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ComNet 2020 offers great New Year’s resolutions for communicators in 2021

From the pandemic, to racial justice movements, to massive changes in local races, the presidency and the Supreme Court, 2020 was a year of devastation, but one that reminded us of all the weak structures in our country that need bold changes. Social justice leaders continued fighting as they always have, with even more people paying attention and realizing the severity of the many injustices the pandemic laid bare (and worsened).

In 2021, leaders in social justice and communication, with a new level of attention to our different causes, have an opportunity to push our issues forward. To do that, we need to be disciplined, thoughtful and culturally competent in our messaging to ensure we’re accurately fighting for and with the communities we hope to serve.

ComNetworkV, which went virtual this past fall, offered some great guidance on how to communicate about communities in a thoughtful way. The conference featured a diverse lineup of speakers representing a wide array of issues, including reproductive justice, narrative framing, immigration, criminal justice reform, racial justice and many more.

One of the key themes across conference events was what we owe the communities we advocate for. It’s on us to talk about our issues and our communities in a thoughtful and collaborative way. This means avoiding savior narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Here are some helpful points from ComNet speakers to keep in mind as you plan your communications approach for this upcoming year.

  • Kyle Tibbs Jones from The Bitter Southerner shared how the news outlet was founded in a response to an excess of extreme narratives about the South (noting the popularity of Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo and other caricatural depictions of southerners). The outlet focuses on smart stories right down the middle.

  • Nathaniel Smith from Partnership for Southern Equity, who joined Tibbs, added that the media played a critically important role in telling the story of the civil rights movement and that our role as communicators today is just as critical.

  • Trabian Shorters from B Me reminded us to lead with narratives of abundance. When talking about communities, don’t define them through a frame of scarcity, but instead talk about assets and potential.

  • Frank Tramble from Howard University challenged unchecked narratives about there not being a pipeline of Black talent (an excuse often used by companies lacking diversity); the talent is there, and implying it isn’t is a lazy excuse for poor recruitment.

  • Karina Hertz from AARP noted how brands need to go one step further than just featuring multicultural people in their marketing, making sure they don’t perpetuate even well-meaning stereotypes (one such stereotype she noted was images and videos of Hispanic and Latinx families that only show them eating).

  • Teresa Danso-Danquah from Disability:IN pointed out Hollywood’s failings in capturing an accurate experience of people with disabilities by casting able-bodied people in their roles.

  • José Alonso Muñoz and Bruna Sollod from United We Dream shared how they centered DACA recipients in narratives about the program and did so in a way that avoided leaning on often-held stereotypes about immigrants, like the idea of the “model immigrant.”

  • Gillian White from The Atlantic and Lecia Brooks from Southern Poverty Law Center talked about the need for their respective podcasts to center the voices of the community members most touched by the issues discussed.

Every year, we learn new best practices for reaching more communities while making space for their experiences and voices. This year’s roster of ComNetV speakers delivered: Come into the communities ready to listen, not dictate messages; consider historical perspectives – both positive and negative – in today’s narratives; commit to their stories and build trust.

To learn more from ComNet, we reflected on lessons from southern organizers at the conference in a recent blog, and the recorded panels and keynotes are available to watch on ComNet’s YouTube channel.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 at 20:05 pm and is filed under Communication planning. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.