OPINION: Black people should be born with a fair chance

by Chris Kenna | Brand Advance
Wednesday, 17 June 2020 09:14 GMT

People participate in a Black Trans Lives Matter rally in the Brooklyn borough in New York City, U.S., June 14, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When Black Lives Matter is a parade like Pride, not a protest, that will be a proud day for society

Chris Kenna is CEO of Brand Advance​, a marketing agency

Being a black, gay entreprenuer, I have a certain perspective on the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement during Pride month.

I have lived with intersectional oppression all my life. Being LGBTQ+ is hard. Being black is hard. They present different challenges and together create more struggles to overcome in a society that is full of institutionalised racism and bigotry.

A brighter spotlight is currently being shone on these issues than has been for a long time. So it is my and all of our obligations to be vocal about injustices.

You are either against racism and homophobia, or you are for it. In not taking a stand against them, you are for them.

As the CEO of a marketing agency, Brand Advance​, I acknowledge that I am a privileged black man. However, no matter how much money I may earn, I will still experience racist microaggressions on a daily basis.

Microaggressions are everyday demeaning messages sent to people of colour by often well-intentioned white people, who may be unaware of what they are doing. For example, so many times I have entered a lift and a woman will move her purse to the opposite side to which I'm standing.

This pervading racism can be seen on a larger scale in many industries and the world of advertising is not exempt from this.

Brands can often be criticised for jumping on the bandwagon of social movements such as Black Lives Matter and Pride. However, it is the responsibility of brands to ensure that their black and LGBT+ people alike are made to feel as though they can be themselves in the workplace. They can also enact authentic change by taking action during huge societal conversations like we are experiencing now.

Brands must be clear in their communications and be willing to have these difficult conversations both internally and externally. This will benefit them, as ultimately, if a brand is seen to be vocal, then their Gen Z and Millennial customers will be more likely to buy from them.

There is no magical action, though, that will make a brand’s support for these causes “more authentic”. It doesn’t matter either if a brand has been supportive of black and LGBT+ people throughout its entire history - it’s about speaking up ​now ​.

I don’t expect the people who run brands to understand everything I go through as black, gay man. I will go through my struggle and they must go through their struggle of addressing discrimination through enforcing their internal policies.

However, we can try and incite change for the advertising industry especially, as it is a network through which brands communicate to society.

My company has put out ​an open letter alongside Creative Equals to highlight what the advertising industry can do as a sector to have a positive impact on society.

But although it’s a pertinent document, I am still baffled by the fact that I have to write a letter to my peers in 2020 that implores them to truly see people like me.  Black people have to ask to be given a fair chance. Black people should be born with a fair chance.   

Advertising does not yet hit the mark when it comes to representation - an example of this can be seen in the use of the acronym BAME.

Black Lives Matter is a powerful movement in part because it is specific. A Chinese person will come under BAME and their struggles in society, while just as valid, will be different to that of a black person.

I hope I live to see the day when an umbrella term such as BAME, that dilutes narratives of oppression, will not need to be used. Perhaps this will come when Black Lives Matter has become a parade, as Pride is, rather than a protest. That will be a proud day for society.

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