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Could more visibility of black images help heal Brexit wound


THE MEDIA has long been blamed for perpetuating discrimination of the kind that leaves anyone who isn’t male and white at a social disadvantage. Despite big changes to policy and corporate best practice, modern life and the design vessels used to communicate sentiment continue to bear the legacy of that discrimination.


Everything from architecture to advertisements, packaging to everyday products play a part in this machine. How we select and buy into a brand or product reflects a little bit of our own identity and values. Nowhere is this clearer than in the way we choose which greeting cards we use to commemorate, celebrate and reflect a sentiment.

Greeting cards are one form of communication we willingly choose to bring into our homes or bestow on others, and our continued exposure to subtle design codes built on a framework of bias makes us particularly susceptible to absorbing messages that perpetuate discrimination.

As a black woman married to a white man, I would say I am like millions of other couples the world over. But when I try to buy a greetings card to celebrate our anniversary, I feel like I must be the only person on the planet in this situation. Where people of colour have won many social victories in relatively recent history, it’s crazy to see that it is still so hard to find a card that reflects a significant proportion of modern society.

The gifting and greeting cards industry has still yet to wield some serious clout in promoting minority group interests and engaging meaningfully with this audience. And so it should. The purchasing powers of minority demographics are regarded as a substantial asset to the UK economy.

Despite arguments to the contrary, the UK has been enriched by immigration. A lucrative market awaits those businesses that get their engagement and product design right. However, the reality is that many are still missing the mark. Progress has been inadequate and classic design in cards has played an important part in pushing gender and racially based stereotypes, roles and aesthetic tastes that we, as consumers, have been conditioned to favour. For example, you’d need only look at Valentine’s Day to see romantic, white and heterosexual love take precedence over any other kind of relationship.

In the wake of increasing racial tensions brought about by political upheavals around Brexit and a new Trump presidency, design can be used to change the root cause of harmful partisan thinking and unconscious bias. Where politicians are failing us, design could be our last bastion of hope.

That might seem like a sweeping statement - at the same time, if corporates and mainstream media have the absolute influence to prime minds into accepting harmful ideals, they too have the power to challenge the norms to effect positive social change.

Never has this been more urgent, at a time where civil liberties of minorities seem under threat from prominent far right ideology galvanised by regressive politics that take us back to the time of the dark ages; a period of division and walls and legalised discrimination.

Today’s climate is one of fear exacerbated by uncertainty. The greeting cards arena is just one way we can redress the balance and restore optimism in the face of disbelief and a waning sense of hope by challenging stereotypes that prevent modern society from achieving parity, diversity and acceptance on every level. Right now, change is only being propagated by a small number of disrupters, while the corporate card producers half-heartedly cater to the market using badly designed clichés.

I spoke to Stacey Dennis, a graphic designer at Love Layla Designs whose products also cater for the minorities market and she offered one interesting observation. Dennis perceived that straight people seemed to purchase Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) cards for their gay friends, while her LGBT customers tended to shy away from cards that highlighted their sexuality:

“It might well be,” she said, “that they find the less obvious cards more appropriate.”

Considering Dennis' anecdotal evidence and the current face of the wider greeting cards market, it is true that progress is still in its infancy, but the potential is exciting.

Celebrating the individuality of all kinds of people through greeting card design could play a central part in wider strategy to curtail the tide of hate against minorities that has arisen in the increasingly disillusioned, angry, post-truth world we live today.

Tineka Smith is an African-American entrepreneur and founder of Hue Tribe, a new greetings cards e-tailer.

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