This spring team Patchwork were super proud to be part of the Nu Bride Wedding Show. Conceived and curated by friend, founder of Nu Bride and diversity campaigner Nova Reid, it was the first wedding event of its kind designed for modern multi-cultural couples. Born out of frustration with the lack of diversity in the mainstream wedding media and national events, the show was an entirely inclusive, joyful and empowering experience for everyone involved.
The show had been a long time in the making and came at great personal cost to Nova who produced it pretty much single-handedly. Supported by family, friends and a selection of committed suppliers, bloggers and journalists, the event did not find the mainstream funding or support from the wedding media that it deserved. So while we celebrate the success of the show and hope this really is the beginning of a change that we desperately need in the wedding industry. One event, even if we can persuade Nova to do it all again every year, is not enough.
Liv was asked to join the Nu Bride panel about ‘Why Diversity Matters’ on the weekend to put forward some practical ways that white allies can use their privilege to take personal responsibility for the change we want to see. And so, with the support and encouragement of Nova and friends and colleagues from the BAME community, Liv has decided to share this article on subject. Over to you Liv…
Why me? Why now? What can we do?
In the last few years that I’ve been building my wedding business I’ve not spoken out against the obvious and offensive lack of race diversity in our industry because as a white woman I guess I thought it wasn’t my place. I now realise that is a huge part of the problem.
So I just want to share my experience working in the wedding industry and some things I’ve learnt to suggest a few ways that white people can usefully support the work already being done by BAME industry experts, entrepreneurs, influencers, educators and activists to promote diversity and inclusion in the wedding industry.
ONE: Acknowledge white privilege – in yourself and others
And as an industry insider it’s easy to see why the traditional wedding media is still so stuck on an unrepresentative and outdated white wedding narrative. The thing is it’s overwhelmingly young white women (usually those whose families can afford for them to start out doing free internships) who are producing most of the media content we consume, so white privilege and racial bias is a fundamental factor. If you talk to people about it they’ll often make excuses and it is important we address real barriers (below).
But many white people still defend their choices saying they ‘don’t see colour’ as if it’s somehow a good thing. I guess it’s reassuring to hear they aren’t acknowledging and then deliberately excluding BAME people. But if white people genuinely don’t notice people of colour then we have another problem. Never mind the ridiculousness of the statement there is a horrible truth to it. If white people ‘don’t see colour’ it’s because we don’t need to. We see the world from a position of privilege where white is not a colour it’s just neutral. It’s the norm. So firstly it’s important that we acknowledge our own privilege and bias and secondly that we call it out when we see it in others too. Yes it might feel uncomfortable but it’s genuinely helpful and useful to let white people know if they can’t see their own unintentional bias and are therefore failing to be inclusive.
Here are three things you can do:
- Let companies know if you feel they are excluding BAME people and ask them to explain their decisions.
- Suggest BAME experts, stories and/or stock image sites to help brands become more diverse and inclusive.
- Recommend brands that are celebrating diversity to show what good looks like and remind businesses that inclusion brings a competitive advantage.
TWO: Address real barriers then find real solutions
Of course there are always barriers in the way of progress. Like most small-medium sized businesses, Patchwork doesn’t have advertising budgets that stretch to casting agencies and models and creative direction and styling and photography. Like most independent businesses we rely heavily on free stock photography which is another industry that has a huge problem with diversity.
When we built the prototype platform for our gift registry and honeymoon fund in 2014 the total absence of good quality BAME imagery on free stock sites meant we resorted to stealing Beyonce’s feet, Kelly Rowland’s hands and Jay Z’s legs to use on our site. We literally zoomed in on photos of famous black celebrities on beaches, cropped them and used them across our honeymoon fund templates – hoping if we got caught at least being sued by Beyonce would raise awareness of the issue. We also asked friends if we could use their own personal images and then invested the small budgets we did have for super expensive ‘niche’ BAME stock photography.
Of course this wasn’t a very sensible approach. Stealing famous people’s images is criminal, using friends photos is pretty limiting and paying for stock is expensive. And even combining all these methods we didn’t have an approach to imagery that was at all representative, sustainable, or scalable. But we committed to the options that were available to overcome the barriers we faced – believing it better to try than do nothing at all.
Thankfully in the intervening years people have continued to put pressure on stock sites to be more representative and create their own solutions like the free stock site Nappy ‘designed for black and brown people’. So don’t let the availability of imagery be an excuse.
Here are two things we can all easily do:
- Use and recommend culturally diverse stock photography sites listed here by Jenni Brown
- Put pressure on stock sites that aren’t inclusive to encourage them to invest
THREE: Invest in expert help
As a small female led team of five white straight people our current team definitely doesn’t represent the diverse audience we serve. Of course as our team grows we’ll have the opportunity to address this imbalance but in the meantime we need to ensure our existing team is doing everything we can to improve diversity and inclusion whilst recognising our own white privilege and bias.
For us, part of this process was acknowledging that we can’t just ‘try to imagine’ the experience, problems, challenges and issues faced by BAME people and then just ‘try harder’ to do better. Just like in any other area of our business where we lack the personal experience or professional expertise within our team to address a serious business challenge (or opportunity) we recognise the need to invest in external talent – to hire people with the insights, experience and expertise to help.
I’m not saying the decision came easily. I’d been speaking to Nova Reid, diversity consultant and founder of Nu Bride wedding blog, for a while trying to work out when we could commit to her Diversity and Inclusion Programme and how I would pay for it given our shoestring budgets and existing commitments. And then I heard myself apologising to Nova about how the project ‘kept slipping down the list’ and the full force of this statement hit me. BAME people are always ‘put to the bottom of the list’ in life and in business and until we decide to put diversity and inclusion at the top of the list things aren’t going to change. We’d actually just had the worst month and now was exactly the ‘worst’ time to commit but I decided to pay up and book the session on the spot.
Investing in Nova Reid’s Diversity and Inclusion programme has been one of the most important, rewarding and empowering things we’ve done as a business. It gave us the time to reflect and to learn, to understand the challenges and also the opportunities we face as we commitment to championing diversity and inclusion as individuals and as a business. Here’s three ways Nova can support you whatever your time and budget:
- Join Nova’s Diversity Matters course online
- Sign up for a business review
- Invest in a company workshop and culture change programme
FOUR: Be ok with feeling uncomfortable – it’s not about you
One of the key things that came out of our sessions with Nova was our own fear. What if we have the right intentions but say something the wrong way and accidentally offend? For example, in order to feature more couples from BAME communities on our blog we’d already sent out an email celebrating diversity and inviting all couples to let us know if they’d like to feature. It was an open invite that was pretty vague and not very compelling. The email we’ve just sent with Nova’s encouragement says ‘Representation is important to us and right now we don’t feel our blog is truly representative of our audience and we’d love for you to help us change that. We’d specifically like to share more stories from couples from a variety of ethnic backgrounds so, if you are in the BAME community and would like to feature on our blog we would love to hear from you.’
Nova’s advice to us was: “Be clear about your objective. If you want to increase diversity and be more inclusive you have to commit to making it happen. If you have cultivated an environment that has unintentionally excluded people you need to work to intentionally include them. It is not their responsibility to make your brand more diverse, that is your job. If it feels uncomfortable you’re doing something right. Remember it’s not about you. Be open and honest about your motivation. Invite people to help and if they don’t want to, that’s ok.”
She had the same advice in our discussions about hashtags. For years we’ve been deliberately not tagging instagram images with relevant hashtags because we felt we shouldn’t have to label a #blackbride as this surely highlighted them as an ‘other’? We thought ensuring our feed was diverse without labels was the best way to demonstrate the equality and inclusivity we want to see in the world. But of course as Nova pointed out, all is not yet equal – far from it! Not including relevant hashtags might make white people feel better and enable us to pretend we’re all equal. But it doesn’t help black people trying to find brands that reflect and represent them by using hashtags to find them. So be useful.
Two things you can do:
- Be open, honest and direct about your intentions to improve diversity and ask for help.
- If you’re white, don’t do things that make you feel good. Do things that actually help.
FIVE: Celebrate and reward progress
Last year a handful of women’s magazines took Edward Enninful’s lead and followed Vogue in featuring black women on their covers – for the first time ever. A fact that’s been rightly celebrated. Of course it’s noted because it’s still not ‘normal’. And that’s the problem. But, still, such editorial decisions are important and impactful and therefore do need to be congratulated. Not by way of gratitude but as a way to encourage further progress.
We are nowhere near getting anything close to a diverse, representative and inclusive media. But lifestyle and publishing brands are slowly realising that BAME women actually read magazines and buy things and go places and do stuff. And that it might be of commercial interest to reflect that reality. So when businesses take positive and consistent steps to be more inclusive we need to acknowledge and reward their efforts in order to incentivise further action.
Three actions we can take:
- Share a brand’s image or story on social media, recommend their product, service or publication. Show that diversity directly increases user engagement and reach.
- Social currency is good but commercial returns are still what drive decisions. Many editors are still using the excuse that “black women don’t sell” so if you see a wedding magazine with a person of colour on the cover. Buy it! It’s a cheap and easy individual action and collectively it sends a message and can make a real difference.
- Contact the brand owner/editor to acknowledge and support meaningful action to improve diversity. When people with the power to influence others take an authentic decision to be more genuinely inclusive it’s important we acknowledge it – as a thank you but also to show them we see their power and hold them to account for the decisions they make.
SIX: Reject moral licensing
So one year ago Meghan and Harry’s wedding changed everything right? Definitely not. Of course every second of the Royal Wedding was dissected by the world’s media with commentators discussing everything from fascinators to feminism, cake recipes to race relations. But as Nova Reid points out, the Royal Wedding was at the same time the beginning and the end of a much needed conversation about race in the wedding media and beyond.
In the rare instances where Meghan Markle’s race was discussed ‘positively’ in the media I felt the message was celebratory yes but also congratulatory, perhaps even smug in tone. It was like we were proudly declaring ‘we’ve done it, we love Meghan, we’ve got a mixed race relationship in the royal family and everyone’s happy. Job done. Thank you.’ It felt to many of us that the royal wedding was used as proof that Britain is a truly multicultural society where race is no longer a problem. So whilst it was of course a symbolic moment and important to celebrate this, the event simultaneously silenced people who wanted to discuss the problems of race inequality and gave a voice to people who now felt it was time for black people to stop complaining. It was as if the status quo was saying: ‘Is this not enough?’ You’ve got an American black woman marrying into the British Royal family. What more do you want?’
It is absolutely crucial that as citizens, consumers, brand owners and commentators that we reject this kind of moral licensing. We have to ensure that ‘morally good’ symbolic moments don’t become the very things that serve to stifle real and meaningful debate, action and change.
Yes Meghan and Harry’s marriage was something to celebrate but we want and need more than just one wedding, more than a ‘racially ambiguous’ and ‘acceptable’ face to represent blackness, we want to celebrate more than just one extremely privileged ‘princess’. We want and need real, meaningful representation and inclusion in the wedding industry (and beyond) that reflects our everyday reality.
SEVEN: Speak up and use your power
Finally, white people have automatic societal privilege, access and influence. So it’s crucial that we use our own voices and our actions to make a difference. Don’t be frightened to support BAME people because you don’t feel ‘qualified’. Be proud to be a white ally. Of course this starts with actually listening and learning. It’s important to acknowledge you can only speak from your position of privilege and never on behalf of anyone else. But that doesn’t mean you can’t speak up, take action and show your solidarity.
Nova ended her session with this quote that that we now have on our wall:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King.