My position as a gay, black entreprenuer gives me a certain perspective on the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement during Pride month. I know how it feels to live as an intersectionality oppressed individual. Being LGBTQ+ is hard. Being black is hard. They present different challenges and together present further struggles to overcome in a society that is impregnated with institutionalised racism and bigotry.
A brighter spotlight is currently being shone on these issues than has been for a long time and 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 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 microagressions on a daily basis. On many occasions I have entered a lift and a woman will move her purse to the opposite side to where I’m standing. Or, when browsing a shop, I will be followed by a security guard while my white partner will be left alone. Even though I may have more money in the bank than him and be less inclined to steal anything, the colour of my skin negates these facts. It is important that these daily acts of racism, however small they may seem, are acknowledged as the acts of discrimination that they are.
Such racism can be seen in the LGBTQ+ community, much as homophobia can be prevalent in the black community. There have been countless times when out in gay bars that I have been asked the hackneyed question, “Where are you from?… No, but where are you really from?” Even though queer people are themselves oppressed, they still need to check themselves for the acts of racist microaggressions that they are committing.
This pervading racism can be seen on a larger scale in many industries and the world of advertising is not exempt from this. It is the responsibility of brands to ensure that their black and LGBTQ+ people alike are made to feel as though they can be themselves in the workplace. Do queer people feel as though they can talk openly about their partners to colleagues and superiors? Do black people feel as though they can wear their natural afro hair to work, or to a job interview. The answer is often no, and it is up to brands to change this.
Brands can often be criticised for jumping on the bandwagon for social movements such as Black Lives Matter and Pride. However, they can authentically enact change by taking action during times of societal conversation like we are experiencing now. They 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 special move that will make a brand’s actions of support ‘more authentic’. It doesn’t matter if a brand has been supportive of black and LGBTQ+ people throughout its entire history – it’s about speaking up now. I don’t expect 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. It is a matter of taking action in sending the right message to their customers and making their employees feel seen and accepted for who they are.
An Opinion Piece by Chris Kenna who is CEO of Brand Advance