I was Zooming with an old friend and fellow entrepreneur yesterday, and he mentioned he called his four biggest clients and spoke to the CEOs about taking a stand on Black Lives Matter, as they had not said a peep. I had not said anything, either. I am a very small business, with me as the only employee, and a handful of clients. I’m not particularly well known in the community yet and am pretty sure no one is really noticing my activity. And it’s this kind of mindset that has allowed institutional and systemic racism to fester in our society.
As a white person, I have had the privilege to turn away from racism. We seem to believe that racism is a thing that happens to a specific group of people and it doesn’t concern us. This is dangerous thinking, that an injustice has to affect us directly before we stand up to it. This is what the system wants us to believe. But if we took one uncomfortable moment to look deeper: this is a human thing. Fellow humans are being oppressed for no reason. This is an issue for every one of us. You may have seen this quote recently: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” ~ Desmond Tutu, South African cleric and activist
I have been learning that the systems that keep racism alive work so well in part because they reward white people for their compliance. Rewards in terms of opportunities and access. And if you step out of line, i.e., speak up about the problems you see, those rewards can easily be taken away from you. Who would choose to give up such great benefits for folks they don’t even know?
These systems run deep. They have been established over many, many years. So it’s not going to be dismantled this week. Black people have been working to dismantle it since the beginning, and it is not their problem to work on. We all live in this society, so it is for all of us to work on. It’s not just for people with the most resources – money, influence – it is for each individual to stand up for what is right and demand change, of themselves and of the institutions that uphold the injustice.
So my platform is not big, and I don’t have millions to donate, but there are things I have been doing:
- attend talks and discussions on race, led by black leaders
- listen to new (to me) black voices on their experiences and observations
- donate to the Equal Justice Initiative and The Parris Foundation
- petition my local government to defund the police (and we did!)
- read books on anti-racism – first by Milagros Phillips, next by Ibram X. Kendi
- plan to speak up in November so we remember to vote and to vote for anti-racism
- vow to continue my listening and learning forever
- build a business that welcomes all people
I have taken so many things for granted – my education, my living spaces throughout my life, my general feeling of safety, heck, my accounting major and my career today – and I am disgusted that I am only now understanding how our racist systems helped me get these things. I will do better. As one of the protestor’s signs read, “I’m sorry I’m late – I had a lot to learn.” And I still have a lot more to learn.
Gorgeous artwork “Prevail” by Mister Michelle, or Michelle Robinson