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...because it's not always black & white
So, how do we change the narrative?

It seems the world really woke up during lockdown, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing a ton of social issues to light. Seemingly overnight, we've realised who has thrived, whose income has been wiped out, and who was never given a chance to get going in the first place. International protests, sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, highlighted the pervasive mistreatment of the Black community and the mechanics of institutionalised racism that we didn’t know—or didn’t want to acknowledge—existed.

But even here, the focus often fell on how Black Lives Matter protesters displayed their exasperation, instead of what it was actually about. There's evidently a gulf between the issues faced and discussed by the global Black community—as well as other communities of colour—and what’s actually being reflected in product, policy and the press.

In a time of deceptive politics, ‘Fake News’ (yeah, we hate that term too) and the decline of public trust in the media, quality journalism has become more important than ever. We all know the ethical standards and values that underpin our work, but we must also hold ourselves to account. When we stray from objective fact, we run into bias and prejudice, learned and hidden, that reflects our environment and upbringing. And it's not just colour. Gender, age, sexuality, disabilities and socio-economic status are all subject to bias.

Bias in itself isn’t a 'bad thing', but unconscious and unchecked bias can mislead, manipulate and divide us. It’s loaded. For example, a travel writer could write 'pretty, colonial Galle' to invoke images of quaint, white-washed houses in Sri Lanka. But that fails to recognise that many locals and diaspora associate their European colonisers with a regime that disfigured their culture and identity—and, quite literally, forced them from their homes.

Knowledge is power. An absence of it can fuel ‘micro-aggressions’ (more on that another time), ageism and structural racism, exacerbating the lack of diversity and inclusivity around us—but knowledge can embolden those who, historically, haven’t been given the chance to speak for themselves. And that’s why we’re doing this. It's not about revisiting every piece of copy, film or audio you've written or edited, and panicking about where your bias might have jumped out. But everyone can watch out for certain clichés, hackneyed images and problematic wording now.

It's never too late to change the narrative, so every fortnight, we’ll send you a short op-ed, links to brilliant articles from talented and often-marginalised writers, a 'sense check' (all questions anonymous, so please email us—no matter how embarrassing or obvious you think they are) plus history bites, writing tips and inspiring organisations to support. We’re still learning loads ourselves, as travel journalists and Indian women, so we’re all in it together.

Welcome—and let’s get to work!

Shivani and Meera

Writing tip of the day

Go through copy with a fine-toothed cliché comb. Does it contain the same, boring phrases or tropes we always see attached to that subject, e.g. 'chaos, colour and cows' about India or ‘sassy’ Black women? Do the accompanying images revert to offensive stereotypes?

Think of it in the same way as you would ‘hidden gems’, ‘eateries’ and ‘bustling markets’—try to automatically pull any seemingly meaningless words, in favour of sparky language and nuance.

The Sense Check

"What’s the issue with saying Black And Minority Ethnic (BAME) in copy? I know some people are OK with it and others take offence.”

Noo Saro-Wiwa

Noo Saro-Wiwa, travel writer and author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria @noosarowiwa

"For starters, the separation of ‘black’ from 'minority ethnic' irks. Why are we always separated? But no word will satisfy me because the fundamental problem is that nobody likes being singled-out on account of their race, especially when the context is invariably fraught. The reasons for BAME are necessary and historical, obviously, but being labelled under a noun will always bother me, even if the word were a positive one: You could call us the Fragrant Few and the sense of stigmatisation would still stick."

Nneka Ndukwe

Nneka Ndukwe, primary school teacher and former marketeer @nnekaola

"When discussing an issue that affects a particular group, using 'BAME' is inadequate. It's essentially a box-ticking acronym that's used to fill a diversity quota.

Who are you talking about, specifically? All people of colour are not a homogenous group; there are nuances to each culture. Neither my race nor ethnicity are 'dirty words', so don’t be afraid to just say Black!"

Want to ask a question (anonymously)? Send away! Please email us here and we'll try and tackle it in an upcoming newsletter. We also welcome any feedback or comments.

Did you know?

Meghan Markle may not have been Britain’s first Black royal. Yep, you heard! Research points to the late 18th-century royal Queen (Sophia) Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz—the chosen consort of King George III and great-grandmother of Queen Victoria—as being England's first bi-racial queen. Some historians say that Queen Charlotte, though German, was directly descended from a Black branch of the Portuguese royal family, whose ancestry can be traced to the Moors of Spain from North Africa.

Her namesake American city, in North Carolina, nicknamed ‘the Queen City’, built two statues in her honour and streets in her name, but Queen Charlotte has much less resonance in the country she helped rule. Written into the works of Alan Bennett and Charles Dickens as ‘mad’ and ‘plain-faced’ she was, nevertheless, a committed patron of the arts, allegedly commissioning Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and founding Kew Gardens.

Spotlight on...

Institutional racism starts at the first institution you attend. While many teachers work hard to include marginalised history and literature in their lessons, it's the government that sets the national curriculum—not teachers or local authorities. That's why organisations like The Black Curriculum are much-needed, bringing more balanced Black History into schools. You can also find them on Instagram and Twitter.

Reading Room
Condé Nast Traveller CNTraveler: Ask this on your travels

Alex Temblador: What anti-racist travellers should ask

Times Literary Supplement TLS: More voices for a bigger picture

Noo Saro-Wiwa discusses diversity in travel writing

Financial Times FT: African Renaissance

Afua Hirsch on African culture beyond the Western gaze

The New Yorker The New Yorker: Power of language

E. Tammy Kim on the perils of 'people of color'

"We have existed in Britain and been pioneers, inventors, icons. And then colonialism happened, and that has shaped the experiences of black people—but that is not all we are."

Lavinya Stennett, founder of The Black Curriculum

Unpacking Media Bias
United Kingdom

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