The first six months of 2020 have brought about overwhelming levels of pain, fear and exhaustion to the black community.
In addition to experiencing disproportionately high levels of death from Covid-19, black Americans are continuing to deal with traumatizing acts of racism and injustice across the country. In the past few months, there have been protests and demands for Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed black man who was killed in a Georgia neighborhood by two armed white residents; Breonna Taylor, an unarmed 26-year-old African-American emergency technician who was killed in her Kentucky home by police; and George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man who died while a Minnesota police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
People across the country expressed outrage and demanded accountability when birdwatcher Christian Cooper, a black man, was falsely accused of threatening a white woman’s life when she called the police on him because he asked her to leash her dog in Central Park. Though these incidents have made national headlines within the past few months thanks to social media, they are nothing new. Black people have been fighting for decades to get justice from an unjust system and quite frankly, the emotional and mental toll is exhausting.
As we deal with ongoing acts of racism amid a global pandemic, conversations around allyship have come to the forefront as it will take people of all races and backgrounds to stand in support of marginalized groups who are continuously shortchanged by justice. Here are five ways in which white people and non-black people of color can stand in support of the black community now and moving forward.
1. Recognize your privilege
Understanding your privilege as a white person is critical to understanding how race and racism can impact the trajectory of one person’s life.
Frances Kendall, author of “Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race,” describes white privilege as “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.”
As a result of this unequal access to power and resources, black Americans can expect to earn up to $1 million less than white Americans over their lifetime, according to a recent study by McKinsey & Co. That same study also found that in 2016 the median wealth of a white family was 10 times the median wealth of a black family.
This racial wealth gap is linked to years of discrimination in housing, education, employment and the criminal justice system. When looking at housing, for example, data from the Urban Institute finds that real estate agents and rental housing providers recommend and show fewer homes and apartments to minorities than equally qualified whites.
When looking at the criminal justice system, data from the United States Sentencing Commission reports that black men who commit the same crime as white men are given prison sentences that are, on average, 20% longer. When examining the dynamics of police interactions, black people are more likely to be stopped by police at a traffic stop and street stop than white people, and police are twice as likely to threaten or use force against a black or Hispanic person than a white person, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In Robin DiAngelo’s book, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” she explains how it is critical for white people to have uncomfortable conversations about race so that they can recognize their privilege and understand how they benefit from “a society that is deeply separate and unequal.”
With white people sitting at the majority of America’s leadership tables, DiAngelo writes that it’s imperative for them to understand how racism works because the “decisions made at those tables affect the lives of those not at the tables.”
“Exclusion by those at the table doesn’t depend on willful intent; we don’t have to intend to exclude for the results of our actions to be exclusion,” she explains. “While implicit bias is always at play because all humans have bias, inequity can simply occur through homogeneity; if I am not aware of the barriers you face, then I won’t see them, much less be motivated to remove them.”
2. Educate yourself
The real work of allyship comes in the form of educating yourself on the things you need to personally learn and unlearn in order to be a better advocate.
In addition to Kendall and DiAngelo’s books listed above, there are several other great pieces of literature that unpack systemic racism and white privilege including “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi; “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” by Layla Saad.
In addition to these books, the National Museum of African American History & Culture just released a new online portal called “Talking About Race.” This portal, according to a press release, is “designed to help individuals, families and communities talk about racism, racial identity and the way these forces shape every aspect of society.” The portal includes online exercises, scholarly articles and more than 100 multimedia resources for individuals who are committed to racial equality.
3. Check in and speak up
During times like this when the news is filled with heavy headlines about black death, violence and protests, checking in with your black colleagues just to show that you care and are aware of what’s going on can make a difference.
“I think the most important part for our non-black employees, colleagues and leaders to do is to just say something,” career and leadership coach Kimberly Cummings tells CNBC Make It. “There’s this pressure right now to say the right thing, but honestly, there is not necessarily a right thing to say because everyone is processing the situation differently.”
Cummings says that a simple check-in to say, “I know you could potentially be going through a really hard time right now so if you need to take a day then take a day,” could really help. And she says leaders who are managing teams should reach out to all staff members, not just black employees, to show that they are aware of what’s going on and they have resources available for those in need.
“I think the silence is what’s deafening, and I think it’s what hurts the most in corporate America,” she says, while emphasizing that employees are watching what leaders are and aren’t speaking up about.
4. Understand that silence is complicit
Beyond addressing what’s happening in the news, it’s important that non-black colleagues and leaders are vocal when they witness instances of bias, racism and injustice in their immediate workplace and community.
For example, Cummings says, if you’re on a Zoom call at work where an insensitive comment is made or if you’re in an environment where the work of a black colleague is constantly overlooked, then you should not turn a blind eye to the situation.
“I think addressing it is the most important issue,” she says. “As we’re talking about everything that’s happening in the world right now, the common denominator is that there are issues that need to be addressed and spoken about openly and candidly and that also applies to the workplace.”
She emphasizes that now is not the time to sweep things under the rug and act like they aren’t happening. In fact, she says, the role of an ally is really about “speaking up when another group may not be able to.”
“I think in times like this, where everything is so tense, there is a heightened focus on the experience of a black person in work, outside of work and everything in their daily life,” she says. “So as an ally, if you see something and it makes you feel uncomfortable and you notice that it’s making your minority colleagues feel uncomfortable, then it is crucial for you to speak up and talk about how this behavior, this conversation, this action is inappropriate.”
Doing this, she says, “is where change is going to happen because silence is literally showing folks that what is happening is OK, it’s tolerated and it’s acceptable.”
5. Hire, promote and support black professionals
Speaking out against issues of racism and injustice can easily fall on deaf ears if you’re leading a company that does not prioritize hiring, promoting and supporting black workers.
In a report released last year from the Center for Talent Innovation titled “Being Black in Corporate America,” it was stated that roughly one in three black professionals aspire to hold executive positions at work and nearly two in three consider themselves to be “very ambitious” toward their career. Yet, despite this ambition, black professionals today hold just 3.2% of executive and senior management positions in corporate America and less than 1% of Fortune 500 CEO spots. Of the four black CEOs leading a Fortune 500 company today, none of them are women.
“It’s embarrassing because there are thousands of [black] people who are just as qualified or more qualified than I am who deserve the opportunity, but haven’t been given the opportunity,” Kenneth Chenault, former chairman and CEO of American Express, said in the report.
In a study released by researchers at Northwestern University, Harvard, and the Institute for Social Research in Norway, it was discovered that anti-black racism is still an issue in the hiring process today with white applicants receiving 36% more callbacks for jobs than equally qualifying African Americans.
Kenneth Frazier, who serves as the CEO of pharmaceutical company Merck, is one of Fortune 500’s few black CEOs. In an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Frazier spoke openly about these inequalities and explained how George Floyd’s death personally impacts him as a black man. As a leader in corporate America, he called on all business leaders to step in and be a “unifying force” in creating opportunities and jobs for diverse professionals.
“I know for sure that what put my life on a different trajectory was that someone intervened to give me an opportunity, to close that opportunity gap,” he said. “And that opportunity gap is still there.”
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