21 Mar Anti-Racist Communication in Public Engagement
Connect the Dots strives to create inclusive and accessible engagement activities that provide historically disinvested communities with safe spaces for participation in the public process. While we seek to end discrimination every day, March 21 has been observed as the International Day to End Racial Discrimination since a UN proclamation in 1966.
This year’s edition is particularly resonant with our company mission: Highlighting the importance of strengthening meaningful and safe public participation and representation in all areas of decision-making to prevent and combat racial discrimination; reaffirming the importance of full respect for the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and of protecting civic space; and recognizing the contribution of individuals and organizations that stand up against racial discrimination and the challenges they face.
We spoke with one of our collaborators, Brandyn Campbell of Brandyn Campbell Communications, about creating safe spaces and how public engagement can support the work of ending racial discrimination.
Tell us about yourself and your work.
I am a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant and anti-racist communications specialist. So many of the challenges involved in doing this work exist in the ways in which we communicate with one another and the words we use to portray our realities.
White supremacy and systems of oppression impact how we speak with others, how we speak about them, and how we listen (or don’t) to what is said.
The language that we use reflects myths that we’ve internalized. For instance, the term “minority” to describe a population that is, in fact, a sizable majority of the world’s population, serves to minimize the status of the BIPOC community. When speaking about periods of history, the term “enslaved” is the accurate reflection of the reality that a condition was forced upon an individual. The brutal system of chattel slavery should not be used to define any person’s identity.
This work is directly tied to the work of strengthening representative public participation in the intentional use and design of civic spaces. Systemic racism is entrenched in the design of communities around the United States. Redlining was deliberate, explicit, and still has a sizable impact on the economic and demographic makeup of urban and suburban areas. In order to come to terms with and eradicate the ongoing negative impact on Black and brown communities, we have to acknowledge the multitude of ways that laws, policies, thinking, and organizations have perpetuated this harm. That process allows the recognition of voices that have been continually silenced and minimized, and the groups and individuals who have done the difficult work of valuing, engaging, and amplifying the voices of communities directly impacted by the work of urban planning and civic design.
How can public engagement work effectively against racism?
Racism serves to engage the voices of only a certain segment of the population and intentionally ignore or misrepresent Black and brown folx. Intentionally seeking to amplify the voices that racism seeks to silence disrupts the centering of whiteness that is the norm in our society. Raising the voices of communities who have been actively silenced is an inherent challenge to approaches that have long been the norm.
Making public engagement that accurately reflects the lived experiences of communities a priority gives power to populations who have been rendered powerless. Empowering those who comprise the ever-changing landscape of our community and country creates a significant and much-needed challenge to the status quo of racial injustice.
What are your top recommendations for how to “strengthen meaningful and safe public participation and representation in all areas of decision-making to prevent and combat racial discrimination” today?
This is an important but incredibly complex question. I work with organizations for months and years to design strategies to challenge internal systems of discrimination, and which takes them, in turn, years to do the work at the individual and organizational levels to steadily move the needle towards change.
Very broadly, my recommendations are follows:
- Understand that there is no checklist. Understand the work of combating is racial injustice is deep-rooted and ongoing. It doesn’t follow a schedule of quarterly goals or three-year project plans. It is a marathon and will last our lifetimes and beyond. Yes, it’s tiring, and often the progress is slow-going. That’s when it is imperative to keep pushing.
Also, know that there is no personal/professional separation to this work. It cannot exist in one realm and not others. Much of the work involves challenging ourselves and what been taught and internalized. Understand that what you learn outside of your professional life must inform your work, and vice versa.
- Embrace that the work is uncomfortable. Challenging existing systems is hard. It will challenge deeply held beliefs, policies, organizations, and relationships. Strengthening meaningful participation and racial injustice requires rewriting the script on societal norms. Hard conversations must happen as a matter of course. Active listening is required to understand the lived experience of those with whom we seek to partner. And making mistakes is how you will learn your largest lessons.
Be humble and adopt a learning orientation. Growth and change happens in discomfort.
- Allyship is a verb. Wanting to be an ally is not enough. Being an ally, an accomplice, or whatever your preferred term involves action, not merely intention. You can’t sit on the sidelines wondering how you can be a force of change. Dive in and find what needs to be done. Doing the work involves doing the work. Changing policies to be beneficial to the populations they impact is a critical way to drive towards racial justice. Working towards it in name-only helps no one. Living and breathing the drive for change in a constant, consistent fashion is how we will move towards justice.
Many thanks to Brandyn for her time and insight! You can see more about her work and her signature 3A Framework on her site.
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