Time for Action

White allies don’t need to search hard to find ways to fight racism.

You can make an immediate impact by starting with your established interests.

by Aaron Weiss

My turn in the company blog rotation arrived square in the middle of weighty national events. I’m frequently reminded how much leadership matters—the antagonists to our physical safety and emotional wellbeing are varied and unforgiving. Since I have this opportunity, I’ll use it address an issue that owns a monopoly of my mindshare: Racial Justice.

The bigotry, violence, and ignorance faced by African Americans is thriving in plain sight. As inclusive and anti-racist as I aspire to be, in retrospect, I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of our societal illness. I perceived greater distance between American history and the present—a distinction that hardly holds up under examination. Many treasured verses, poems, and speeches denouncing racism from past decades could have been penned today.

Of course, people of color have lived this reality all along. I’m frankly amazed by the restraint and persistence demonstrated by the black community given that the case for justice has been made with the loss of life and liberty more times than I can stomach to cite. Patterns of racism in workplace are more insidious, with micro-inequities amounting to death by a thousand cuts.

Despite maintaining a multicultural value system and lifestyle, my recent journey has forced me to resign from a position of absolution. My white privilege may very well make it impossible for me to ever overstand the issues as my black counterparts do. As I experience renewed sensations of shame, disgust, and frustration, I’m prepared to reexamine my privilege and ask myself and others some hard questions. Chiefly, where is our morality?

In the future, I intend to share my platform to center black voices, promote alternative narratives, and remove barriers for those who find themselves marginalized. Heartfelt thanks to my colleagues and clients who continue to lead the way.

To my white colleagues,

As a coach and a consultant, I’m about the business of behavioral change. Typically, change is prompted by a compelling case or clear why. Fortunately, numerous scholars and documentarians have continued to elaborate on racial injustice–the evidence remains unambiguous, abundant, and heartbreaking. GEORGE FLOYD, BREONNA TAYLOR, AHMAUD ARBERY, ELIJAH MCCLAIN…

Still, I appreciate that behavioral change is hard work, even when the rationale is obvious. Change often stalls at initiation when we contemplate the cost of doing things differently. Fighting racism can be risky whether it’s gathering in public protest during COVID-19, criticizing an honored institution, or surrendering prosperous but compromised relationships. These types of decisions are easier said than done.

To diminish our own ambivalence and naiveite about racial injustice, many white allies started engaging delicately through listening and learning campaigns in the workplace. The gesture is important but basic. The passive listening/learning posture places an unnecessary burden on minority professionals to become quasi-activists at work. Some black peers of mine have shared that playing the role of professor, ambassador, exemplar, and arbiter can be exasperating.

The demand for emotional and intellectual effort from people of color to conform to white norms has been described as an inclusion tax. Understand the trauma caused to people of color while replaying dehumanizing injustices, compounded by us asking for their time, trust, and validation. Understand the vulnerability of being singled out to share painful personal accounts for our growth and enlightenment. Understand the anxiety of deciding whether it’s socially acceptable to opt out of well-intended but misguided overtures.

In combination with the justice efforts led by communities of color, it’s time for white allies to take self-directed action and deliver results. Racism is our mess. That said, many motivated white advocates aren’t sure where to jump in. My advice for them? Begin with your existing interests and causes. You have a great shot at affecting change on your homecourt, by using your established credibility, familiarity, and passion as an accelerant.

See, racism is systemic, meaning that it’s embedded within our lives and institutions–and even the air we breathe. Given this saturation, racism is interconnected with just about every other issue of importance. Children’s rights, check. Healthcare, check. Employment, education, mass incarceration... check all boxes. Even our seemingly neutral pursuits have significant racial implications: art, film, sports, food, religion, real estate.

Yes, there are very complex and potentially radical agendas to pursue, but competence in social change requires development. While the processes of learning, listening, and loving should continue, white allies have full permission to join the fight. Looking for your entry point? Start with a familiar cause and advocate for the issue through an African American lens.

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