3. Practicing Narrative Justice: Confrontation

Pursuing Narrative Justice in organizational communications means considering how you wish to position your work concerning historical and contemporary power dynamics, privilege and inequity within your space. Identifying your organizational positioning also implies thinking through how you want to educate audiences by framing overall messaging in a manner that advances justice and increases equitable outcomes. Communications directed by those values will elicit an affinity for your work among your audience, and move people to take action thereby contributing to systems change.

In this article, we address some specific examples of how Narrative Justice can be actioned through a commitment to Confrontation — the third commitment of the five we named in our white paper on ethnographic approaches to communications for social good. To bring Narrative Justice into your communications, organizations and individuals, work toward establishing these five specific commitments: Awareness, Engagement, Confrontation, Incorporation and Sharing. In our first two articles, which addressed how to commit to Awareness and Engagement, we discussed the importance of expanding your understanding of the injustices your work is meant to fight and identified concrete ways that you can tailor your interactions with communities and individuals experiencing inequity. With that foundation, this article is about looking at your own writing with the critical lens you have gained by enacting these first two commitments.

#3 Confrontation | Actively confront the ways that your organization orients toward the stories depicting diverse and multicultural audiences in contemporary discourse.

Confrontation can be one of the hardest parts of adopting Narrative Justice. It requires a willingness to sit with discomfort and examine where communications have fallen short in your organization’s aspirations to instigate systems change work.

Confrontation is about identifying what lessons you can learn from the expanded understanding you are developing of your area of work, and the new ways you are committed to engaging with people who are most directly impacted by injustice and pejorative media narratives. For example:

  • Let’s say your organization is providing education resources and increased access to curricular materials to schools in low-income neighborhoods. Through awareness building and ongoing, partnership-based engagement with people in the community, you may find that you define the problem, or the manifestation of that problem, differently than most families or caretakers within the community:
    • This observation in and of itself is important to embrace.
    • This recognition impacts how you understand solutions mechanisms, and the reality and perception of your organizational impact.
    • You may even find that your theory of change is predicated upon an understanding of “the problem” that differs substantially from the manner in which people in low-income neighborhoods see it.
    • People living that reality themselves can identify different mechanisms linked to deficits in educational resources, pinpointing related components playing out in real time.
  • Perhaps your organization works to fund long-term job opportunities for people seeking asylum in your state or city. While increasing your awareness and building more equitable processes for partnership with the people experiencing the precarity of relocation, you might find that some of your communications about this work are deficit-oriented. In other words, your communications may be outdated, for example, relying on “sad story” tropes about the victimization or vulnerability of asylum seekers to generate interest among your audience of donors. These communications frames are contrary to the goals of Narrative Justice.
    • This can be an uncomfortable and powerful moment. You have an opportunity to put resources and practices in place to remove these framings from your communications repertoire.
    • Seek to operationalize language that recognizes the agency of those your organization works on behalf of, making it the driving force of your work.

The findings that emerge from Confrontation can pinpoint areas of routine comfort. For example, comfort can come from consistency in messaging that elicits dependable donor responses. Understanding where and when your organization has relied on areas of comfort can highlight gaps that exist between your own thinking or doing and the reality confronted in the lived experience of the people you are engaging with. It is important to consider the implications of these dynamics and how they may show up in your communications with staff and all kinds of external audiences, such as impacted communities, funders and other organizations or entities you partner with to meet your goals.

By doing the hard work of recognizing when your organization can do better, you set yourself and your teams up to build stamina for more justice-based work. In our next article, we will discuss concrete ways to integrate these learnings into the DNA of your organization through Incorporation.

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