In this moment, as brands, companies, government agencies, and academic institutions are struggling to show solidarity with the Black community in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, I demand that these organizations go beyond mere statements. I ask the following questions for them to consider and make these recommendations for them to implement:
- How willing are you to truly cede power in your White-dominated leadership spaces (e.g. Board of Directors, C-Suite roles, President’s Cabinet, etc.)? It is no longer just about providing surface diversity training but making change NOW! It is always amazing that White leaders continue to show their anti-Blackness by claiming color-blindness in selecting leaders. And think nothing about maintaining White homogeneity on their leadership team. How do you actually justify an all White Board of Directors or a leadership team as simple meritocracy? This is White supremacy in action. For change to happen, it is not just about diversity training programs. It is about these White leaders stepping down, to make way for diverse leadership. Not in the future, but NOW!
- How are you investing in truly creating anti-racist spaces? Do you actually have a Chief Diversity Officer who sits on the leadership team, with the same budget, staff, and power as the other C-Suite roles (e.g. CFO, COO, etc.)? Does that CDO actually have training in anti-racism practices & treats diversity, equity, and inclusion as a discipline on par with finance or marketing, rather than being a lawyer simply protecting the company from discrimination lawsuits? How much do you understand what anti-racism actually is? How is it infused into the culture? How are you auditing your practices and policies to understand if they are anti-racist or continuing to sustain White supremacy & White cultural hegemony? As the economy lurches into a recession, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs & staff should not be the first things cut. In fact, there should be more investment in racial equity programs and infrastructure. There should be a full review of policies and practices (e.g. hiring, promotion, marketing) to identify how to increase anti-racist approaches to the work. It is not about words, it is about long term financial investment.
- How do you recognize that hate speech from employees is not a freedom of speech issue, it is a racial tyranny issue? People who hold racist views, especially those with power, wish to claim freedom of speech rights (e.g. college professors), while creating unsafe spaces for Black people. If a professor espouses anti-Black sentiment, are we to believe it won’t impact his engagement with Black students and their ability to learn? If a police officer is posting racist messages on Facebook or other social media platforms, are we to think that he won’t mistreat Black citizens? There should be zero tolerance for racist rhetoric, hidden behind freedom of speech rights. Such employees should not merely have sensitivity training or a suspension. They should be terminated for doing harm to Black students, employees, or citizens. We are in 2020, and it is unconscionable for someone to say they do not understand how their words are racist and offensive. And if that is in fact the case, they should not be able to have a role with power to negatively impact Black people. When two White male counter-protesters in NJ mocked the death of George Floyd by simulating someone kneeling on another person’s neck, how do you reconcile having such hateful people working for you? FedEX did the right thing by immediately firing the employee involved. Unfortunately, the NJ Department of Corrections did not, by just suspending the correctional officer involved. The NJDOC will hide behind due process and union rights, which is the typical response, and is the valid legal course to take. However, there is no place in the fight for racial justice for such equivocation. First, such an individual should be named as the investigation plays out, so people know who the racists are around them. And the investigation should be quick, and the officer terminated. What is even more troubling is that this officer was working in a youth facility. And he thought nothing of hatefully mocking a man’s death, and saying, “Black Lives Matter to no one,” while children protesting witnessed such a traumatizing scene.
- How are you working to advocate for Black employees, not in a tokenism type of way, but actually listening to them, and implementing practices & policies that reflect their needs? It is not just about a multitude of leadership training & pipeline programs, but actually facilitating advancement. It is about measuring hiring, promotion, and leadership outcomes, and making changes accordingly. It is about reducing racial micro-aggressions at work (e.g. “Don’t be the angry Black woman, you should smile more in meetings” or “I don’t see color, I just choose the best candidates”), so that Black employees feel that they belong and can actually rise in your organization, especially in areas such as tech, corporate law, STEM, psychology, and finance, which have dismal track records of hiring & advancing Black employees.
Those who are committed to genuine systemic change are watching and know it is only the beginning of the fight for racial justice. When the protests subside, we will still be waiting to see if you actually effect change beyond mere words. On which side of history will you be?