As someone who speaks and advises organizations about the intersection of DEI and marketing and communications, it is an odd, conflicting experience seeing companies rush to issue statements proclaiming their solidarity with Black Lives Matter after the death of the George Floyd.
On the one hand, I firmly believe that everyone should get a seat at the table of social justice, no matter how late they were showing up and how long they kept us waiting. It’s heartening that there seems to have been a shift in tone and momentum, a widespread awareness of just how much injustice Black and Brown bodies are absorbing on a daily basis.
On the other hand, as a marketing professional who cares passionately about diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, I have a short tolerance for virtue signaling and treating justice like a “trend.” Personally, I have refused clients who have asked for PR help while refusing to do the internal work of educating and diversifying their internal marketing and communications teams. Better to be silent and authentic than loud and hypocritical.
But criticism is the privilege of those with time, and too many people are dying, so if you are really interested in supporting Black Americans and racial justice, here’s the one thing you need to do: Draw the line.
Draw the line from your industry to what’s happening today. Draw the line from how leaders are behaving and how your leaders behave.
Not sure what I mean? Let’s look at three examples.
First, The Washington Post published an article, “Inside the push to tear-gas protestors ahead of a Trump photo-op,” quoting Brendan Buck, a longtime former Hill aide who is now a Republican operative: “We long ago lost sight of normal, but this was a singularly immoral act. The president used force against American citizens, not to protect property, but to soothe his own insecurities. We will all move on to the next outrage, but this was a true abuse of power and should not be forgotten.”
People are sharing the article to prove what a terrible leader Trump is. But in how many organizations around the world are managers and CEOs also abusing their powers to soothe their insecurities? You hear it every time a subordinate is told to “manage up,” which is code for “make sure the [White] people in power are very comfortable and never forget that you are here to serve them.” Yes, Trump lacks any semblance of servant leadership (which I define as leadership that is focused on the wellbeing of others), but so do many of the people in your organization.
White allies, if you want to do something, stop telling people to manage up. Instill a culture of servant leadership instead.
Furthermore, tie racial equity back to your industry and the disparities you see, and then amplify the voices of Black and Brown folk in your field. An amazing example is this Facebook post from Two Cents, a PBS Facebook group dedicated to personal finance:
I loved Two Cents’ post because it drew the line from what we’re seeing in the streets to how it shows up in their industry.
Rest assured that if you do not draw this line, you will eventually be called out for it. The ACLU had this amazing clapback to Amazon’s statement of solidarity:
The world is complex, and so your reaction may be, “Well, I don’t think people should be murdered in the streets, but I can’t afford to lose business. We would have to lay off people, and how is that fair?”
It’s not. And yes, it’s complex. So if you really want to stand by Black and Brown people amidst a system that is designed for their demise, you will have to dig into your values and discover what parts of the system you’re willing to buck. That doesn’t mean you’ll declare bankruptcy, but it does mean you need to reflect and do some of your own soul-searching before you commit to action. It means you will have to get comfortable with giving something up so that other people can literally live their lives.
(By the way, this goes for nonprofits, too. Many of you would do more justice in the world by asking your philanthropic donors to lobby to pay more in taxes that can be democratically distributed, rather than convincing them to give a million dollars to whatever trendy issue they want to “solve.”)
That’s what true solidarity is – uncomfortable and brave. And it’s worth every penny.