There are so many injustices in the world that it’s likely one, or many, tug at a person’s heartstrings. Human rights should be a fight that we all participate in. In your personal life, you might be fired up about fighting for and calling things out when you see it, or in some situations, you might respond out of discomfort through deflection. Likewise, in your professional life, human rights are relevant, and should not be swept under the rug. Human rights are not political, so don’t scapegoat with “I don’t talk about politics on my platform.”
Can we translate our personal passion to fight injustice into our professional lives and on our platforms?
Injustices and discrimination affect people in their professional lives, too. Most of us have a fine line between our personal and professional lives as influencers, content creators, and brands. If we are going to develop and share activist content, then we have a huge responsibility to our audiences – whether we like it and acknowledge it, or not – to share in a way that doesn’t center ourselves or personal experiences in the equation; nor does it call to our allyship of (insert cause here) as saviors of anything.
Is it possible to use my platform to fight injustice without making it about me?
Absolutely. A person or brand can feel extremely passionate about something without making it about themselves. One can truly grieve the injustices of the world without making it about their performative allyship. You might have heard of “centering,” but if not, we’re glad you’re here. This article will break down the act of centering, why it’s not okay, and share ways that you can create activist content without centering yourself or your brand.
What is centering?
In order to fully understand why you shouldn’t center yourself, it’s best to comprehend what centering is and how it negatively affects the conversation and those it was intended to amplify. Listen, ignorance might be bliss for some, but not when people’s lives are at stake, and definitely not in this space.
Centering oneself is a deflection tactic, intentional or not, and it usurps the conversation of the movement at that moment. It is also seen as a form of gaslighting when you attempt to diminish someone’s experience and feelings.
Centering is most prevalent in discussions or experiences shared about race but is also present in the discriminations against the LGBTQIA+ community and people with disabilities. Centering can happen in person but is overtly seen on social media, as people interject comments with their own experiences, or unsolicitedly voice how they think people should feel.
If you are Cishet (cisgender/heterosexual), White, affluent, or privileged in any way, take a step back and re-evaluate if you are centering yourself in the conversation or situation.
Acknowledge your privilege
When you overhaul a conversation (on or offline) with your own experiences or thoughts, when it was meant to unveil injustices, give oppressed voices a platform, and/or allow those affected to express their raw feelings, you’re centering yourself. Please just acknowledge your privilege and the fact that it isn’t about you.
Example: Let’s say as a White woman, you go on social media and a Black person shares their personal experiences. Perhaps it has to do with racial profiling by a cop, and you respond with “I can’t even imagine… yes, that’s so scary… One time when I got pulled over…”
You’re centering yourself; it’s not about you. Your skin is not in the same game.
Listen to Learn, Not to Respond
Alright, let’s say that we now know what centering is now and you’ve acknowledged your privilege. But, that doesn’t mean you get to start slinging your activism wand around to put an end to injustice.
Get uncomfortable. Listen to the stories.
Honestly, you might be uncomfortable right now if you’ve read this far. Perhaps you’ve realized that you’ve centered yourself in various conversations recently… that acknowledgment is a good thing. Feel guilty enough to decide you want to make some changes. That’s the point. It shouldn’t sit well with you, and it should push you to do better. But don’t make yourself the victim or tout your activism for impressions or to share that you have been affected by sharing the content.
Being an activist for any cause isn’t easy.
If you’re joining the fight for Black lives, think of living your life uncomfortably and in fear every single day of your life just because of the color of your skin.
Our Black community suffers daily. If you’re fighting to tell the world that love is love, remember that our LGBTQIA+ children are taking their lives because they’re told that they are abominations.
When you want to interject with your personal stories of inconveniences, or even trauma, pause and remember, that it is not the time or place.
Understand what and who you’re fighting for and listen to learn, not respond. It allows the following to happen:
- You validate the person speaking and their experiences.
- You have an opportunity to utilize empathy, not pity.
- You learn how your activism and action is needed and wanted.
It’s important to listen to how people want you to show up for them. It should not be about how you think you should show up nor should your support be based upon what makes you feel better about yourself or contributions.
As Black women/people, we have been saying what we need and want for years, yet our voices end up being drowned out by cishet White women who boast a superficial allyship. We often realize that, whether intentional or not, some are into activism to make themselves feel better about their White privilege. It’s a vicious cycle, it continues to happen, and if that makes you feel bad or guilty right now because you have done that, just sit with that for a little while.
Then keep listening so you can keep learning.
Research and Learn
It’s 2020 and we have amazing resources at our disposal in the form of education. Knowledge is not lacking on the internet. Experiences can be found everywhere on social media of people suffering and being discriminated against.
Let’s take the Black Lives Matter movement as an example. Take the opportunity to learn about the raw history of Black lives in America. Search it out, and be open to unlearning what your school’s history books taught you.
Fill your newsfeed with journalists, activists, and influencers that are already doing the work. Read, listen to podcasts, speak to people, and let them tell you their stories.
Amplify Marginalized Voices
When you don’t know what to say, or even if you think you know what to say, remember to amplify the voices of those who exist and identify with the various communities discussed. Give space to allow the hurting and the oppressed to voice their stories.
People affected need to be heard and they need to have their voices amplified in spaces that wouldn’t otherwise allow them to speak. Use your platform to have these important conversations, to listen and identify areas for growth to do better.
THAT is where you can use your privilege. Don’t burden the affected people with your grief.
Know that all of this takes work. You’ll make mistakes, but if you’re on the right path, you’ll own up to them and keep doing better than you did before.
Link to reliable sources, share the Influencer Activist Toolkit, don’t be afraid to have uncomfortable conversations, and always be ready to listen.
Before you create content to share ask yourself the following:
1. Why am I sharing this?
2. What benefit do I get from sharing? (and if it makes you feel good about yourself, you need to stop and reassess)
3. Have I spoken to anyone that is affected by what I’m sharing?
4. Am I amplifying the voices of others?
At the end of the day, the purpose of activism is to bring awareness, educate, and advocate for positive action and change. If what you’re creating doesn’t include those elements, you may be centering yourself in the conversation. Remember as an ally and advocate, the conversation is not about you and it’s your responsibility to change the narrative.