We are in the midst of an unprecedented moment for our country. What we see playing out in front of us isn't just about police brutality; it's about a trifecta of police brutality, murder, and the weaponization of skin color. We see these events nearly everyday, and they underscore, in a very visual way, how Black people do not have equality in this country — not by the government, society, and in some cases, the general public. These events highlight how they often continue to be thought of as less than whites.
Black people have been told for most of our lives that if we learn to assimilate, follow the rules, earn the degrees, and become successful, we will be protected from being seen as second-class citizens. Now, we see that it isn't true. It's not that the contract with America has been broken; we now realize that it never existed. That's the bad news. The good news is that I continually see protesters — white, Black, Latino, Asian — and other races protesting together. To me, this means people are aware and, even more importantly, they care.
This isn't just a social movement unfolding on our streets and on our screens.
So then the question becomes what can we do as leaders, and colleagues to understand this moment, make a difference, and be on the right side of history?
Below are some ideas, both personal and more business-oriented, for you to consider to help you make sure you are on the right path.
1. If you are an entrepreneur and you haven't already put out a message of compassion and concern to your employees and important stakeholders, I implore you to do so. It's not too late. This isn't just a social movement unfolding on our streets and on our screens. This is a very human movement, and I believe that people are nervous and scared regardless of their ethnicity or gender. People need to hear from their leadership that what is happening now matters to them.
This isn't an all or nothing situation. Change will be incremental, but it will still be change.
2. Reach out to all of your co-workers and friends and especially your Black friends who may be feeling especially sad or hurt. However, if your Black colleagues were not your friends before, this isn't the time to pretend they are your friends now as a way to assuage any guilt you might be feeling. Black people are hurting, but most won't show it. Just because someone seems okay does not mean they are. Black people have learned how to leave their "Blackness" at home and how to navigate within a white society. If you have mixed-race friends, recognize that they may be in a particularly trying time. Crossing two ethnicities — one the oppressor and the other the oppressed — is at minimum difficult and confusing.
3. Don't ask what you can do. Just do something that counts. Raise issues in the workplace, and review your company's practices for areas where there may be implicit bias. From a personal perspective, when you see an injustice, no matter how small, report it. Be an advocate for anti-racism. Being non-racist isn't enough.
4. Keep the conversation alive. Don't let this be a "one and done" so that we forget as quickly as we became angry. There is a real risk that once the headlines start to fade, our country finds an acceptable way to address COVID-19, and we return to what many refer to as our "new normal," interest in this important issue will fade until something happens to start a new uprising. As a nation and as a society, we can't go back. We know too much now to pretend that what's happening to a large percentage of our population isn't real. Just like we can't un-see the George Floyd situations of the world, we also can't unfeel what is happening before us.
5. Educate yourself on what is really happening around you. Don't ask your Black friends to explain it to you. A simple Google search can tell you everything you need to know about the history of being Black in America. Many streaming services are playing movies about the Black Experience.
Don't ask what you can do. Just do something that counts.
6. Learn how to be an ally. Allyship is perhaps one of the most powerful ways to bring about change. While there are many ways to be an ally, think about where you shop or eat — are you supporting Black-owned businesses? Are you avoiding businesses that seem to be racist or hostile to Black people? Not everyone is an activist and that's okay, but know that Black people are not going to solve this problem on our own. It will take all of us.
7. It's okay to make a mistake or say the wrong thing as long as you are coming from a point of concern and compassion. This isn't an all or nothing situation. Change will be incremental, but it will still be change.
As a nation and as a society, we can't go back.
There is no doubt that addressing what is happening in our country is difficult at work and also at home. It's time for all of us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The conversations that shake us up are often the ones in which we learn the most. The key is to talk and talk often. Right now, silence equals compliance. We all have an opportunity in our own small way to right a wrong that has been plaguing our country for more than 400 years. When we look back on this moment in our history, I want all of us, regardless of color or gender to be able to say, "In 2020, we began to change the world for the better."
WRITTEN BYCharlene Wheeless