As communicators and public relations practitioners, we can play a critical role in creating a world where everyone is valued and appreciated for who they are. Through inclusive and respectful communications and conversations, we can help shape our organizations and communities into spaces that are genuinely welcoming and safe for everyone. The public relations field is primarily made up of white women* (that’s me) and from that perspective, I share five reasons why I believe that anti-racism is needed in public relations.
1. Language is powerful.
The stories we tell and the ways we tell them can shape change. We can motivate others and inspire our institutions if we are thoughtful, knowledgeable and reflective about the language we use. It is critical for communications professionals to be aware of how the phrases, words and colloquialisms we use impact everyone. This requires an ongoing commitment to learning and unlearning, such as understanding a word or phrase’s history and the ways that it may impact on folks today.
2. Communicators are part of an organization’s conscience.
We make recommendations to colleagues and leadership about how to implement projects, when to make a public statement on a topic and craft organizational messages. As the voice of our organizations, we are aware of how what we communicate reflects and incorporates organizational values, which indicates to potential future colleagues and existing audiences whether they will be welcome and respected. By recommending the use of anti-racist language, adhering to anti-racist practices in our work and committing to our own ongoing learning and action, we operate from a place of integrity ourselves and support or guide our organizations and clients to do so as well.
3. White supremacy is everywhere and in everything.
Active examination of how white supremacy has shaped us and the ways we communicate organizationally and personally is essential if we wish to create authentically welcoming and safe spaces for everyone. If we don’t engage in ongoing learning and unlearning, we probably are not aware of the ways we are causing harm to others, even if unintentionally.
4. Anti-racism requires action.
If it was possible to create a just, equitable and safe world for everyone by simply not being overtly racist, we’d already be living in such a world. Looking at the inequalities in our communities shows that passively hoping for change isn’t sufficient. Through our work in communications, we can encourage our organizations and clients to identify ways they can take authentic action towards making the world a better place. Due to the prevalence of white supremacy (see #3), every organization has the opportunity to find ways to take anti-racist action.
5. This is about more than words.
Those of us working in communications may have heard the phrase “well, at least no one died,” in response to some of the figurative fires that we put out. While hopefully the situations we respond to in communications are not the result of a fatality, sadly it’s not hard to identify circumstances where inflammatory, discriminative or racist language was used to sow seeds of hate and create the conditions for those seeds to grow into terrible actions. Language matters (see #1). People are being killed daily because of racism. This needs to change, now. As communicators we can wield our words, effectively and engagingly, to create conditions for a world where everyone is respected and appreciated.
We can’t create the kind of world that everyone deserves without exploring the ways in which we ourselves contribute to upholding or perpetuating unjust systems. While we learn and unlearn in our journey as change agents, we also need to identify tangible actions we can take to move from learning to implementing.
I invite you to join me at the National Summit on Anti-racism in Public Relations and Communications on March 22-23, 2021. Together, we’ll not only further our learning about how we can be an anti-racist in our field, but also to come away with practical tools and actions to make the world more equitable and just.
*Read Does PR have a diversity problem? by Sharlyn Carrington, Founder & Director, Content Strong and member of the steering committee for the National Summit on Anti-racism in PR and Communications Management
This article originally appeared on the AntiRacismPR website.