Here are three ways to respond to the violent display of white supremacy we saw at the U.S. capitol last week, and may see again and again in 2021 and beyond:
1. Put your performative statements away.
2. Do the work – then communicate about it.
3. Start now.
At Change, clients come to us to create statements in response to external events, and our counsel always is to add their voices to issues that are aligned with their ongoing priorities and that they can back up with their actions and investments.
As communications strategists for racial justice, we believe communications is, first and foremost, about action. With brand- and organization-level communications in particular, what we say is always bolstered or negated by what we do or don’t do. And that is especially true when it comes to critical issues like racial justice; it is the singular issue of our time and one that underlines pretty much every other social justice issue, including — as we are seeing so clearly right now — our democracy. It’s great to see so many people showing their outrage and joining in the movement for justice, but in order to eradicate the evil of white supremacy, we must not only say something, we must do something. We must commit in a real way to sustain our actions over the long haul — not only when racist violence flares up and makes headlines.
And there is so much to DO. The harm of white supremacy is staggering and insidious, and it will take much more than this post to list all the harm it leaves in its wake. Just one example is the racial wealth gap; the net worth of White Americans hit a record high last year, during a pandemic that is impacting Black and Brown communities the hardest, while Black people and other people of color saw their share of the nation’s wealth decline. Now more than ever, we have no time for empty words. Instead, let’s do the work. (Check out this workshop by Dr. Akilah Cadet)
The work is external. If you are a funder, give and continue giving toward efforts that are actively working on dismantling white supremacy and advancing racial justice. Give to support Black, indigenous and people of color-led organizing and advocacy at the local, regional and national level (examples are African Communities Together, Black Organizing Project, Black Girl Freedom Fund and Parent Voices Oakland). If you are a nonprofit or policy leader, learn and educate others about how systemic racism operates within the sectors you work and underlines and exacerbates the issues or causes you champion. Whether it’s climate change, food security, gender equality, economic or workforce development — there isn’t a social justice issue that is not also a racial justice issue. If you are a culture leader or maker, shift the stories and images that perpetuate racial injustice in all its forms. Shift power, shift resources, shift systems.
The work is internal within our organizations. Examine policies, processes, language, staffing and all the other ways you may be propping up white supremacy within your institutions. Move beyond diversity to racial equity, and, even better, to justice.
The work is personal. White supremacy is embedded throughout our institutions, yes, and those institutions are made up of people who each have our own biases and backgrounds. Let’s confront how we may be perpetuating racial injustice ourselves — how we benefit from it or refuse to recognize and acknowledge our involvement.
As you do the work, communicate about it. Share honest reflections about your journey. Urge your audiences to join you in taking action. Amply the work of leaders who are pushing us toward a more just world. And there is no more urgent time than now. Last week, racists showed up at our nation’s capitol armed with guns, bombs — and a noose. If not now, when?
The question is not just, what should we say about racial injustice? The question now and always must be, what should we do about it?