Last month, we all got to watch many firsts as Sonia Sotomayor, a Latinx Supreme Court Justice, swore in Vice-President Kamala Harris, a woman who is Black and South Asian. It was a powerful moment for many people to see so many barriers broken that day.
In the non-profit sector, we might not have as many days that feel as exciting as January 20, 2021 did for representation, but what does it mean to make sure people feel seen in everyday communications?
An older adult who sees a flyer for going back to school that includes people of all ages
A young person comes upon a website for a nature center that includes people diverse in race, gender, and body types
A parent of a child sees a flyer for a children’s program that uses gender inclusive language and imagery
How and what we choose to showcase says a lot about our organizations, who we are raising up, and what we believe.
Questions To Explore
Here are some questions to reflect on:
Are we showing images of people with diverse bodies, abilities, races, and ages that reflect our community? Do we work alongside a wide variety of people but offer only narrow reflections of who we serve? Do we want to work alongside a wider variety of people but only offer narrow reflections of we serve?
Is there a pattern of defaulting to images of white people where race is not a direct focus of the content? How are we as an organization de-centering whiteness in our representation? Of course, true representation goes beyond checking a box, but doing a content audit might yield some important action steps to take.
Do we avoid using images that play into harmful stereotypes or that oversimplify complex issues? For example, in an article on homelessness, a picture of a forlorn man in dark shadows dressed in disheveled clothing plays into negative ideas and inaccurate representations of homelessness in America. Neither does it address the complex systemic issues at play or offer solutions. How can we counter with compelling images that don’t rely on old tropes?
How are we co-creating content with our community? Are you making sure you have their consent or not revealing personal information by using their image?
Yes, norms and language change. And images are just one piece of a much larger issue around changing systems for the better. Therefore, we must continue to have these important conversations and evolve how people are represented. Because being seen is important.
What Can We Do About It
Here are some websites where you can find an array of diverse illustrations and images to get started:
Blackillustrations.com: illustrations of Black people across aspects of everyday life
Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection: stock photography that includes trans and non-binary people in everyday situations
Canweallgo.com: stock photography featuring people who are plus-sized
Disabled and Here: free and inclusive stock photos of disabled Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) across the Pacific Northwest shot from their own perspective
Please take a moment to review the handy usage guidelines for each site, too. For example, at Disabled and Here, they ask that captions using their photos use identify-first language
Here are some additional resources, too, that are a great place to start in thinking about how we use images and language to represent and talk about our work:
If you haven’t been exploring these ideas at your organization, now is a great time to start. Representation is powerful!
Want to reflect on how words impact our conversations? Check out Literacy Works’ Literacy Action Project on February 23. We’ll be discussing the power of the language we choose to talk about our work.