Under the Influence: Russell G. Jones
By Dipti Bramhandkar, Head of Planning, iris Worldwide
On Russell G. Jones’ Blind Spot website, he writes, “Many of us are unpracticed in speaking constructively about our racial lens.” During our July Under the Influence event, iris NY took a step towards understanding how to have critical conversations about race and inclusivity. With the spate of shootings in this country still fresh in everyone’s mind, bringing in Russell to tell the story about the inspiration for Blind Spot was timely.
Blind Spot has its roots in the theater. As an actor, director, and theater maker, Russell initially believed that his ideas about race would be best expressed on the stage. He soon recognized that the audience was at an arm’s length from the topics the actors were bringing to life, and he wanted them to get closer. So he created a format better suited to his aims — the salon. Blind Spot salons invite organizations and communities into a structured workshop with the aim of creating critical dialogue around race. Russell and his facilitators create a safe environment and use a variety of media as stimuli. Some of the content Blind Spot creates and curates is especially well suited for social media and is shared in real-time to its growing community of advocates and supporters.
We asked about how a company like ours, whose purpose and intention is not based in the worlds of social justice or activism, can contribute to the critical debate happening in the country today. Russell encourages discussion in any form and on any scale — from an individual level to a company level. He also clarified that while action is what ultimately we need to aim for, dialogue is an essential ingredient. When searching for actions to take, he suggested following the steps outlined by the large numbers of influencers who work in social justice fields. He reiterated that there are many ways to make an impact, and as marketers we are in a unique position to use our platform to contribute to the many movements around us.
We also had a powerful debate around provocative phrasing often used in the context of race in this country — “white privilege” and “white supremacy.” While these phrases may initially be misunderstood, the intention behind them is to build awareness of the systematic and institutionalized racism that people of color face on a day-to-day basis. As was evidenced in our discussions, these phrases prompted some great audience participation, which is the first step towards activism and inclusion. Understanding one’s identity in the context of environment is a process of “waking up” to race. When guided through a reflective exercise by Russell, everyone was able to remember a moment when they acknowledged what race they were regardless of whether they are part of the majority culture or a minority culture.
As an agency, we recognized that our conversation with Blind Spot was the beginning of an ongoing and important journey towards inclusivity. We’ll look to build upon this knowledge in the coming months and years.