8 actions of an anti-racist brand revisited
“By building anti-racism into who you are and what you stand for, it becomes part of the fabric of how you do things.”
– Brand By Me, 2020
Three years ago Brand By Me expanded our brand strategy offering to focus on anti-racist brand strategy. It had always been part of our work with social justice organisations- we just didn’t talk about it. So it was a no-brainer for us as we saw how brands were scrambling to say something meaningful about racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. We saw that many brands, in reflecting on their own complicity in systemic racism, simply continued reinforcing white dominant culture and prioritising white supremacy. For example, by giving tokenistic one-off donations to charity. Or trying to distract from racism by talking about vague ‘D and I’ commitments. Or even quickly finding people of colour to confirm that they weren’t racist.
So we decided to build an anti-racism strategy into the foundations of what we offer as the acknowledgement of systemic racism was certainly not invented in 2020. The Macpherson report which criticised the Metropolitan Police for its racist policing tactics was published way back in 1999. Since then, the existence of systemic racism in the UK has been challenged. The latest high-profile example of this is The Sewell Report, published in 2021 which made claims that systemic racism in the UK didn’t actually exist.
The framing of race in this report validates anti-racist educator and activist Khadijah Diskin’s statement that “Race is a technology of power”. This means that race was deliberately designed to give power to specific groups and remove power from others. And like all technology – it evolves, it adapts and its usage is continually refined by those with power to make it more effective at its original goal. What we saw in the Sewell Report is proof of this.
Black History Month 2023 felt quieter than in recent years. The hashtag was “#CelebratingOurSisters”, and focused on Black women. But here at Brand By Me, we didn’t see many brands, particularly not mainstream brands, posting content out and we have been wondering if that was due to pervasive misogynoir (the word ‘Misogynoir’ is used to describe the discrimination against those who have the intersection of being Black and a woman). We were very proud to sponsor and co-create Join Our Table, a new initiative promoting the visibility of Black women in the advertising, marketing, media, and communications industries. But this was one of very few public campaigns celebrating Black women during the month.
Back in 2020, we put together a list of 8 things that anti-racist brands are in the habit of doing. Since then we’ve seen certain outcomes that have made us sit up and think even harder about what actionable things brands can do to become more actively anti-racist. We’ve gone back to our ‘8 actions of an anti-racist brand and revised these actions for 2023 and beyond.
From the 2020 list: 1. Listen
Listening to, and for, lived experiences of racism among everyone you interact with. And remember, listen not to respond, but to do this openly and actively as you seek to understand and learn.
Brands need to start off by simply acknowledging that they have been operating from a position of white supremacy and it is most helpful for brands to do so publicly. That’s been the learning over the last three years. Because when brands have made a public statement about systemic racism, it’s allowed people to hold them to account.
From the 2020 list: 2. Collaborate
As with action point 1, once you’ve listened, involve people with lived experiences of racism in your strategic thinking. Don’t be tempted to do it alone – you need to do this in collaboration with experts in the field.
There is still a lack of understanding about what ‘race’ and ‘racism’ actually are and people still conflate racism with other acts of hate. Brands and organisations need to be clear on who to approach for collaboration and to make sure that any intersectional issues are being addressed appropriately.
From the 2020 list: 3. Have a point of view
Make sure that you know, specifically, what your brand needs to address whether it’s biased hiring practices or not enough diversity in visual materials. Be clear on the brand’s current status or situation and own up to the problem. Naming issues helps to work out what needs to change for things to improve.
Many organisations and brands have been specifically naming white supremacy and National Trust and Amnesty International are two examples of organisations where they have been clear on their commitment, calling out white supremacy and how they are taking long-term action.
From the 2020 list: 4. Be bold
Use bold and resolute language to make your anti-racist statements. Bold language has a great and lasting impact.
Where brands and organisations use language that describes and explains systems of oppression and avoids using vague words such as ‘diverse’, the root causes of racial injustice are made much clearer.
From the 2020 list: 5. Lead by example
Leaders and managers need to be aware of their own identities and understand where this gives them privilege. It is possible to experience privilege in one area and experience oppression elsewhere, and understanding this, and acting accordingly is a big part of modelling the inclusive behaviours you want to see in your team.
Leaders and managers ought to be first to check their privilege regarding their own intersectional identities in the hierarchy of the organisational as this goes hand in hand with modeling the behaviours you want to see in your team.
From the 2020 list: 6. Go beyond representation
The goal here is to evolve from simply representing a diverse range of people and communities to moving towards a model of equity where reviewing brand values and messaging, evaluating internal policies and practices, partnering with a breadth of people from Global Majority communities and backgrounds, and holding yourself accountable, can create an actively anti-racist brand strategy.
Brands and organisations have got much better at representing people of Global Majority-heritage to communications and campaigns. However, tokenism is still rife, and using more Global Majority-heritage people without a properly embedded anti-racism strategy will not challenge the dominant narrative of white supremacy around the organisation and your brand.
From the 2020 list: 7. Stand strong against the haters
Be clear that your brand doesn’t support racist views even if they are coming from your customers, supporters, and fans.
The rise of the age of personal brands alongside the rise of ‘cancel-culture’ and also the growing public conversation around systemic racism, mean that conversations are polarised and even more divisive. People from Global Majority heritages are even more susceptible to both implicit and explicit white supremacist behaviours. Those who are deemed to have acted or spoken in an unacceptable manner are now more likely to be called out/boycotted and it is even more important that brands are vigilant against doing harm.
From the 2020 list: 8. Commit
Be transparent about where your brand is now and the work your brand needs to do to get there. Share that commitment publicly. Once a commitment is laid out, your brand is far more likely to achieve what it set out to do because of the public accountability element. But it’s also worth mentioning that people will see what your brand is trying to do and understand where and how they can help. And that can often help to further accelerate your brand’s progress.
We have seen organisations proactively seeking out anti-racism workshops and education in the three years since 2020.
It’s important to remember that dismantling racism is not in everyone’s interest since people accumulate power and wealth due to racial hierarchies. It is going to be hard to shift the mindsets of those who benefit most from the current systems. So it’s even more important that brands are vigilant against doing harm. And we’re optimistic that if brands can both recommit and stay the course of anti-racism, we will see systemic change in the future.
If you are serious about social justice and would like to find out more about embedding anti-racism into your brand check out more of our work here.