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Why I won't advertise with magazines who don't use black models #BLM

I hesitated to put this out on my blog. After all, I write about cake, right?

Cake toppers

But I feel it would be irresponsible for me not to.

Yes, my business is about baking. It's about being coeliac. It's all things gluten-free. But it's also inclusive - I make my cakes so that everyone can share in a celebration, not be the outsider who's left to bring their own food.

So if my business is all-inclusive, my commitment towards anti-racism needs to reflect that, especially as Bristol has recently been at the heart of many a national news debate.

You may think my post is too late, that I should have spoken up sooner. But that would be to ignore Ariana Grande's "gentle reminder that this doesn't end today or tomorrow or after you post about it once." She's urged people to "keep signing petitions, having conversations, reading links and sharing resources." So that's my starting point.

From Twitter I know many white people feel they haven't done anything wrong.

Let's look at that sentence again.

There are many white people who haven't done anything. Nothing. And it reminds me of Martin Niemoller's poem, "First they came..."

There's a clear message in a short video of Jane Elliott, an anti-racism activist in America. "Stand up if you would like to be treated as a black citizen is treated." (No-one moves.) "So you know you don't want it for you. I want to know why you're so willing to accept it for others."

'Black lives matter' does not imply no other lives matter. It simply means black lives need to matter, just like anyone else's.

John Barnes wrote an interesting article in The Sunday Times recently comparing racism to sexism, which is a useful starting point for anyone who's white and is struggling to understand how it feels to experience racism.

When I was fresh out of university, I applied for a job and was told there were no positions available in that department but was offered something elsewhere. I later discovered the manager "didn't like girls working there". (Note the reference to "girls", despite the fact I was in my twenties - a common, belittling and sexist swipe.)

This, it seems, is one of the many ways racism is experienced. Philip Schofield challenged a woman on ITV's This Morning by asking where the evidence was for Meghan Markle experiencing it. His assumption was that words or actions have to be explicit.

We must also tackle the issue of white people coming forward. Is it okay to say anything at all? Ellen DeGeneres, Drew Barrymore and David Walsh have all made similar, hesitant points. There is a temptation to be silent because you don't want to say the wrong thing or to look as though you're empathetic, despite having no experience, or - as David Walsh points out - "interview a black athlete and come across as the "privileged white writer...getting [the black man] to write your column".

But their message is clear: one cannot do nothing. Therefore, there are ways as a white person to do more than simply listen.

It is plain to see why people are slow to speak up. It would be easy to think, "l look like I'm jumping on the racism bandwagon" or "I'm merely copying others" or "I'm trying to look as though I'm doing good."

But if I thought any of those things then I'd be missing the point: it's not about me. It's about those who've experienced anything from casual racism to hideous racial atrocities, many of which go unmarked. George Floyd's case is one we've all heard of. But how many have gone unreported? Not filmed. Not newsworthy. Not worthy.

So what can we do?

My starting point is with the wedding industry. When I first started my business 8 years ago, I was surprised to find there weren't any black models used in national wedding magazines. In my first wedding fayre banner, the image I chose was of two fondant toppers, one of which happened to be black. I also put the image in an advert in a national wedding magazine.

Sadly, it was the only black bride.

Wedding fayre table
My wedding fayre table

I have since decided that I will not advertise in a magazine again if it doesn't encourage diversity, both with colour and with size.

But problems with the wedding industry aren't entirely simple. I learned a lot more here with this wonderful podcast. Featuring Nova Reid from Nu Bride, it covers a multitude of issues faced by people of colour, not least tokenism, cultural appropriation and a rather shocking account from Nova about why black models weren't typically used in the industry.

My takeaway from this is Nova's words: "You can be offended or you can be part of the solution."

But things mustn't end there.

It's important to me to do more. I feel we all have a responsibility to do more. So I shall bow to the wisdom of people who know all too well the experiences people of colour go through.

  1. Sir Lenny Henry. Read his book, 'Who Am I, Again?'

  2. Nadiya Hussain (winner of the 2015 Great British Bake Off). Follow her on Twitter @BegumNadia.

  3. Preston Smiles (international speaker & author). Follow on Instagram and join the conversation.

It's a starting point I'm committing to undertake which I hope, in some small way, will help #BLM. I'm also going to:

  1. Once a week, listen either to a new podcast, read a book chapter or watch a YouTube video and write down a take-away - e.g. "I'm tired of comfortable lies" (Roxanne Gay); "Most [people] are aware of racial disparities" (Dr Ibram X Kendi); "People aren't just hitting a glass ceiling: they are standing on a glass precipice" (Lenny Henry).

  2. Keep having conversations. Hear what others have to say. Challenge opinions that don't sit well with an anti-racist view.

  3. Leverage my voice on social media. Be clear racism won't be tolerated. Share quotes from others to reinforce the message.

I realise it's not ground-breaking. It won't change the world. But I'm hoping these small steps will help, especially when I remember the words of Preston Smiles:

It's a privilege to educate yourself about racism instead of experiencing it.

What are your thoughts? What will you do within your industry to ensure you help #BLM? Please share or leave a message in the comments box above!

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