherhoodcreatively
2. The podcast episode sharing my families experiences of racism in the UK and US ‘The Twenties’ podcast, can be found here: https://anchor.fm/aisha-williams available on Spotify and Apple.
NB: _______ 3. ‘CHANGE YOURSELF CHANGE THE WORLD!’ type poster was designed by @ryancarlstudio using typeface Martin developed by @vocaltype.co in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Ryan made this series of posters available as free PDF available for download and printing.