• Marketers – If You’re Serious About Being An Ally On Race, These Seven Books Will Help Read

  •  it because

    You’ll understand the real impact of stereotyping on those being stereotyped – and how small details can have a sweeping impact on people’s lives.

    What does it say?

    Claude Steele is a social psychologist who set out to discover why black students at universities in the United States seemed to perform less well than students of a similar ability who were white. It led to two decades of study that opened a window on what goes on inside the minds of people who know there’s a stigma against them. Steele’s accessible writing style takes you on this journey with him and the results are a wake-up call for anybody who cares about equality of opportunity. He discovered that any group facing bias (whether that’s ethnic minorities or women studying advanced maths) feels an extra stress and pressure that impacts on their ability to perform. Distressingly, this ‘stereotype threat’ effect increases the more motivated the person is – the more they care

    This book resonates not only because of the hidden barriers it illuminates – but because of how it describes people’s sense of stigmatised identity builds up. For Steele himself, it was being told that, as a black child, he could only swim in the pool in a white neighbourhood on Wednesdays (he explains this and more of the background to the book in an engaging interview on National Public Radio, available here). For Brent Staples, a graduate student in Chicago, it was the fearful looks on the faces of white people when he walked through an affluent neighbourhood.

    Steele also makes clear though, that these details can work in the other direction. His title comes from the solution that Staples came up with of whistling Vivaldi melodies while walking, which instantly changed white people’s reaction to him. This book takes this as inspiration for the value of affirming positive beliefs about people, changing the context, pushing back against stigma and therefore changing what people are capable of.

    Inspiration for marketers

    Lazy stereotyping in communication has consequences – but so too does making a conscious effort to undermine these stereotypes and emphasise positive role models. In this respect, marketing matters.

    Unpacking the Invisible Knapsac By Peggy McIntos

    Read it because

    You might understand the concept of white privilege, but not many people have thought through its consequences to the extent that McIntosh has.

    What does it say?

    First published in 1989, this essay introduced the concept of white privilege into the public debate – and it feels as challenging, humbling and provocative today as it did then. It highlights an intentional blind spot in white people’s attitude to race, and it’s all the more powerful for being written by a white woman asking herself these questions for the first time

    As a champion for Women’s Studies, McIntosh had noticed that although men were often willing to accept the fact that women were at a disadvantage, they were unwilling to accept that they themselves were overprivileged as a result. She realised that the same refusal to acknowledge privilege applied to race just as much as to gender. Growing up, she had been taught not to recognise the existence of this privilege and to refuse to accept that she succeeded on anything other than merit:

    “I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”

    McIntosh’s essay centres around examples of unearned white privilege that she has encountered in her own life. These are hard to deny, challenging to accept, and as she explains, very easy and tempting to ignore. They include being able to move house to somewhere new and know that people will be neutral or pleasant to you, arranging to protect your children from people who might not like them, and making different choices without them being linked back to race. It all adds up to a passionate argument against the “myth of meritocracy.”

    Inspiration for marketers:

    Creating marketing that’s genuinely inclusive involves acknowledging that different races experience the world differently. And the same holds true for building a genuinely inclusive marketing team.

    Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire By Akala

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