KATOUCHE GOLL Freelance beauty industry PR.
WE MUST DO THE WORK TO CHANGE INGRAINED BIASES
Katouche Goll, a freelance beauty PR, says it is not health conditions or impairments but social barriers that create limits on what Disabled people can achieve.
Nobody benefits from the rigidity that we currently have in the PR industry and society at large. We are in a combustible system that is in desperate need of change, in order to better serve its clientele and the public, and it is only once we give voice to Black people at different intersections, that we will be able to come up ways to dismantle racism, rather than create new issues out of ignorance.
A big part of the solution is a transformation of our collective understanding of race and disability and acknowledging the face value biases that we have.
Disability is a social construct. Having a diagnosed condition or impairment in of itself does not disable the individual but rather the context and its environmental and attitudinal barriers that impact quality of life and opportunity.
So if you're Disabled, it's not your impairment or condition that ultimately impedes your life. It's the barriers in the context that make things difficult. Impairments exist on the natural spectrum of human life, just like race, and gender. In the same way, for race, the discriminatory barriers shape a large part of our lived experience and there is nothing inherently flawed in being from a particular racial background.
The way that these identities converge is really interesting to me because for the longest time, people who look like me have been left outside of the imagination of what society looks like. Not least the landscape of PR.
These things are all intertwined and understanding this, not only empowers the person that is being excluded, be that because of their race, gender, disability etc., but empowers society as a whole to make a change that transforms our experiences and impacts the quality of content and work we produce.
I can never talk about being Disabled in of itself. I'm ‘a Disabled something’ for example, I'm a Disabled Black woman living in the UK. If we try to make these into single issues, then we’re not getting an appropriate intersectional view
and are not going to ensure that everybody is actually experiencing the same level of equity. That also speaks to the overall response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the call for greater inclusion.
The solution, therefore, must also be multifaceted and it is paramount to create room for dialogue and have some of these more difficult conversations facilitated in structured environments and workshops.
It is not enough to be nice and have good intentions, we must strive to have real and tangible action plans that strive towards tangible results.
Conversations around race and racial discrimination have diverted to focus on attributes and values such as friendliness and kindness. You may hear some people speaking of their surprise that a person would be racist because they are ‘nice’, ‘kind’, or ‘well-meaning’. The emphasis placed on this diverts from the systemic impact of racism and the pernicious and subtle nature of racism and racial biases, especially here in the UK.
We also see that those values can often be marred by our own perceptions and be based on face-value judgements.
It is important to break down the fundamentals of what structural anti-Black racism looks like, and then how it manifests in our smaller day to day interactions. This will help resolve some of the confusion around the proposed solutions that are not grounded in a real education of historic context.
How can we expect to understand the historic shift that we are in the midst of now, if we do fully understand the history that precedes it? It benefits everyone to create a consensus that teaches. It capacity builds the organisation, whilst valuing the well-being of Black members within the PR industry and society more broadly.
I’m really interested in exploring how liberation works in an ecosystem with different facets to it so that people understand the broader systemic implications of this issue, and work to apply more sustainable solutions.
Admittedly, as a recent grad, my career in PR is only beginning. So far I am indeed pleased to say that I have only ever been presented with the very best of people and workplaces. This is mostly due to the fact that the experiences that I’ve had, have been the result of special access programmes offering placements to minorities (young Disabled people, and/or Black people). I have benefited greatly from these experiences but they unfortunately do not represent an industry-wide commitment to a diverse and inclusive PR sphere. There needs to be a greater concerted effort on the part of companies and brands to have a visible Black presence.
We can benefit from a re-education of the basics and do the work to change our responses to the ingrained biases. We now have the opportunity to have a more conscious and balanced approach to change, that is informed by the key stakeholders.
I am at the start of my career in the PR industry and have a special interest in beauty PR, combining my passion and this great love I have for beauty and makeup for as long as I can remember.
I am fascinated by the idea of beauty and bias, including how our perceptions of others lead to conscious and sub-conscious judgements about them. The impact that this has on the messages we communicate in our day to day lives and carry into the workspace. For me, makeup is a really empowering tool that stretches creativity and allows me to determine how I navigate through the world.
There’s no doubt that people are judged at face value, and numerous scientific studies have shown us that we make sub-conscious inferences about levels of intelligence, personality traits and core values all based on what see in the first few seconds of meeting a person.
A study in 2016 found that 8-12-year-old children find conventionally attractive people more trustworthy, and overall, attractive people are judged as brighter, better skilled, and pro-social while seemingly unattractive people are judged to be less intelligent and exhibit more anti-social behaviour.
I find this interesting, because I have always been aware of this bias and remember having an interest in the relationship between power and beauty from a similarly young age. Growing up, I understood that I did not fit the conventional standards of beauty as was portrayed in mainstream media.
As a Disabled Black person, I have found that there's an expectation from wider society, of how I should look. There is a bias that posits disability as inherently ‘unattractive’ and Blackness has similarly been treated as inherently ‘flawed’ and ‘unattractive’. As a result, the world in general is very hostile towards people like me.
I unfortunately uncovered this very early on in life, and it formed part of the basis of my interest in beauty and makeup, because with it, I found common ground and something that asserted my humanity. My experience on a daily basis is often dependent on how much of an effort I put into how I look. The role that PR plays in dictating what normalcy looks like attracted me to the industry. The very practice of influencing how others digest a product, person or an experience is something that I would attempt in my everyday without even realising. I have to angle myself according to the given circumstance.
In recent months, conversations about race and discrimination, including ones that were once perhaps too ‘uncomfortable’, have been forcibly pushed into the public arena and suddenly become urgent and necessary ones to have. We have an opportunity to create an equitable PR context.
I have so far seen an effort to respond to the lack of diversity, and with the positive efforts to make a difference within the industry, we would love to see a more rounded response tackling race and inequality with a more intersectional approach.
It is important to recognise the diversity even within a race, and work to hold conversations with relevant stakeholders, and commit to creating better access. Failing to have ample representation at the table, does a disservice to everyone in the long-term.