Collette Philip: Serious about anti-racism? Build it into your brand

Too often, if there is any diversity within organisations, the structure resembles a pint of Guinness

As the song from the musical Avenue Q says, it seems we're slowly coming to the realisation that “everyone's a little bit racist”. And if we're talking about institutional and structural racism, this is all too true.

In the charity sector, this is not news. I found articles on Third Sector dating as far back as 2004 talking about the need to tackle racism as a sector. 

And unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last year or so, you must have come across CharitySoWhite, the campaign network on a mission to call for the long overdue, transformative, sector-wide change that is needed to tackle systemic racism in our sector. 

If this wasn't a catalyst enough, the global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this year has prompted an outpouring and uprising of anti-racist action, which our sector cannot ignore.

The charity sector should be on the front line of this wave of activism. We should be serious about being actively anti-racist, now more than ever.

Yet for many charities, action has been tentative and slow. Rather than making a commitment to be actively anti-racist, there is a tendency to say: "Of course we're not racist."

All the while, organisations led by people of colour or serving communities of colour go underfunded, and the few people of colour within charities experience daily prejudice and aggression, and are overlooked for leadership positions. 

Frankly, if there is any diversity within organisations, the structure usually resembles – at best – a pint of Guinness. 

Many of the issues, domestic and global, that our sector seeks to address disproportionately affect communities of colour.

But these same communities are not involved when solutions are discussed, with organisations instead preferring to position them as helpless victims needing to be rescued.

I worked in the charity sector for years. I have even shared my experiences of racism. 

So it has been frustrating, disappointing and, honestly, heartbreaking to see so many organisations resisting the opportunity to tackle injustice and hear the rallying cry of activists the world over: Black Lives Matter.

Moving beyond a statement

Yet there is a glimmer of hope. There are organisations that are committed to tackling inequality.

Organisations and individuals that recognise a racist society is damaging to everyone, and that we cannot tackle oppression and injustice until we understand this AND actually do something about it. These organisations are genuinely serious about being anti-racist.

If you are serious about anti-racism, you will have moved beyond a statement and started listening to the lived experiences of racism among your staff and stakeholders. 

You will have sought training for your teams: not just a box-ticking exercise of unconscious bias training, but anti-racism training that tackles bias, power and privilege. 

You will have embarked on a journey of learning and unlearning to understand the root causes of racism. You will be taking direct, immediate and long-term action to diversify your organisation from top to bottom. 

And you will be actively and meaningfully working in partnership with organisations led by people of colour, and with communities of colour, to effect change.

If you are serious about anti-racism, you will be doing all these things and so much more.

Even attempting all of this, you may still find that progress is slow. The energy of June and a brief window in October is already quickly subsiding, to make way for "more urgent priorities". 

It might also be that the initial enthusiasm and focus of your teams, your leadership, and your board (if it was there at all) has waned in the attempt to return to business as usual.

Because, let's be clear, anti-racism is not a project. It's not an HR thing or the responsibility of your one diversity and inclusion person (or team) to implement. You can’t simply leave it to a working group or your employee resource group either.

That's why, if you are serious about anti-racism, you need to make it part of your brand – part of who you are, what you stand for, and how you do things.

This is not about performative appearance, but embedding anti-racism so that it becomes part of your identity.

Building anti-racism into your brand makes it real, tangible and visible to the outside world as well as internally. Your audiences and stakeholders will understand why it is important to your specific mission, purpose and vision, beyond diversity.

It will amplify your impact and embed inclusion, so that your focus becomes intersectional, rather than being a single issue. This will accelerate progress, and make you accountable. 

Leading by example

If you are looking for an example of organisations building anti-racism into their brand, how about the National Trust? 

The charity published a thorough audit and public report detailing its properties' links to colonialism and slavery back in August.

Since then, it has continued to consistently communicate and share its position on this. The organisation’s commitment to being anti-racist is clear to all. 

Has this been universally welcomed and loved? Of course not. Is the work done? No.

But the key thing is that the National Trust sees this as a vital part of its 125-year-old mission and purpose, and has reiterated this even in the face of criticism.

Likewise, Barnardo's recently released a series of resources for parents on how to tackle white privilege in another example of a brand taking a visible and tangible anti-racist action. 

Again, although many donors welcomed this move, the charity's staff faced backlash and even abuse over social media, with critics seemingly triggered by the very mention of the word "white"by an organisation they considered to be a British institution. 

Both are powerful examples for the rest of the sector – openly learning, being bold in taking a publically anti-racist stance, linking it inextricably to their purpose and standing strong against any backlash.

This is not just relevant to organisations, but individuals too: whether you are a person of colour or an ally. 

By building anti-racism into your personal brand, it will ensure that you are in spaces that align with your values, and help you prioritise your actions.

It will help you understand who your allies are, and the people to stop wasting your time on. And it will give you clear criteria so you know when to move on (from a project, an opportunity or even an organisation).

How do I know this? Because I'm living it and practicing what I preach, on a personal level and in my company.

As Dr Angela Davis says: "In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist."

If you are serious about being anti-racist, it's time to build anti-racism into your brand.

Collette Philip is the founder and managing director of the strategy agency Brand by Me. Here's how it is helping organisations make anti-racism part of their brand.

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