A Guide to Supporting Black Creatives by Kendall Henderson

In an open letter signed by creative industry leaders, Kendall Henderson addresses how creative industry employers can do more to hire and work with Black creatives.

Date
11 March 2021
Reading Time
5 minute read

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We are writing as a collective group of working creatives – including independent designers and artists, studios, and industry collaborators – to whom you are indebted. We were, and still are, severely let down by the responses many global brands and companies gave in reaction to the race issues that have erupted over the past few months. Inherent racism, sadly, cannot be addressed as simply as it was in these statements. It is not just an act of murder, hate, or blatant police brutality alone. These are actions that live on the extreme end of a spectrum, and are embedded in your offices and hierarchies. Racism is rooted in the pervasive, omnipresent imbalanced treatment of Black people — from lesser-than perception, dehumanisation, continued exploitation, unfair distribution of wealth and opportunity, and so much more that has gone unchecked for too long. This imbalance is evident within the walls of your brands and agencies, and only further apparent by your shallow responses and posturing.

Over the years, brands have skyrocketed in popularity because of their proximity to specific “trends” that are almost always rooted in Black culture (especially in the fashion and sportswear categories). Instances of organic cultural value being used to sell products, the use of Black “stories” and imagery and the minimal credit given to Black employees within these companies.

Change starts by understanding, acknowledging, and taking responsibility for the role that you, as brands and companies, have played in systematic racism and oppressive imbalance. Then, and only then, can there be an implementation of long-term, genuine change within the industry. It is no longer okay to take Black culture for gain and only give back representation. Believe in them and properly invest in them.

We believe it is time that brands and companies, specifically in the creative spaces, start taking more responsibility for the future success of the Black individuals they rely on. We want this letter to open a dialogue and provide immediate and actionable steps that we believe will help start to uproot the imbalance within corporate creative structures, individuals, and internal processes.

These few items are just the groundwork. They can be acted upon swiftly, but will need to be further discussed and built into working systems, with measures in place that hold the company and its individuals accountable.

1 Younger Black talent and creatives should become a primary focus in hiring. Most brands and agencies have access to “top” creative talent — usually defined by resume accolades — by default. Incentivising the individuals who usually play gatekeeper to open up to a younger perspective will lead to fresher, more full (and culturally representative) takes. The first co-sign from a major brand will open up younger talent to opportunities for further growth. As this process becomes cyclical, we can eventually maintain a healthier balance of diverse work and perspective.

1.5 We must establish a new approach to mentorship. The relationship between supervisor and junior needs to be a reciprocal exchange that includes disseminating qualified advice on success within the industry (positive and negative, providing genuine clarity). But also lessons to be learned from unencumbered experience. Mentees should not be expected to endure the unfair practices that their mentors might have gone through. This mutual exchange will work to break down the inherent, uneven hierarchy that is currently in place and reframe the entire dynamic.

2 Empower diversity hires by granting an additional monetary incentive for the unspoken cultural value that their presence alone brings to the company. If the brand sees value in a diverse hire, that hire should retain that same value.

3 Black creatives must be cultivated into opportunities to take leadership and executive roles. Leadership roles based on veteran status is not always effective, and neither is simply appointing those, Black or otherwise, that have already been nurtured by the established imbalance.

4 Expand the aperture of partners, creatives, and agencies outside of the same mostly white networks, for the sake of evenly distributing opportunity and diversifying the output. This means closer scrutiny on the individuals responsible for selecting new hires and vendors.

5 Present more professional opportunities to the communities that Brands directly profit from. There should be more initiatives that give Black communities access to future success. It is not untrue that the pool of Black creatives is shallow, and the reason for this is a direct result of an unaddressed cycle of systematic oppression.

6 Help elevate Black creative partners by sharing their talent internally, and/or by putting their work in front of more potential opportunities. If a partnership is genuine, the success of the partner should be embedded in the process. Award fees can be written into the budget, while press should mutually promote the work of both the brand and creative.

7 Be more cognisant of the pressure being placed on Black employees and partners, especially as brands begin completely new diversity initiatives and hiring methods. Companies should focus on practices that embrace moments of incorrectness, rather than be threatened by them. They should accept and acknowledge the imbalanced situational nuance, while encouraging and supporting the individuals that experience these imbalances daily.

Signatories in support of this letter:

FISK c/o Bijan Berahimi

WeShouldDoItAll c/o Johnathan and Sarah Jackson

Double Day & Cartwright c/o Tim

Play Lab Inc. c/o Archie and Jeffery

HORT c/o Eike König

Somedays c/o Steve Reinmuth

Joshua Kissi

Natalie Shields

Public School New York c/o Maxwell and Dao-Yi

Sofia Clausse

Nishat Akhtar

Christine Shen

Bráulio Amado

Crystal Zapata

The New Company c/o Matt Luckhurst

Darien Birks

Christopher Burnett

Bon Duke Studio c/o Bon Duke

Beard Projects c/o Eric Beard

This initiative is ongoing and the letter is open to further suggestions and amendments, go to pleaserespectourneighbors.com/exhibited to find out more.

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Courtesy of Please Respect Our Neighbours (Inc)

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About the Author

Kendall Henderson

Kendall Henderson is design director and partner at Brooklyn-based studio Please Respect Our Neighbours (Inc).

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