Curb the white default in your communications

As communications experts, we always have an audience. Yet, who do you visualize on the other side of your narrative? It is unfortunately commonplace to assume that audience to be white. Blame it on structural discriminatory practices, unconscious bias, or workplace trends. As a result, the way we address our writing subjects tends to assume white as a default, and require racial signifiers for all others. This phenomenon of omitting “white” as a signifier, primarily when describing people, becomes the foundation of normalcy.

Addressing the inconsistency

It is important to note that this practice is often a blindspot of good intentions. As newsrooms diversify and articles deepen in cultural awareness, communicators might believe they are doing right by calling out subjects of racial minorities. However, it can continue the othering of those individuals. Consider this: when a statement from a person of color is qualified by their race, what perception does that leave? That racial signifier has to do more heavy lifting to justify its purpose, rather than the competence implied by omitting the white signifier.

Some examples

This Nieman Reports article covers this topic and offers additional instances of diversity in journalism. A few examples include:

  • An article covering a mayoral race, where one white candidate is introduced only by name, while the other is introduced with a racial signifier.
  • “Kim and Jessica, who is Asian, went to the dinner party.”
  • Describing one neighborhood as a predominantly “ethnic” area, without a comparable mention of the other neighborhood, which is mostly white, discussed a few sentences later.

Counter the bias: Inclusive storytelling

A guideline to counter this bias is simple: all or none. If you know race is a thematic element of your narrative, address it for all. If it is on the periphery, consider if those signifiers are intentional to your piece. The inclusion of different perspectives should enhance your messaging and do its best to connect with all its readers.