I’ve been relatively silent this past week and a half on social media as it relates to George Floyd. In situations like this, I want to say things well in the most supportive way and more than that, I want to know it will make a difference. And I haven’t been sure of either of those things and yet, I have to try. Too many people stay silent because they don’t know what to say or are afraid to say the wrong thing. We need to be okay learning together throughout the messiness and downright ugliness of our current context.
It’s been sitting with me that in these digital times, while expressing pain and shock on social media can create global virality and a social movement, our digital stances may be too geographically disperse to create collective local action. And yet, thanks to the peaceful protestors, action is happening (e.g. LA’s commitment to reallocate $150 million towards black communities through cutting budgets and the ties Minneapolis organizations are cutting with the police).
The thing is, as someone who is neither white or black, I have a unique vantage point. And I’ve heard the same things over and over again when white-against-black violence and clashes occurs. I know that many of you in my community specifically work in leadership roles, and some of you in people-related fields like HR, D&I, and talent. You’re in a unique vantage point too — to influence beyond yourself, to influence the environment for employees who come to work every day and spend much of their lives in your organization.
So here’s a few things I hear over and over again:
- This is a black person’s day to day life. We’re taught how to navigate this systemically racist world from the moment we are born. Why now?
- This is terrible. I feel guilty for the privilege I have. I don’t know how to help.
- These protests are unnecessary, protestors are the real criminals, and people just need to try to affect change through normal, legitimate means like voting.
- Why is this just about white and black? Everyone’s lives matter.
Here’s what I have to say in response.
Systemic injustice and racism towards the black community is real. It wasn’t built by one person and it wasn’t built overnight. Just because you don’t personally consider yourself a racist doesn’t mean the system doesn’t exist and doesn’t exist strong.
It’s a system that passes itself on – note that not all four cops involved in this incident were white. If this wasn’t a systemic issue and was just a “white” issue, why wouldn’t the Asian American officer step in? For other people of color who often feel invisible and trapped between black and white, like myself, we also have stories of adapting to a “white” world that are untold and unseen.
Who are policing the police? If the system was working, then using the usual ways to affect change would work. Protests are a legitimate recourse – it’s how major social changes have consistently happened throughout history. And these have been through an idea of nonviolence, starting with Gandhi. Yet, peaceful protestors are often met with violence from the status quo establishment. None of this is a surprise and it continues to speak to the bravery of those who show up to protest. I’m not a supporter of violent protestors and certainly not of looting.
Here’s what you can do.
Yes I work in inclusion and often work with the majority. And I will admit: I get exhausted hearing about the guilt that comes along with privilege. Having privilege doesn’t mean you need to pity others, thereby continuing to make them feel less than. We all have some privilege in our lives, no matter how small – so treat people that way. Those who feel a greater capacity and abundance in life, there are things you CAN do, rather than feeling utterly helpless.
- Acknowledge people’s presence, maybe even with a smile, a greeting, or nod when you walk by them in hallways and in streets. This is a common courtesy between white people in Texas where I grew up and generally I see it everywhere I’ve been since – and some white people extend the courtesy towards minorities, others do not. Especially notice if you have a feeling of fear of a black person who is walking towards you – catch it and start to rewire yourself. As a person in between white/black, I feel like any person walking towards me could be dangerous (or not) and acknowledging helps me assess the situation.
- Do Your Own Work. Don’t expect the nearby minority to tell you how to feel or what to say or what to do. It really bothered me this week when I heard that a D&I leader wrote a letter to the organization on behalf of an executive, because the (white) executive felt inadequate. You’ve got to try in smaller safe spaces – make a draft, try to verbalize it. And if you’re a minority – give people space to fail and say the wrong thing and work with it. Find a diverse group of allies. This is about learning together – just because someone is a minority doesn’t mean they have the answer. The answer comes from us relating and figuring it out together.
- Give People a Choice to Take On Awareness Burdens. If you create space for people to process feelings and share pain, never make it mandatory to attend or to participate. For some, sharing pain is therapeutic and a way to feel heard and seen. For others, it helps towards becoming “woke”. But for many, it’s painful to relive experiences of trauma in public or to be used to create awareness for others. And make no mistake, we often use people’s pain to create awareness. The point is that this should always be a choice – a choice each individual makes to take on that burden.
- Get Educated on the Systems. Move beyond creating space for people to just share their pain. We do this a lot – we want to check the inclusion box, but it’s really not enough and it’s not effective. What action really happens? Why are we just educating each other on the realities of each other’s lives? So what and now what?? At the beginning of this, I said that this is a systemic problem. So why aren’t we educating people on the system? We will continue to feel helpless to find solutions if we don’t understand the problems. For example, in this situation, learn how the police force works in your community and have “Safe Space” and education dialogues about that. Hold Lunch n Learns to learn how systems work. For example, learn how the voting system isn’t equally accessible to all. Have leaders in the community come and educate on these systems. Start to discuss how you as an organization can contribute funds and time to help these systems change. Look where your systems are failing minorities internally.
- Want More? If these aren’t enough places to start, here’s a great article “75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice”, although I would delete the word White from the title. This problem isn’t any one group’s responsibility. It’s all of ours.
I’ve had several opportunities to hear how individuals and organizations are coping and I thank those of you who have shared.
I hope you in your position as a leader find ways to support collective action. If it’s happening now, great – jump on the movement so we can advance a problem that has continually threatened our society.
I want to offer my listening ear and guidance to you – perhaps together we can learn and develop coping and action strategies. Happy to jump on a call with any reader and thinker here.
Crystal Kadakia – CEO at Kadakia Consulting, an organizational consultancy focused on aligning business & people strategy to bring the future of work today. We co-create and lead initiatives with our clients that evolve org culture by maximizing the best possibilities that exist in your context.