Christopher Kenna says now is the time for companies to take action around the important societal conversations that are happening.
As a gay, black entrepreneur, I have a certain perspective on the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement during Pride month. Intersectional oppression is something that I’ve experienced all my life.
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. These issues are experiencing a long-overdue time in the spotlight 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 a CEO, 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 neither of us are inclined to steal anything, the colour of my skin leads people to think that I would.
It is the responsibility of companies to ensure that their black and LGBTQ+ people alike are made to feel as though they can be themselves in the workplace.
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 companies 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 companies to change this.
Companies 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 companies to understand everything I go through as a 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.
About the author
Christopher Kenna is CEO of Brand Advance.