This essay from Anita Chhiba, founder of Instagram account and platform Diet Paratha, was originally published as part of Ruby's The Best Is Yet To Come, a content series featuring leaders within their industry reflecting on their hopes for how we will reshape and evolve moving forward.
As 2020 draws to a close, and we ease a little more smoothly into whatever the new normal is, now, more than ever, we’ve had more time to reflect on our lives and the way we do things.
Between the misery of Covid-19, being unable to visit New Zealand and working from home (or living at work) for the last nine months, for me, you’d think it’d be hard to choose what the most bizarre thing about this year was. Interestingly enough, it isn’t at all. The strangest thing about this year easily happened in June.
Following the horrifying murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, it was the band-aid approach that an embarrassing amount of brands took, to quickly switch up their social-media presence to include Black, Indigenous and other People of Colour (BIPOC).
There is a fine line between wanting to help and wanting to join the bandwagon.
For a lot of BIPOC, performance activism and fake allyship can really feel like a slap in the face; particularly when a lot of us have been campaigning for most of our lives. Unfortunately, it still seems as though marginalised communities have to band together and take matters into their own hands to combat under representation.
This is why I started Diet Paratha. It’s a platform for the people, created to challenge stereotypes that western media has around Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian (MENASA) people. Stories about people who hail from these regions or their diasporas, are often centred around cultural attire, monuments, festivities, community initiatives and of course, negative stereotypes. It’s not often that MENASA people are represented in another light in the western world. We are so much more than this. Diet Paratha exists to flip the lens and highlight other positive representations to promote a wider remit of achievements.
While platforms like mine are important for people to pluck confidence and inspiration from, we also need allies putting in work. As we continue to be historically excluded in the media from a wider stand point, white people need to hold each other accountable.
While representation of all BIPOC is important, a feed full of only white and white-passing people doesn’t cut it either. There’s so much more that can be done to overthrow the system. White passing people often have greater privileges in society and widespread media. Ignoring this erases the experience of others less-so.
The meaningful changes that need to be made in the creative and fashion industries, can be hard to see for some, and painfully obvious for others. More brands need to commit to dismantling the white default and cultural assimilation. Especially now, after our timelines no longer look the way they did in June.
While representation plays a huge role in the fight for change, there is so much more to be done. Look at your teams and hire BIPOC across different levels of skill. Diversity doesn’t mean ‘one of each’ either.
It can be hard when you’re always conscious about racism in the workplace, especially when your white colleagues have no idea you are or even feel like you have to be. Do your employees feel as though they belong in your workplace? For lots of BIPOC, the answer is a hard no.
Don’t just use us in your presentations or as a tick on your diversity quota. Support senior BIPOC staff members. Bridge the ethnicity pay gap. Create safe workspace environments. How are ethnic minority team members treated by others where you work? Are their ‘full selves’ welcome at work or are they made to feel uncomfortable? Are your diversity and inclusion boards headed-up by white people who could be silencing some of the voices they’re intended to protect? Initiate those difficult conversations. Buy from us. Support BIPOC community initiatives. Interview us. Listen to us.
Ethnic representation on an Instagram feed is simply not enough to be anti-racist and inclusive. It can’t make a permanent difference. Make statements that go beyond surface-level, optical allyship.
Anything is possible if we want to move forward. I truly believe the best is yet to come, but change needs to start from the inside out.