There’s a collective awakening occurring right now.
A pandemic, a civil rights movement, a giant community rethinking out-of-date structures and systemic racism.
With it, more brands are leaning towards more conscious marketing.
If you’re a marketer, business owner, journalist, or content creator, you no longer have the option to practice diversity, inclusion and bringing a higher purpose to your marketing.
It’s your responsibility to live, work, and write inclusively and consciously.
If you don’t know what to say, acknowledge that and act on it.
If you want to make sure you make better choices in the way you write, then let’s do it! I’ve been reading, learning and unlearning, compiling resources as I go, which I hope are as useful for marketers, brands, and journalists as they’ve been for me.
In the Carolyn Tate’s book Conscious Marketing, she states:
“Conscious business leaders understand that a sustainable business is built on purpose and people (and the planet) before products and profit”
You can do good and make profit. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. But people and the planet should come first.
With that said, here are some brilliant resources to help take a more conscious, diverse and inclusive approach, looking at a range of different writing specialisms.
Six writing specialisms with room for improvement: must-read resources for conscious content creators
This article by Nneya Richards for Conde Nast Traveler discusses how black travellers are always depicted as locals, never the explorers in journalism, advertising and marketing. That, or left out of the conversation entirely.
2. Interior design
Queer Eye’s Bobby Berk looks at design terms such as ‘master bedroom’ being linguistically binned for alternatives that don’t have racist, gender-biased connotations.
The alternatives: ‘primary bedroom’, ‘main bedroom’, ‘owner bedroom’.
This Eater article about the overwhelming whiteness in cookbooks is an insightful read.
It includes Nik Sharma’s story – an award-winning food writer, photographer and recipe developer who was told by many publishers that his book would be “too Indian” and “wouldn’t sell”.
If you want to see the eye-opening stats, food and culture writer Mayukh Sen details the percentage of Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, African and Caribbean recipes authored by white writers (FYI – it’s never lower than 82%).
In 2016, Bon Appetit, a mostly-white-staffed magazine caused outrage when it used a white chef to tell people how to eat pho.
Phil Yu, who runs blog Angry Asian Man described it as “Columbusing at its finest”.
”I’m Vietnamese, and I always put hoisin or Sriracha into my pho,” one commenter wrote. “Don’t tell me how I eat pho.”
Adam Rapoport, editor-in-chief of Bon Appetit, issued this statement acknowledging the mistakes made.
Lesson: don’t rely on overused journalism tropes, internet hyperboles and cultural appropriation to get clicks.
4. Pop culture
Michael G. McDunnah discusses the use of language that assumes straight white people are the universal ‘norm’ in television and film – and that everything else is ’other’.
He looks at the language used to describe two similar TV dramas, premiered back-to-back on the Starz network:
“Vida is described everywhere as a show about queer Latinx culture, but almost no one describes Sweetbitter as a show about straight White culture.
The larger problems, of course, are an overall resistance to acknowledging the existing biases of the entertainment world and a general societal refusal to even recognize—let alone engage with and interrogate—straight White culture as a discrete milieu.”
Major ballet shoe supplier Bloch added pointe shoes to match black and Asian skin tones after an online petition went viral recently.
But it’s not just dance footwear brands that need to be more diverse and inclusive.
This article by Theresa Ruth Howard for Dance Magazine looks at the way writers and editors analyse and critique black dancers, such as overusing adjectives such as ‘aggressive’ and ‘violent’.
Theresa also explains how choreographer Camille A. Brown tried to overcome the lack of knowledge (or willingness to learn) in critics, whose “subconscious biases create barriers to the elevation of non-white artists.”
Aware that the narratives in BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play may not be familiar with critics, “Brown placed a study guide in the program, and built in a post-show talkback where much of the cultural and historical information was unpacked. Still, writers gave the production a scratch-and-sniff once over, reducing the rhythms derived from Juba to “sneaker tapping”.
Despite this, writers still plumped for a hackneyed opening of “a sassy, fierce and at times playfully snarky step dance number.”
Two resources for journalists – and anyone sharing news stories.
Firstly, journos, print off this PDF by Tracie Powell, Program Officer for the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy.
From fact-checking police to perpetuating stereotypes, she covers the do’s and dont’s of covering protests.
Grammar is important here. Terms such as “racially charged” or “officer-involved shooting” mean nothing. “The word is racist,” says Tracie. “The term is “police shot” or “police shot and killed.” Do not use passive voice.”
I’ve covered a specific kind of passive voice – past exonerative tense – in more detail here.
Secondly, this article on the use of the term ‘unarmed black man’, written by Kelly McBride for NPR, is an important read.
Whether the phrase is used by writers consciously or unconsciously, it perpetuates the false assumption that black people are more likely to be criminals.
“Most of the time, when a journalist writes or says, “unarmed black man,” she is using the phrase as code, signalling to her audience that a victim of violence did not pose a deadly threat to the killer or killers, be they citizens or cops. Often that may well be true — but the headline-speak is insufficient journalistically to get to the explanation of why. What’s more, that cliche presumes the first question we should ask about a black jogger is: Was he armed?”
Once you read this article, you won’t miss the term for what it is again – and you can call publications out on it.
I hope this has helped – whatever your specialism or profession.
I’ll continue to put these out and I encourage you to join me in actively and consistently making conscious, inclusive copy and marketing a priority.
If you have created and/or read any more resources that could help me compile these round-ups, please send them to email@example.com
As Carolyn Tate says in her conscious marketing manifesto:
“Unlearn the old. Study the new”.
Choose your words wisely.