Community is a sacred, safe space carved out for shared interests and passions. It’s that deep, whole-body sigh: I belong here.
Formally, community is defined as “a feeling of fellowship with others.” But do you even need a definition? It’s simple. Community is the gut feeling that grabs hold of you when entering somewhere and confidently knowing you belong there.
As a Black cisgender woman, I often felt alienated from online beverage communities, which tend to be homogenously white and ignore or undervalue my perspective. For example, when an online beer community promotes known racist brands, it signals to me that I am unwelcome. Sometimes, the exclusion is subtler, like when a wine forum only uses unfamiliar reference points (fresh-cut grass and flint, anyone?).
Sadly, these experiences reflect how I’m frequently treated offline. As much as I love hospitality, the industry where I’ve worked for five years, it hasn’t always reciprocated. I’ve been overlooked when ordering at bars or had my drinking preferences prejudged. (For the record, I prefer a glass of Pinot Noir.) And spare me the bias of Black people not tipping.
These situations and stereotypes left me feeling uneasy and frustrated. But gradually, I empowered myself. When there’s no space for you, then you must build one.
I created BGD to celebrate Black excellence and recenter industry conversations. I grew an audience on Twitter and Instagram hungry for a space to belong. My posts encouraged the community to buy products by Black creators (long before #BuyBlack), and I release an annual list of women and nonbinary people in the beverage industry.
While there’s still work to do with BGD, I’m thrilled at how the platform contributes towards dismantling industry biases. And I am eager to help others who hope to build inclusive digital drinks communities.
To start, your space needs to welcome all people in an authentic way. Inclusivity isn’t a trend, it’s the new normal.
Let’s say you want to build an inclusive Instagram. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a scroll through an Instagram feed is a 1,000,000-word essay. When products are lovingly held by exclusively white hands with thin wrists, then you are essentially broadcasting your skin color preference and fatphobia to all potential followers. Homogenous hands communicate unwantedness to others. They tell me I am not welcome, and that you are deeply disinterested in selling your product to me.
How disappointing, because inclusion sells. Black buying power will be worth upwards of $1.5 trillion by 2021, according to Nielsen data. And a recent AIR report points out the disposable income for U.S. adults with disabilities is about $490 billion. Exclusive images may cost you—not just in digital takedowns, but also in profits.
Another key to an inclusive online community is communication. Authenticity demands you to encourage genuine engagement and feedback from followers. Yes, you may be challenged to defend a post, image choice or a hashtag; but that’s OK, because community members are your coproducers. You don’t create a space for them, you create a space with them. How you respond to congratulations and criticism signals to the community whether they are truly welcome.
Language is important, too. There are certain tropes many digital communicators use to speak to BIPOC, LGBTQIA, disabled and other marginalized groups. Our communities have become keen experts at identifying inaccurate and cringeworthy language in community spaces.
To avoid these stereotypes, you have to begin your work offline. Say it with me: inclusive online communities begin with inclusive offline communities. Whoever is writing your community content, whether or not they are part of a marginalized community, must do the work to address their biases. Overcoming biases in race, gender, sexuality and bodies requires active labor. Easy inclusion is nonexistent.
Yes, you may be challenged to defend a post, image choice or a hashtag; but that’s OK, because community members are your coproducers. You don’t create a space for them, you create a space with them.
Building a community that welcomes and centers BIPOC, LGBTQIA, disabled and other marginalized groups requires consistent effort and firm commitment. You must listen to those communities, address their concerns, acknowledge your limitations and course-correct as needed. When you’ve done your work, it results in genuine collaborations with the community.
As a digital strategist and storyteller, I recognize how critical inclusive beverage spaces are in shaping larger narratives. These spaces affect brand and consumer relationships. When beverage brands fail to see the Black communities, communities of color, disabled communities and queer communities, they miss critical growing consumer market. Reinforcing dated norms targets drinkers that believe matter to them: white, skinny Mimosa lovers. This perpetuates the cycle of creating for, targeting and selling to only white people.
You might be asking, What’s the payoff? Your prize is an engaged, inclusive community that you rise to meet on their level, rather than force them to shrink and conform to your expectations. When we can all live our full, authentic selves, everybody wins.