Rewriting the Script - How Writers & Editors Can Support Racial Justice
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
The winds of change are shifting over the American landscape - and it's about damn time. As the movement for racial justice and equality continues to build momentum and spread awareness, passion, and the powerful demand for an end to systemic racism, every justice-supporting citizen must do their duty.
Writers and editors are uniquely poised to aid this movement. As a white woman born into a life and social strata defined by privilege, I am determined to quietly do my part to rewrite the narrative that has kept my fellow citizens in literal and metaphorical shackles for centuries. So today I'm going to leave the off-brand humor aside and put out a firm call to action to my fellow artists - now is the time to do your part. Whether you're a member of the black community, a different oppressed minority group, or white, the roles we play have and always will be an integral part of any movement toward a just and fair society.
Black writers and editors are often doing their part simply by speaking in their own authentic voices - the multi-branched burdens of oppression are already on their shoulders, and the labor they do has been the beating heart of the movement.
It is the community of white or otherwise privileged writers and editors who have a moral and personal responsibility to amplify black and other minority voices. Here's how we can help.
This method, which involves writing to representatives & groups who influence the laws and systems that impact important issues, may sound outdated. It is, in fact, still a very effective and relevant method for inciting change - especially at a local level.
Writers can put together templates for their community to use for these letters and provide relevant contact information. We can find out the keywords and connected issues most likely to garner attention from the recipients of these letters with some simple research, and then incorporate them into the templates to make it very simple for people to grab the interest of those in power.
The simpler the templates are to use and disseminate, the more potential there is to overwhelm smaller or even larger government offices. This can be shockingly effective as local legislative bodies will be forced to scramble to meet demands and discuss these problems in town hall meetings (most local governmental bodies have fairly low thresholds for how much public interest is required to put an issue before the council). Even more highly-staffed offices such as those of senators and governors can be overwhelmed quickly if the word gets out fast.
Editors can offer their services to do the research behind these templates and ensure that the language is polished, effective, and appropriate for the target goal. These tasks are absolutely vital to create a campaign that is both popular and impactful.
Creating Optimized Content
Something we often forget about when sharing great infographics or statuses online is the effort and skill that goes into making them. Creating concise, SEO-friendly (search engine optimized) content with engaging language and targeted messages is a skillset that writers and editors often learn in the course of their careers and personal work. We can now put this to use in spreading information and ideas quickly and effectively.
Content doesn't become popular by itself - the algorithms that determine what becomes viral online take wording, format, and quality into account, and this means that the content needs to be polished and well-written. Additionally, people aren't going to spend much time looking at content presented in an unpolished, poorly-made format, even if it does show up in front of them. The movement needs to be marketed, as strange (and possibly disheartening) as that sounds, and there's no use railing against that fact.
Infographics are effective because they convey a message in seconds in a way that naturally grabs attention. Writers and editors can easily put this kind of content together on sites or apps such as Canva, Venngage, or Infogram. These options are free to use and make it very simple to create something that is both aesthetically pleasing and informative. These graphics can be edited, polished, and then posted on a variety of social platforms, from Instagram stories to Twitter feeds to Reddit forums.
Publishing Articles on Popular Platforms
Writers and editors have an intimate knowledge of the querying and publication process. Those of us who work in the professional arena can quickly put together an effective pitch and send it out to hundreds of platforms, often in a very short period of time. Turnaround in this sort of fast-paced media cycle is critical - journalists and publication platforms are flooded with stories, and it is vital for those of us writing and promoting those stories to have an intimate knowledge of the how, why, and when of getting a piece into the fray.
Whether you are taking up the mantle as an author of a piece disseminating important information or calls to action OR you are working as an advocate and editor for people who have stories to share but who may not be experts in how to get them seen, your role is very important. The more stories, articles, blogs, and features we publish, the more momentum and bargaining power we have.
As a writer it is your responsibility to create well-researched, engaging pieces that highlight the needs, issues, and direction central to the movement. The options are practically endless, and you can find hundreds of nuanced, multi-faceted angles to take when creating this content. Editors should approach movement leaders in the black community and offer their services and expertise pro bono. Ghostwriting, pitching, and optimizing content for these groups and leaders can prove invaluable to getting messages off the ground and onto the platforms most likely to make a difference.
Medium, personal blogs, small publications (such as the one I work with most often, The Fem Word), and bigger platforms like pages on LinkedIn with high follower counts are all great places to place pieces. Querying established platforms is an endeavor with endless possibilities - I and other people in my profession can easily provide contact info for queries, but the information is often present on the platforms themselves (check the bottoms of pages for contact sections if you can't find them in any of the obvious places).
Offering Services Pro Bono
My previous section touches on this, but it deserves its own place in this discussion. If you are justice-minded and determined to make a difference, there is perhaps no better way than freely and enthusiastically giving your time to the groups and leaders making a difference. The onus is on YOU to find the sectors of the movement you can be most useful to and to approach the relevant contact channels to offer your services free of charge.
If you are white or otherwise privileged, this is especially vital. You are responsible not only for the labor you are offering to do, but also the effort it takes to get that labor to the people and issues that need it. THIS is how you can make a difference without burdening the people who are most in need of change. I firmly believe that it is never the oppressed group's responsibility to take on the emotional and mental labor of making the privileged group's help easier for them. By finding the outlets that need you and passionately offering your talents, skills, and knowledge, you are doing a huge part in making a change.
Writers and editors can be consultants as well as providers of their usual services. Plenty of movement leaders and members have powerful voices but lack the education and training necessary to put them at the forefront of the media cycle and into the feeds of the people who need to hear them. We can fill that gap and make sure the issues and information are getting from the mouths of the movement and into the ears of the people who need to implement change.
Something as simple as a Facebook post, a few @ signs on twitter, or a couple of well-placed hashtags on LinkedIn can bring your offer of pro bono work into the relevant spheres and help you to make the right connections.
Listen, Support, Engage.
Writers are used to promoting their own voice - for privileged writers, it's now time to take what we've learned and amplify the voices of others. The first step in that task is to seek out those voices and listen to them intently and with a fierce determination to learn (or, as it often happens, to actively unlearn).
How many of us get caught up in our own privileged echo-chambers, even as professed advocates? Listening is a skill just like writing or editing, and it needs to be worked and built upon. Start now. Who are the black leaders speaking in your community or social circle? Whose stories are showing up on your radar? It's as easy as sending a DM introducing yourself and offering your work to hear those voices up close. By gratefully listening to the people most impacted by injustice, you can then work together with the oppressed community to make content and get it moving on social media and in the news cycle.
In Conclusion: Be Fierce and Fearless with Your Morals
Although writing and editing are professional fields with plenty of corporate underpinnings in the digital age, we are at our core artists. And artists have always been one of the integral, dynamic pieces of social change. We make issues come to life through our work, and by the same token can often be vehicles for progress.
We have to remember this key fact as we consider our place in the call for justice. It's no longer enough to be passive supporters. Artists, writers and editors especially, need to be brave enough to take an often very visible stand for what they believe in. Sometimes we have to risk our jobs, our reputations with clients, and even our appeal to wider demographics in order to stick to the morally right side of things that affect millions of people. Even if you work anonymously, you have to be willing to risk yourself in order to be a part of something universal.
If you want your work to mean something more than a paycheck, you need to be courageous. And courage is never merely for yourself; it is for the people who can benefit from the things you bring to the table of change.
Please comment any tips, links, call for help, or other advice you feel would help the writing and editing community with the goal of helping the #BLM and associated racial justice movements. Thank you.