1. Practicing Narrative Justice: Awareness

Part of the role of nonprofit communications is to educate, create awareness and catalyze audiences into action. One of the ways to use your communications to advance changes in audience behavior or thinking is through Narrative Justice. In other words, organizations should consider how they wish to position their work, and educate audiences by framing their overall messaging in a manner that promotes equity. Through those efforts, a connection is built that ideally moves people toward action in support of your issue.

Narrative Justice can be at the heart of communications in any form of storytelling. To effectively incorporate it, organizations and individuals can work toward establishing the five specific commitments, outlined in our white paper. These practices are meant to be incorporated into all aspects of your organization’s communications: awareness, engagement, confrontation, incorporation and sharing. This is the first of our five-article series discussing the commitment to awareness in communications work, and how it shows up in some particular examples.

Commitment #1 | Awareness: Increase organizational awareness of dominant and oppressive narratives as they are reflected in the stories told in industries and arenas. Growth in awareness allows us to intercept—and eventually reorient—subordinating communicative trends.

We have opportunities to expand our individual and collective awareness all the time. This means identifying some of the assumptions that have set boundaries on your work up until this point and asking questions about what lies beyond those boundaries. From there, we can identify narratives that may be harmful and counternarratives that are helpful.

Some ideas may already jump to mind. But, if you’re having trouble thinking about this in practice, consider each of the subjects below which implicate particular narratives and possible counternarratives.

If you’re working on racial and ethnic justice issues, have you considered the overlap with gender-based injustices?

The assumption that identities are unidimensional. For example, the belief that race and ethnicity can be understood without reference to gender identity or sexuality.

All parts of our identities intersect, which can result in overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or marginalization.

When confronting the homelessness crisis in your city, are you aware of the dynamics driving the historic number of unhoused people?

Homeless people are individually responsible for their situation because they are irresponsible, lazy or unpredictable, and even dangerous.

The rise in homelessness is the result of a systemic lack of protection for people experiencing precarity and exclusion due to such circumstances as a lack of low-income housing, increased cost of living, unmanageable healthcare costs, structural racism that denies rights and socioeconomic opportunities, etc. Some people experiencing homelessness are seeking safety from violent environments themselves.

For an organization that interfaces regularly with individuals who have been impacted by incarceration, have you taken a neighborhood, zip code, or city view to consider the impacts at the community level?

Getting into the criminal-legal system is a function of individual choice and bad decisions. If incarcerated people had made better decisions they would have been able to avoid it.

Black and brown communities are significantly overrepresented in the incarcerated population in the United States, and often coming disproportionately from the same neighborhoods. Systemic racism plays a role in this outcome.

If you’re working in a global organization based in the United States focused on topics like climate change, tech innovation, public health etc., have you considered how your organization defines and practices expertise?

The most cutting-edge research is being published in the top journals, or has the most citations.

Expertise is embodied by those who live the injustices, know intimately the inner workings of inequitable systems and are deeply connected to their communities.

Pushing the boundaries of our own thinking, at the individual and organizational levels is imperative. Pushing boundaries means we can foster a greater awareness of connecting issues that help reveal toxic narratives embedded in our culture of communications.

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