Two years on the anniversary of the murder or George Floyd, are things subtly going back to “the way they were?” Forcing people back to the office? Continuing the use of the colonized performance management system. Demanding people be ‘on camera” because you don’t trust them. Working for the same manager, that masks herself in the workplace as “one of the good ones." Mental health benefits have somewhat improved? Have adequate PTO policies changed or working conditions to help deal with all the trauma and stress? Have racist managers been removed from the workplace?
I think it is a safe assumption to say that most of us reluctantly turn on the news these days. Many of us can barely breathe in this society, let alone “go to work” everyday trying to be “normal”. School shootings. Grocery store shootings. Shot dead by police. Open fire on Black churches. Where’s Brittney? And who is fighting to get her back. And where are all the emails from Corporate America with an update on progress of racial equity that they committed to post all the emails we got when George Floyd’s death called out for change. It’s enough to make anyone with a sense of humanity sick to their stomach. What is even more sickening? The fact that incident after incident, story after story, Corporate America continues to turn a blind eye to the racism, bias, and unparalleled trauma that Black and Brown communities face daily. And when I say turn a blind eye, I mean, continue to be performative in its hollow words of shallow progress for ALL people.
When Black and Brown people fear their lives to simply go to the grocery store to get a gallon of milk — what does that say about our society? When I am panicked to be perceived as stealing something that I must carry out of the store (true story of a shooting two weeks ago near me because someone perceived someone else was stealing when in fact, they weren’t). When Corporate America takes the mentality of “out of sight, out of mind”, or “ignorance is bliss”, marginalized communities suffer from abuse, and trauma, wondering if or when they will become a victim of these modern-day lynching’s. When corporate communications teams emphasize silence or to “soften” a CEO’s words when she is trying to convey her sentiments, what are you continuing to perpetuate? When White America is “too tired” to deal with this everyday…. guess what?
Think about this for a second. Think about the last time you saw a commercial or campaign about mental health in this country. Messaging focuses on anxiety and depression, displayed typically by a white woman explaining her debilitating condition. Now, this is not to say that White Americans do not suffer from mental health issues, because mental illness is an incredibly serious issue that does not discriminate — but society does. Black and Brown Americans are experiencing the impact of race-based trauma, anxiety, depression, and PTSD every single day, at an increasingly escalated pace and yet we hear nothing about it in mainstream media. Further, it doesn’t appear to be a priority in business either. Adding two more days of PTO off per year, when the experience is 365 days a year…begs the question about equitable healthcare. What should we be doing for the health of our communities under attack? How can people possibly perform at their best when they live this way?
Translate this mentality into Corporate America. Not only are Black and Brown Americans fearful to go to church, go for a walk, or go to the grocery store, they are afraid to go to work. For those of you who are White, I challenge you to think about something for a second. Imagine this attack was on white America. You cannot afford to miss so much as a day of wages. You are making $15 dollars an hour in an area that requires you to make $34 dollars an hour to afford rent. Or in a professional position, you are continuing to make .63 cents to the dollar to those who created the standards for your success, that they, themselves do not meet. You must send your kids to the “public schools” that have created a prison pipeline in your elementary schools. The "resource officers” there, carry guns. Your sons are at risk to drive to school or to get a cup of coffee. Because after all, the baristas might think you are stalking the place when you sit down awaiting a friend and call the police. Oh, and don’t dare allow them to walk out the door with a hoody on! Teach them where to place their hands if they get pulled over. Clip their driver’s license and registration on the visor so that they don’t have to reach into the glove compartment. And when you want to go away for the weekend with your girlfriends to relax and unwind on a wine train trip, make sure you don’t act drunk – like the “other women” there drinking wine because if you create them to feel uncomfortable, well you know the rest.
If you had to live like this every single day as you prepare to go to work, your heart begins to race, your palms begin to sweat and your mind races through endless possibilities of what can happen to you or your family the second you step out the door. Would you take it seriously then?
Not only are we as Brown and Black people fearful for our physical well-being, but our mental well-being and the trajectory of our careers. What is happening to Brown and Black people inside, will certainly be used against them in their ability to rise and succeed
within business. Within Corporate America there is cancer that continues to spread like wildfire, destroying anything and anyone in its path. White supremacy continues to bleed into the workplace, and Corporate leaders continue to place band aid solutions with no real systemic change. The unfortunate truth is that organizations invest more into their coffee budgets than their anti-racism, and diversity and inclusion efforts. I guess the only thing corporate America wants Black and strong is their coffee….
Research from Echoing Green and Bridgespan says, “Race is one of the most reliable predictors of life outcomes across several areas, including life expectancy, academic achievement, income, wealth, physical and mental health, and maternal mortality. If socioeconomic differences explained these inequities, then controlling for socioeconomic status would eliminate them. But it does not.”
In my book The Color of Courage, I dive into this concept in-depth to pull back the curtain, exposing the issues plaguing Corporate America, and issue a proverbial call to arms for Americans of every race, religion, color, creed, and sexual orientation — to come together and fight for systemic change for the wellbeing of those who have been abused and terrorized for centuries.
“This statement explains why Corporate Racism is white America's problem to solve. White leaders in companies could put an end to our needless suffering, but it would take admitting there’s a problem. That takes courage, first and foremost. Thankfully, there are lots of woke, white leaders stepping up to the plate. They realize that if they cannot identify the oppression at play, they won’t be able to lead their teams into a place of inclusion. They won’t be able to retain people of color in their organizations. They won’t be considered a trusted person in the workplace, and most importantly, they will remain an everyday contributor to the degradation of brown and Black lives. That’s why I’m here, to teach you what Corporate white supremacy looks, sounds, and feels like, so you can identify when it's happening. White people have to gain discernment around this immediately. Brown and Black people are at the mercy of these organizations and systems that are destroying us.” - The Color of Courage
The lack of resources invested into changing these systems has been bare bones at best. It’s time to not only call for change but to demand change, because what is the alternative? Black and Brown employees are afraid to come back into the office for fear of their physical, mental, and economic wellbeing — and if organizations do not step up with courage to create that change, our communities will continue to suffer from the oppression of white supremacy.
Many find the term “white supremacy” uncomfortable — finding it “too extreme” of a term. Good. I hope you are uncomfortable because the only way we change is when we are too uncomfortable to stay put. So Corporate America: it is time to embrace being uncomfortable because the time for change is long overdue. It is time to demand systemic change and align your purpose to champion change for the betterment of society, and the betterment of mankind.
“Something powerful happens when you align with your purpose. My determination has been set aflame, and I’ve been given a vision for change--one that liberates brown and Black people from bondage and holds the oppressors accountable. They will not win. This, I know with every fiber in my being.” - The Color of Courage