Becoming the anti-racist ally your consumers deserve

“People need to understand — we just want to be treated equally. We don’t say respect us because we’re black, we say respect us because we’re human.” — Ade, 27

Why haven’t we, why haven’t I, spoken out before? There is no excuse; privilege is the only answer. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better”. That is what we, and what I, pledge: to do better.

Racism is a global, human crisis

“[Racism] is a quiet insidious thing that seeps into every fabric of our lives; it’s in haircuts at school, it’s “why do you dress black?” Some people call these micro-aggressions, but these are just the most basic, the every day, most banal forms of racism.” — Ade, 27

“I was in a serious relationship with a white man… he’d say things like ‘I like you because you don’t talk like a stereotypical black girl, or you don’t dress like a stereotypical black girl’… there’s no way to respond to that, it’s just someone else saying nothing new, they think it’s a compliment. It’s hard to have those conversations, I don’t want to be difficult, and turn into that stereotypical angry black person.” — Janet, 25

“[Racism] is walking into a room and assessing if people want to hurt me. It’s a black man being pulled over in a nice expensive car, because he couldn’t get it without a life of crime… It’s reading Of Mice and Men at school, kids getting excited reading the ’n’ word and saying it with such venom and laughter. It’s not knowing my own land and my own history. It’s deep rooted. It’s not subtle… it’s someone spitting at Belly Mujinga… it’s the treatment of Diane Abbott. It’s being sat down at 12 years old and told you will always have to work twice as hard, people will disrespect you and knowing you just have to handle that. Racism is England. It’s swept under the rug.” — Priss, 23

Racism is not an American political ‘problem’. Racism is a global, human crisis that has been historically and continually reinforced across geographies and societies. It is not just an individual problem owned by hooded, white supremacists or those who ‘grew up in a different era’, but it is a damaging and structural fault that goes largely unseen in our day to day.

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It is the result of hundreds of years of oppression, suppression and exclusivity — reinforced today by the silent complicity of a white majority.

There are millions of black voices speaking out. We at Brand Genetics seek to amplify those voices, experiences and stories today — and going forward. We urge brands to listen to and accept these black voices. Just as individuals are taking the time to learn, speak and take impactful action, so must brands.

People are looking for ways to generate impact, to use their economic power, to champion diversity, to drive inclusivity, to donate to bail funds, to support black business owners and ultimately to oppose the ingrained structural racism that is the fault destabilising the foundation of our societies.

Brands have the power to change the narrative, to make internal and external changes that are overtly anti-racist and to drive the change that governments and politicians have failed to make.

Brands have a responsibility to help people make more informed decisions about how and where they use their economic power. The action a brand must take goes beyond sharing a black square on social media: it’s about implementing a long-term allyship strategy that creates real change.

How brands can be a non-optical ally

Mireille Harper published a guide for 10 steps towards non-optical allyship. We have extrapolated her succinct guiding principles to provide a blueprint for brands.

Be held accountable

“It’s frustrating that black people have to wait so long for people to unlearn their anti-blackness, and we have to sit here and suffer. I’m tired. You’ve been ignorant and blissful and complacent for too long, you can clearly see what you need to do with the information now.” — Priss, 23

It’s important to acknowledge past mistakes and ignorance, there will be past mistakes and ways you could have done better across both internal and external practices. Identify where you need to do better and state your commitment to progress and drive change.

Non-optical allyship means going beyond creating a surface-level, knee-jerk reaction. It’s about a considered action that causes a positive impact — going further than simply saying or doing, but instead leading and living the change you want to see in the world.

Source: Have Her Back

Have Her Back is a gender consultancy that drives equality, diversity and inclusion. They released this mock ‘template’ to symbolise the empty marketing messages regurgitated by countless brands as they posted a black square for #blackouttuesday. Their aim? To inspire brands to do better, be better — not just to use their voices in a meaningful way, but to give their words impact through proactive anti-racist policies and practices

Be aware

“I feel I am part of the more privileged group. I tick the box of mixed white and black Caribbean, but I don’t feel connected to my black heritage. I’m as white as could be in terms of the privilege I have. I’ve got a lot to learn about my history and black history outside of school and the occasional film. We’ve got a lot to do.” — Chez, 26

Find opportunities to exercise a growth mindset within your business: be inquisitive and educate to eradicate racism stemming from ignorance. Internally, understand how to best support your black colleagues and how to ensure they can express themselves.

Have uncomfortable conversations about white privilege and race, and create an environment where everyone can be themselves. Put racial biases aside, stop hiring in your own image, and start to become a brand (internally) that represents your brand (externally).

Source: Sims 4

Electronic Arts pledged to donate $1m to several charities and organisations including the Equal Justice Initiative, NAACP Legal Defence and Educational Fund, but also doubling any funds employees donate to organisations throughout June. They’ve created a day of open conversations on June 9th and a company-wide volunteering event on Juneteenth to encourage internal awareness and generate external impact.

Proactively listen

“My hope is this isn’t a trend, but that we keep the conversation going and real change happens. It’s all well and good people posting a black square, but it’s about educating yourself, making changes in real life and doing that at home before you attempt to make real impact elsewhere.” — Janet, 25

Your brand may be part of the discussion, but black people and their experiences are the centre of the discussion on race. Seek out conversations and listen to those voices that are angry, frustrated, sad and disappointed. It’s not about being defensive or agreeing, but about hearing, accepting and acknowledging black experiences.

Source: Twitter

Microsoft is dedicating its social platforms to amplify the voices of black employees to drive awareness and allyship, highlighting the need for businesses to evaluate their own communities to help drive change.

Be truly empathic

“I feel heard when I perform my poems, because I love seeing the reaction. So it makes you uncomfortable? You should feel how I feel my whole life. I say what’s on my mind and in my heart…It is nice to be affirmed, to know what I said was responded to in a positive way.” — Priss, 23

Listening to your black consumers is a priority, not an afterthought. Listening to people is paramount when creating products and services that can add real, positive value to peoples’ lives.

Getting black colleagues in the room, in the creative and developmental stage, and in the decision-making process can only heighten your brand’s ability to understand consumers. Practicing empathy techniques at an individual level will help individuals unlearn ingrained racial bias and prejudice and make more informed decisions that don’t discriminate.

Source: Instagram

Glossier demonstrated an empathic and consumer-centric ethos after listening to criticism from Devin McGhee (founder of Glossier Brown, a beauty account dedicated to brown skin) by extending the list of shades in its concealer, foundation and powders after failing to provide a more inclusive range that caters to darker skin tones.

Demonstrate commitment to the cause

“It’s jarring not seeing a single black person in a [social] feed. Selling t-shirts and giving the money to charity is fantastic but how far can you say you stand for equality if you’re doing nothing to promote the work? If what you’re showing me is unequal, then lord knows what’s going on behind closed doors!” — Chez, 26

Consider ways for your brand to implement long-term allyship strategies that goes beyond supporting the initial outrage and continues to thrive well after the commotion has died down.

Commitment to allyship means embedding a holistic internal and external approach to tackling institutional and structural racism. Internally, this means employing black people and driving diversity at every touchpoint. Externally, it’s making products that consider your black consumers and therefore creating a narrative that includes black people at every stage of development and launch (e.g. social media, DTC website).

Source: Twitter & Instagram

Nike have a demonstrated a continued and genuine commitment to tackling racism through diverse advertising, athlete sponsorship, social media and support of black rights figures (e.g. Colin Kaepernick’s 2018 campaign). In doing so, they are global leaders setting a standard to champion diversity that other brands seek to follow.

Take action that creates impact

“All I see is a sea of white faces. It’s all very well commanding allyship when the bridge is crumbling, but what’s really good is not having a bridge that’s broken in the first place. I don’t know if smaller companies have the bandwidth to take a stand, but the big ones — they do.” — Ade, 27

Decide how you want your actions to have the most impact: consider regular donations to charitable organisations, support black employees, empower black creators, promote legislation, empower voters, and drive a diverse narrative. Most importantly, your brand must act with urgency.

Source: Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s powerful message of allegiance with Black Lives Matter is testament to their repeated championing of civil rights. In 2016, they openly reprimanded the actions of politicians and showed support for the movement, and in 2020 they have called for specific political action and allyship to eradicate racism in the USA, partnering with several organisations including Colour of Change and the NAACP.

What next?

At Brand Genetics, we believe that what unites us is more important than what divides us. It is vital that brands use their scale, financial power, global capacity and their ability to command share of mind to act as positive allies and join with individuals to provide a truly united front in tackling systemic global racism.

This is the end of our inaction. Thank you to the people who patiently answered questions and told us their stories. As we continue to have more conversations, we’ll be using our platform to promote black voices and experiences in conversation. This is not a perfect beginning, but we want to have more difficult conversations, to be held more accountable, to improve and to do better.

Send us a message. Join us in conversation. We’ll be listening.

Nathania Messer is a senior consultant at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. Having worked in insight and innovation for 5 years, Nathania has a breadth of experience in the world of FMCG and beyond.

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Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics www.brandgenetics.com