“Activism flows through my veins as strong as artistry does. (…) My involvement in social justice doesn’t downplay my musicianship” — Alicia Keys
American singer-songwriter Alicia Keys can add ‘best-selling author’ to her long list of talents. In her book ‘More Myself: A Journey’ she reveals about her life as an artist, actress, producer, entrepreneur and activist. She describes the book as a journey in how she became who she is today. And there is a lot to learn from that journey on the topic of inclusion. Books like this are interesting reads for journalists about how to approach the topic of media diversity in their work and newsrooms.
What I specifically like about ‘More Myself’ is how Keys intertwines her career building with her personal development, spirituality and activism. It shows a holistic approach to life: everything is connected. And that definitely holds for the topic of inclusion as well.
The publication is full of powerful sentences, I picked a few to explain the lessons journalism can learn from the popular singer.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the precise moment when we internalize others’ assessments; it’s usually not just a single experience but rather a series of moments that bruise the spirit and lead us to distrust ourselves and those around us.”
This quote has everything to do with knowing yourself and your internalized assessments. If you’re not aware of those, you’re not able to see the world from other people’s perspective. And the latter is necessary for thinking and acting inclusively. It starts with getting a good understanding of how your past created the framework you’re living in now.
“Death is a gift meant to wake up the living, to nudge us toward a life of purpose and intention”.
If we’re looking at all the unarmed Black people being killed in the last few decades in the United States, this quote should apply to the media in taking diversity and inclusion super seriously. Unfortunately, not a lot has changed over the years regarding this topic. The killing of George Floyd and the protests following the brutal event should be a definite wake-up call.
“Better — that is what Prince and all others who achieve excellence are always pushing toward. They rise. They insist upon meticulousness and in so doing, they alter the very space they inhabit.”
This is exactly the attitude we need to create inclusive journalism.
Journalists tend to first focus on the world
Alicia Keys also shares her feelings of powerlessness towards the problems in the world. She discusses global headlines with friends and is concerned about her sense of resignation. From that discovery, she emphasizes the importance of ‘we’ as opposed to ‘me’:
“It starts with ourselves, and then our families, and then our communities, and then the world. I am here for you. Where are you here for? What is your gift to the world?”.
Journalists tend to first focus on the world and lastly on themselves. Given the need for introspection to become aware of your prejudices and also to become mentally more healthy, this should shift. It’s not egotistical to put yourself first. You can’t do your job well if the roots from where you’re working are damaged or sick.
“Music is one of the most potent forms of protest, the gateway to connection. I may have become fluent in the language of social justice, but music will always be my mother tongue. My native language.”
A lot of journalists probably experience their profession as a calling and storytelling as their native language. But as Keys teaches us with this quote, it doesn’t have to exclude protesting for good causes. Journalism in its core is a form of activism.
“So much of history we’ve been taught is told through a single lens — usually not an African one”.
Journalists look at the world through a single lens
Creating inclusive journalism means to be able to shift your perspective. If you’re born and raised in Western society, it’s necessary to understand that you look at the world through a single lens that has become the dominant lens for media and journalism. But it’s not the only one. People outside of the Global North, outside of the Western societies look at current affairs in a different way. As long as journalists don’t study those different perspectives, by reading books about decolonization and by talking and — more importantly — listening to people from these areas, the currently dominant worldview won’t change.
“In a world overrun with images and stories that portray Black people as victims rather than victors (…) we stand taller when we hear our story in its glorious entirety. (…) And we understand the importance of defining ourselves, rather than allowing others to ever do that for us.”
From these sentences should come the realizations of Black people being portrayed as victims most of the time and the fact that it’s important that unheard voices get a chance to define themselves, instead of journalists doing that for them. Which means we need more diversity in the newsroom but we also need to be aware that we sometimes shouldn’t report on a story because we’re not the right person to do so.
The singer writes about Black history and mentions people like abolitionist Frederick Douglass, historian and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, women’s right activist Sojourner Truth, political activist Harriet Tubman and kemetologist dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan. The latter has been criticized for allegedly distorting history but as author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates state in The New York Times:
“What people like Dr. Ben were saying was ‘history is not this objective thing that exists outside of politics. It exists well within politics and part of its job has been to position Black people in a place of use for white people’. And that notion of scepticism goes with me in all of my work. It runs through everything I do.”
And even though that’s not a quote by Alicia Keys, it does come from reading her book that it ends up in this article and that same scepticism Ta-Nehisi Coates is talking about should be part of a journalists’ attitude towards inclusion.