Friday Five: Reflecting on racism

Mbrain Friday Five reflecting on racism

America is grieving and angry. Not only are Americans coming off months of lockdown, but also fear from the pandemic and anger about continued police brutality has come to a head. Faced with Great Depression-level unemployment, a Spanish Flu-like public health crisis and unprecedented lockdown orders, American businesses were already suffering before nationwide protests.

A decade of pain for the economy and society after the pandemic and protests

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that COVID-19’s damage to the economy will be close to $8 trillion through 2030. Businesses have already been in conflict with insurers over business interruption policies and many small businesses are now reeling from the costs and destruction of civil unrest. The riots are expected to become the most costly civil disorder in the country’s history and when there are multiple companies with major losses, it will create a larger industry loss. Combined with the economic erosions from the pandemic, the U.S. is in for a decade of pain. However, as the economy and society begin to rebuild its foundation, there is hope for growth.

The protests go beyond only having business implications. American society has had simmering tensions since it was founded, as well as a history of exclusionary practices, including financial, towards minorities. The racial wealth gap is well documented and this has had a significant impact on the economy. The economy doesn’t operate independently of society, and the protests are showing the domino effect. While motivations and intentions vary among protesters, many are uniting under the Black Lives Matter banner to express their anger in the face of crumbling federal foundations. Perhaps, this is the start of long sought societal change.

The tech industry: Donations and a show of diversity are no longer enough

Protests calling for justice following the murder of George Floyd have shaken America, uniting all 50 states, with a rippling effect worldwide. Companies have been quick to respond in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, including tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. These companies have made public statements and donated millions as a show of support; Facebook pledged $10 million and highlighted the necessity and power of having the arrest video posted to its platform. However, this outward show of support has not stemmed the roots of dissent as employees staged a virtual ‘walkout’ on June 1 in response to Facebook’s inertia in the face of Trump’s posts in relation to the protests. Twitter, on the other hand, flagged these Tweets, affixing fact-check and warning labels. In another example, Amazon employees were quick to reveal the hypocrisy in the company’s statement given Amazon’s deep ties with law enforcement agencies who are using its controversial facial recognition technology.

Employees and citizens are hungry for actions that go beyond rhetoric, calling for macro-level moves and micro-level shifts in company culture. Mary-Hunter McDonnell, who researches corporate activism at the Wharton School of Business, says the true test will be whether tech companies will lobby for legislative and structural change, having spent hundreds of millions for a seat at the table. On the other hand, Lotus Notes co-founder Kapor Klein says the tech industry has spent more than $1 billion over the last five years on diversity and inclusion initiatives, yet “has remarkably little to show for it,” which is proven accurate by the statistics. As an example, Facebook’s company culture has been denounced publicly for promoting racism by former employee Mark Luckie in 2018, and according to many racialized individuals speaking out against Big Tech, little has changed since. The engine of progress has many moving parts and the tech industry is a large one; as the fourth largest sector of the U.S. economy, it has a hefty role to play in challenging the status quo for good.

Speaking the truth: How brands talk to us after Minneapolis

Just months ago, brands had to evolve their communications to respond to the challenges of the pandemic. Today, corporate voices are faced with a new task – how to craft their positioning in a historically critical time. Most of the iconic brands were quick to react. Nike, for example, was the first to speak out among big sports brands, joined by Amazon, L’Oreal, Netflix, Disney, and many others. Ben and Jerry’s statement on dismantling white supremacy has been referred to as the golden standard on how brands should speak out, with it being labeled as extraordinary and a stand out. Our age is characterized by some of the most brand-aware generations of all time, generations for which brands have cultural and economic power – this entrenches them as potential catalysts of change.

Some say that the traditionally apolitical corporate approach has changed with the rise of social media. Indeed, studies in consumer perception of corporate social responsibility corroborate the notion that customers want brands to be responsible and sensitive to the realities of their life. For brands, to speak on social issues is a part of values and identity-driven targeted marketing, a philosophy that’s taking hold. Research (done right before the tragic events of the past week) shows that 43% of PR professionals said they were including diversity and inclusion content in their internal and external messaging – this measure will only skyrocket as we continue navigating this turbulent year.

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Is your company up for the challenge? Internal best practices to combat racism in the workplace

It is apparent that organizations and businesses must look within and make internal changes to be anti-racist. Doing so can help your organization recruit and retain diverse talent, but more importantly, be a welcoming place where racialized employees feel safe. Here are some steps organizations can take:

Recognize

Recognize that racialized employees face additional challenges, especially in hiring. Take names off resumes to avoid unconscious bias. Advocate for diversity in your hiring practices and open up your requirements to be more broad. Black students face systemic barriers to education, so if this is a hard requirement for an application, ask why. It can exclude many people who have gained experience in other ways and have been systematically left out of the educational system.

Create

Create a safe environment for racialized employees. Go above and beyond to ensure racialized individuals feel supported, have mentorship, are being heard in meetings and encouraged to attend social events. 38% of Canadians experiencing racial discrimination said they have experienced it in the workplace, often in subtle ways. That’s 38% too many.

Provide

Provide opportunities for continuing education, or attending conferences, to lift up racialized employees. Provide benefits that include legal help, and access to mental health professionals, as well as resources where employees can go if they have been discriminated against because of their race.

Educate

Educate your team. Racialized employees are not obligated to be an authority on anti-racism. With 42% of U.S. employees seeing or experiencing racism at work, they need to be aware of their implicit bias, stereotypes and microagressions to actively combat them.

What can YOU do to help?

Move beyond posting a black square and a hashtag. Challenge racism in your daily life by calling it out when you see it. Educate yourself, donate and support Black-owned businesses:

Education:

An in-exhaustive list of literature to educate yourself on race and anti-racism

  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race – Jesmyn Ward
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide – Carol Anderson
  • So You Want to Talk about Race – Ijeoma Oluo
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  • How to Be an Antiracist – Ibram X Kendi
  • When They Call You a Terrorist – Patrisse Cullors and Asha Bandele
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor – Layla Saad
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations about Race – Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Conversations in Black: On Power, Politics and Leadership – Ed Gordon
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism – Robin Diangelo
  • Talk openly to your kids about racism and protest. You can find a booklist here.


Donation:

Donating, even the smallest of amounts, can make a massive difference. After an outpouring of donations some nonprofits – Minnesota Freedom Fund, Reclaim the Block and the Brooklyn Bail Fund – are asking donators to redirect contributions to other organizations.

  • The Bail Project: This national fund helps pay bail for people in need. Once a client’s case has ended, the bail money is returned to the fund and used over and over again, so your donation here can go a long way. Donate here
  • Campaign Zero: Campaign Zero aims to end police brutality by providing the public and government officials with urgent, research-based policy solutions. Donate here
  • Black Lives Matter: Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a movement that “builds power to bring justice, healing, and freedom to Black people across the globe.” Donate hereThe ACLU: The ACLU provides legal services and support to those with a wide range of civil rights complaints, from free speech to voting rights. Donate here
  • The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF): This organization is America’s top legal firm fighting for racial justice. Donate here
  • The Antiracist Research & Policy Center: By bringing together teams of scholars, policymakers, journalists, and advocates, the Antiracist Research & Policy Center, directed by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, works to create anti-racist policy solutions. Donate here

Support Black-owned business:

A list of Black-owned businesses across Canada and the US. – Find your city in the listings: AfroBiz.ca and AfroBizWorld.com

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