The past few months have been devastating to experience, especially for diverse communities. It began with a pandemic disproportionately affecting Black and Brown people as well as leading to hate crimes against Asian individuals.
Soon events turned from the pandemic of coronavirus to the sickness of racism against Black Americans.
- A Black jogger named Ahmaud Arbery finds himself framed in the windshield of armed racists.
- Police officers incorrectly raiding a home riddles an innocent Black woman, Breonna Taylor, with bullets.
- A White woman uses her privilege to falsely report that Christian Cooper, a Black man, is threatening her.
- Then the world watched a police officer hold his knee on a Black man’s neck until George Floyd’s death 8 minutes and 46 seconds later.
As I watch and read about these as well as several other cases, I begin to think of many whose stories are not known to the public. Including those of us unnamed Black people living – or at least trying to live – in a nation that has traditionally valued us as less than cattle and rarely as human beings.
Like most Black people, I’ve had my own experiences with racism and prejudice.
- The confederate flag that someone taped to my high school locker.
- A heckler who started calling me the n-word while I played in my college pep band.
- The White college student who asked me if I was lost when I entered one of my university’s buildings for class.
- A clerk who followed my mother and I around the gift shop of an art museum.
- Constant statements of how “articulate” or “well-spoken” I am from shocked White individuals.
- Promotions I’ve been denied because I was never as qualified as the White men and women with less experience than mine.
These are just the ones that immediately come to mind. Though none of them cost me my life, they have definitely cost me the security of knowing that I will be treated with respect, understanding, and equality.
Earlier this year, I was appointed chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee for the Southeastern Wisconsin (SE WI) chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
I took the first half of 2020 to re-organize the committee, bringing in a greater diversity of individuals and organizations covering areas such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. The goal being to give more people more seats at the table in our chapter’s efforts.
Next, I worked with this committee to identify a clearer diversity and inclusion vision. It is 2020 after all. That vision will guide us as we work to become better professionals, better allies, and better advocates. We have also begun work on revising our chapter website to not only house our D&I writings and events, but to also better reflect our diverse membership and communities we serve.
The pandemic has definitely slowed our plans. But the racial disparities and racist practices that have finally come to light remind us why we took on our roles in this committee and what we have to do to improve ourselves as well as our communities.
Looking and Walking Ahead
I’m encouraged by the most recent realizations of what it means to be Black in America and the subsequent actions that have taken place. I see more than just Black individuals crying “Black Lives Matter,” which means more allies and hopefully more mainstream change. I’m saddened that it took video evidence of a Black man dying at the knee of a police officer for more people to understand the struggles of Black and Brown individuals in our country. But I’m happy the knee Colin Kaepernick took is now making more sense.
As public relations practitioners and communicators, we often are the voices of our companies. Though voices are important right now, I’m more interested in feet. I want to see action and true change.
Think beyond skin color-appropriate bandages, removal of racist caricatures from pancake mix boxes, or capitalizing the word “Black” when referring to people (which many of us did anyway). Those are great steps but think broader. Like diversifying boards of directors. Hiring, retaining, and including more people of color in companies. Being as offended by microaggressions as many are about someone badmouthing their favorite sports team. Not mistaking a person of color for being difficult or unapproachable simply because they display authentic anger at the prejudice they experience. Actions such as these are what will change our diversity and inclusion messaging into movement.
For our part, you will continue to see our PRSA SE WI Diversity & Inclusion Committee leading the way in efforts for our profession locally and nationally. Some items immediately on the horizon for our committee include:
- More writings and programming to shine a light on a greater variety of people, businesses, and communities.
- Blog series with posts featuring some of the many different communities and individuals fighting the pandemic.
- Upcoming events addressing Black Lives Matter and its role in the workplace as well as in communications.
The goal for our committee in a nutshell is this. Although we will continue the diversity and inclusion talk, we want to walk the walk, taking steps toward truly diverse and truly inclusive professional and personal lives
Lindsey M. McKee
Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair
Public Relations Society of America Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter