Corporate America & Black History Month

The end of Black History Month in Corporate America closes a plethora of candid conversations, virtual event(s), book clubs, and social media campaigns. Branded black and white images of Muhammed Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth checkered Instagram pages, paired with corporate statements of solidarity and hashtags. In an individualistic and capitalistic culture that craves the mythos of a messiah figure, there is no better place to look than upon than Black tombstones. After all, these are individuals who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and accomplished incredible feats despite the odds – yet that framing is as incomplete as it is insulting. 

 

Every year, Black History Month highlights three realities:

  1. Black accomplishment is achieved in spite of systems that do not prioritize the humanity of Black people. 

  2. If the expectation for a Black History maker is one who achieves in spite of systems not built for them, Black people make Black History every day. 

  3. It takes two parties to make Black History – the oppressed and those consciously or unconsciously participating in oppressive systems. With this in mind, companies have an option regarding their role in creating more Black history, or supporting a different Black future.

 

Below are ways that organizations contribute to Black history:

  • Hoard power (e.g. information capital, social capital and access, financial capital)

  • Use passive language that avoids accountability and prioritizes white comfort 

  • Task Black employees with fixing racism (and for free!)

  • Make vague statements of solidarity with no organizational, policy-driven commitment

  • Focus only on the bias of individuals and not the systems and institutions that allow harmful cultures to thrive

 

Below are the ways organizations can contribute to Black future: 

  • Share power (e.g. information capital, social capital and access, financial capital)

  • Use accountable language that prioritizes equity and organizational justice

  • Task white leadership with fixing racism in your company, while paying Black consultants

  • Make clear statements of solidarity with tangible organizational, policy-driven commitments

  • Focus on the bias of individuals in the context of how internal systems and institutions create said bias, AND how systems and institutions need to be changed, reimagined, or otherwise dismantled

 

In an era where employees are increasingly publicly critical of the actions of their employer, organizations have the opportunity to break the cycle of performative allyship. This will take an embrace of anti-racism and discomfort and a rejection of fear by those in power coupled with those who consider themselves allies. As challenging as this collective work will be, it is a future that is possible.

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