As a business, this could be a really, really tough question.
No one wants to be considered racist. That’s a given. It’s an emotionally flammable topic, and of course the first thing we want to do when we hear the r-word is to instantly defend ourselves and our businesses by showing all the ways we’re not racist:
- I have lots of black friends/employees.
- We don’t need to use positive discrimination in our hiring policy, because we’re not racist anyway.
- I don’t see colour.
- All lives matter.
I know that for many people this may seem like a minefield: put one foot wrong, and bye bye business.
I can’t give you an absolute foolproof plan for responding and interacting with the Black Lives Matter movement. But I can share information that I’ve picked up from a combination of social listening and my own focused research on white privilege and the impact this has on Black people and people of colour.
Image by @tobehonestnl
I’d like to add the caveat that I am in no way an expert in what it means to be Black. That’s a kind of knowledge that I will never possess. What I can do is to actively seek out and listen to stories, experiences and viewpoints of people who look different to me, and share what I have learned, and continue to learn. I will never consider myself fully educated in this arena – there will be no point where I think “Okay, I’ve done enough. I don’t need to put any effort in anymore.”
I am happy to be corrected if I use out of date or problematic terminology.
Please know that you are welcome to correct me in the comments, or by direct messaging me if the comments don’t feel like a safe enough space.
I promise to listen, to accept knowledge and experiences more in depth and real than my own.
So, with those boundaries in place, let’s dive in.
What is Black Lives Matter?
From the movement’s website:
“# BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.
We are expansive. We are a collective of liberators who believe in an inclusive and spacious movement. We also believe that in order to win and bring as many people with us along the way, we must move beyond the narrow nationalism that is all too prevalent in Black communities. We must ensure we are building a movement that brings all of us to the front.
We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.
We are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise.
We affirm our humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation.”
I thoroughly recommend visiting the website and spending time looking through the resources, which includes downloadable graphics for social media (such as the above), toolkits for how you can be a good ally, videos recorded by activists, and donation links should you wish to contribute financially to the movement.
What is White Privilege?
“How can I define white privilege? It’s so difficult to describe an absence. And white privilege is an absence of the negative consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination. an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost, an absence of ‘less likely to succeed because of my race’.
It is an absence of funny looks directed at you because you’re believed to be in the wrong place, an absence of cultural expectations, an absence of violence enacted on your ancestors because of the colour of their skin, an absence of a lifetime of subtle marginalisation and othering – exclusion from the narrative of being human.
Describing and defining this absence means to some extent upsetting the centring of whiteness, and reminding white people that their experience is not the norm for the rest of us. It is, of course, easier to identify when you don’t have it…”
Reni Eddo-Lodge: Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.
The below is a fantastically useful and visual breakdown of white privilege, sourced from @courtneyahndesigns via Instagram.
How can we address our own white privilege?
It is entirely natural to want to mount an instant defence when we are
confronted with privilege. No one wants to be part of the problem. We
don’t want to be known for profiting from a system that benefits us by
disadvantaging others. We want things to be fair.
And that’s kind of white privilege in a nutshell: we assume that things are already fair, because we’re the ones who are “winning”.
So, how can we tackle this?
Firstly, we can start by listening.
Instead of rushing to explain that we as individuals aren’t racist, take a moment. Take a breath. Take a few. Don’t try to argue back. Don’t jump to a defensive stance.
It can feel like a lot to ask, and it will take some practice. It can take a lot of focus to depersonalise what can feel like a deeply personal attack. Remind yourself that this is not about you personally.
It’s ok to say that you’re uncomfortable. It’s ok to say that this is a difficult subject for you. But you must keep listening, and don’t shut the person or people speaking to you down because you’re uncomfortable.
Imagine if every time you tried to speak, the people around you turned their backs to you, covered their ears, and sang “la la la la, I’m not listening, la la la la”.
That is the defensive response we show when Black people and people of colour bring up racism. And it’s not good enough.
When your instinct is to bury your head in the sand, keep your head up instead. And actually listen – don’t just wait for your turn to speak.
Secondly, we need to educate ourselves about how we benefit from white privilege.
What we can do to help now is to take the pressure of educating white people about white privilege away from Black shoulders.
It is OUR responsibility to educate ourselves about how being Black impacts a person’s life.
It is OUR responsibility to listen to Black people’s stories and histories.
It is OUR responsibility to teach ourselves to THINK before we act.
We can’t ask Black people to do it for us – they have more than enough to do already, just to survive.
There are many lists of suggested reading/podcast/video materials on the above about at the moment.
Here are a couple that I’ve found helpful.
What can I do?
“It is not enough to not be racist, you must be actively anti racist” – Angela Davies
Choose how you show your support with great consideration. # blackouttuesday saw many Instagram accounts sharing an empty black square instead of their usual content.
While this was well intentioned, it actually achieved nothing but to assuage white guilt. I’ve seen comments about the black squares being shared on Instagram, and while the black square is a gesture of solidarity, it remains just that – a gesture.
Image from @ukblackpride, via Instagram
There is nothing particularly helpful about the black square.
Raising awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement is not necessary – we should ALL already be aware of this.
Things we should do:
- Share resources (whether that’s book recommendations, podcasts, social media accounts to follow)
- Share the art and work of Black people and people of colour and credit them for it, linking to their websites or social media profiles
- Share links where donations can be made
- Share links to petitions
- Use the hashtags #amplifyblackvoices #amplifymelanatedvoices
- Avoid any “All Lives Matter” posts. Don’t give them any fuel. Below is a great explanation of why ALM posts are harmful
Image sourced from @em_clarkson via Instagram. Artist unkown
Things we shouldn’t do:
- Do not use # BlackLivesMatter in your social media posts. This hashtag is used to organise protests, share updates on keeping safe while protesting, and vital resources for protestors – such as contact details of lawyers.
It is not a hashtag to use to show solidarity, and by flooding this hashtag, we can actually dilute the most important information with well-meant but unhelpful platitudes.
- Don’t expect Black people to make you feel better about your white guilt. Remember, this is not about you.
- Don’t expect Black people to educate you. You need to do the work yourself.
- Don’t compare your personal struggles to racism. While it’s natural to want to show empathy by sharing our own experiences, again – this is not about you.
- Don’t fall into the white saviour trap. Listening to Black people does not make you a hero. It’s the absolute baseline of politeness. You don’t get a medal for being polite
Should your brand take a visible stand against racism?
In the end, it’s up to you. I’d echo the advice that’s been circulating since the beginning of the lockdown: that your customers will remember how you behaved at this pivotal moment.
For me personally, yes – I am taking a visible stand against racism. I am my business, and strongly believe that my business should reflect my personal values.
I value the voices that are different to my own. These are the voices that teach me how to be better. These are the voices that help me to see the world through a different lens. These are the voices that will continue to educate me, for the rest of my life.
Amplifying their voices above my own is the very least I can do.