Yesterday I sent out a newsletter featuring some of the newest articles I’d written, a new eBook I just published and a few videos that I really liked. I got messages from a few people. “Nice article.” “Enjoyed that video.” “Can’t wait to read the eBook.” I felt pretty good about myself. And then I got this message.
“Mike – thanks for the newsletter – I like reading about what you’re up to. One thing – every stock photo in the newsletter is of white people, mostly men…. Just sayin.”
I pride myself on being fair and just and very conscious of the way I deal with race and gender in my work. I’m trying to raise two kids to be open and accepting to ways of life and histories and culture. I generally think I’m doing a good job. So, when I read something like this, my initial response is, “that’s ridiculous.”
That response lasted about a half a second as my mind worked it’s way through the visuals I’d used for the last few years to promote my business. They were right. So after I got past the issue of whether or not I constantly post pictures of white dudes, (which I do), I started to try to rationalize my visual decisions.
Of COURSE I post pictures of white guys working for startups or white guys writing things in notebooks or white guys standing on a beach. I’m a white guy who works for startups and writes things in notebooks and stands on a beach. There. Easy. My visuals are a representation of business and my business is a white dude. Problem solved. Except…
My clients are MOSTLY women. Most of my clients are women aged 35-50, professional women looking to get a leg up in industries dominated by…white dudes. So, when I’m speaking for the experiences and the possibilities present through my pieces and posting pictures of really happy white dudes, I’m reinforcing the idea that they do not belong.
So why do I REALLY post pictures of white dudes when my business caters mostly to women? Well, they’re just easier to find. When I go to the couple of sites that I use for really great, HD images with open licenses, there are a lot more pictures of men than women. So it’s not my fault, right? The truth is that I could dig for more representative images, and I don’t. I could LOOK for pictures depicting ethnic diversity but instead, here’s a picture of a white dude in a bow tie. I could LOOK for a picture that promotes the idea of gender equality in emerging technology but instead, here’s a picture of a guy standing on top of a mountain.
The truth is that my own personal landscape is dominated by pretty white guys. They’re what I see when I go to the websites I frequent. They’re what I see on tech blogs and agency pages. The fact is that the media surfaces pictures of nicely dressed white guys because it pushes a narrative. A man in my community was recently charged with murder in the death of a local woman whom I had the pleasure of meeting on a few occasions. The featured image in his arrest was of a smiling man on his graduation day. If you’re interested in seeing how this difference manifests, I suggest reading this article about it.
The newsletter I sent out featured an incredible talk by artist Kelly Sue DeConnick on How To Make People Uncomfortable (and still make a living). It’s an incredibly powerful talk that I’d recommend and in it she says something that struck me at the time and is even more relevant given this conversation.
“Doing the right thing is not a passive act. You do not get to be a good guy just because you figure you’re not a bad guy” – Kelly Sue DeConnick
She’s right. The fact that I don’t do anything significantly WRONG in respect to the narrative of my brand does not mean I’m doing anything particularly RIGHT. I think there are a lot of people that are lost causes. My family “upgraded” to the term “colored” way to recently for me to believe that I can have a conversation with them about diversity. But a lot of people can change and grow if you give them the opportunity to do so, which my friend did for me.
To quote the realm in which DeConnick works;
“You deserve better from me. I can be better. I will be better.” – Hancock