Our founder Zach Nunn hosts this sobering solo episode of Real Talk Tuesday, recorded the day after Daunte Wright was brutalized and murdered at the hands of the state. He talks about how ever-present and oppressive white supremacy is and challenges organizations and leaders alike to take actionable steps to deconstruct these harm-perpetuating systems.
Zach: What’s up, y’all? This is Zach from Living Corporate, and it’s Tuesday, and another Black body has been brutalized and murdered at the hands of the state. This individual, this gentleman, this father, this son, this family member, this human being’s name was Daunte Wright. Daunte Wright was 20 years old. Based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Was driving while Black with an air freshener in his car and was pulled over by police, shot at point-blank range by an officer who claims that she thought she was using her taser. And so typically our content is evergreen, but for anyone who’s been really plugged in and a part of Living Corporate’s community over the past year or so as we continue to grow is just that life has been so disruptively chaotic and more and more aggressively oppressive for a variety of people, certainly Black and brown people. We sometimes have to break the script and record something a little different. So if you were looking for our typical business conversation where we talk about DEI in this really tactical, practical way through the lens of storytelling, I guess that won’t be what this is today. So I have some thoughts. I wanted to process them out loud with y’all. I’ve started to process, so don’t get me wrong, this won’t be a ramble, but it will be me talking about my feelings and just where we’re at, because I believe I owe it to y’all because Living Corporate is a platform that what we’re trying to do, this whole real talk in a corporate world thing, wouldn’t really be true if we’re not having real talk about the moments that we’re experiencing in real-time. I believe anyway. So the first thing I think about is just how ever-present and oppressive white supremacy is. And it shows up in my life, and in my observations, in how over-policed and punished Black bodies are. So this man was driving in his car, and apparently having something hanging off in your dashboard that way is illegal, but it’s not really formally or really commonly enforced. And frankly, I recall–I lived in Minnesota for a few years, and my father had air fresheners in his car all the time. Now, we were also pulled over by police, and guns were drawn at my head, but that wasn’t for that. That was for another situation that we’ll talk about another day. So this law, which isn’t really heavily enforced, somehow led to Daunte being murdered, and frankly, it reminds me of this sliding scale of acceptable behavior by and for Black people and how, frankly, those in positions of power, largely white folks, if not nearly all of them being white folks, they just selectively choose when to apply and when to hold and create accountability or demonstrate some level of sovereignty over Black bodies. That happens, that happens. We see that happening all the time, and police brutality is, like, one of the most–it’s the farthest extreme example. But we also see it in corporate America, especially in the services industry where there’s a plethora of things you should and shouldn’t be doing. In corporate America, there’s a plethora of things you should and shouldn’t be doing, that you could or couldn’t do, and depending on your relationships and who you are, you get away with certain things. There’s certain things you don’t get away with depending on who you are, what relationships you do or don’t have, and the reality is, in corporate America, Black folks are always held to a much higher standard of behavior, and following the rules or policy, whatever the case may be , in ways that their white counterparts just aren’t. I can promise you that there isn’t one white Minnesotan right now who, if they had to ask themselves, isn’t shocked that this person was pulled over for this, and they certainly wouldn’t imagine themselves being shot by police and killed by police for an air freshener in the car. They just wouldn’t. Now, I have anecdotal evidence of this because again, I lived in Minnesota, so I drove with my father, but I also drove with other people, and again, I was in Minnesota, so most of the people I was riding with were white. There were air fresheners all the time, but a function of white supremacy is the written word. So the defense is, “Well, it’s the law. So you broke the law. So you’re accountable to that.” And the same thing can be said in corporate America. There’s policies that leaders infrequently apply, but they’re there so that any point in time you can get dinged for that. I’m recording this, it’s April 12th, for a lot of folks, this is annual performance review time, especially in consulting, and there’s a lot of questions right now around “How can I make sure that I am set up for a good annual review?” So much of it is objective. “There’s all types of things you could theoretically ding me for. How do I make sure I have the right relationships?” And there’s all this extra labor that goes into that, into setting yourself up for an effective year-end review. And we’ve talked about this on Living Corporate several times. Shout-out to the Tap In with Tristan. Love your work, thankful for you. Shout out to Latesha Bird whose talked about it several times, and Tiffany Tate. Shout out to all of the career consultants who have graced Living Corporate and given us their thought on leadership and time to talk about this work. So I don’t bring this up to poo poo it. The reality is that Black professionals have to put in an exponential amount of emotional and mental labor. Frankly, they have to employ a certain level of cunning and daring and psychological maneuvering to get the outcomes that they want, really to massage and manage whiteness, because it is by the prerogative of white leaders that Black professionals even exist. It’s true. And again, I’m just connecting these dots in real-time. We talk about Daunte and you talk about Black bodies in the street and the experiences, and our lives. Our very lives are determined by the whim of any white person with power, which is most of them, and that’s depressing. It’s depressing that you can be minding your business and your life can be snuffed out simply because a white person decided it’s going to be snuffed out, simply because the officer who should know the difference in weight and feel between a gun and a taser–those are two distinctly different weapons–killed a man. But we’re going to go back to this corporate example, because we talk about real talk in the corporate world. My intention is to give you all both. I’ve had conversations with several white folks and positions of leadership who have destroyed the careers of Black folks, who have directly damaged their livelihoods because of how they chose to manage their performance, and when I asked them a few follow-up questions, accountability questions about what they should have done, why they chose to do that and why they chose to not do that, why they chose to not speak in this moment, why they chose to speak in this moment, every time back I get a blank stare. I get whispered, hushed, “Yeah, you’re right. I didn’t think about that. That’s really hard. I didn’t. I don’t know. I need help.” But it’s over. This person’s career has been irreparably changed or they don’t work here anymore, they don’t have a job right now, and that’s because you operate in the heat of the moment. You weren’t thoughtful, you weren’t operating at the top of your professional license. That’s the truth. A lot of people listen to Living Corporate are not Black and brown. They’re white, and they listen to Living Corporate because they’re looking for a resource to help them better engage and support Black and brown people, because even if it’s unconscious or subconscious, they know that they have the power to destroy the careers of Black and brown people. I have these conversations. I have these conversations in so many different contexts. It’s so depressing. It’s so frustrating. Daunte Wright was a father. He had a kid. I think about all the ways that white supremacy seeks to justify its function of oppressing and destroying Black bodies. So I’m on Twitter last night, and I see people posting videos of Daunte rapping and drinking Hennessy and smoking weed, and [they’re] using language like, “Oh, he was a thug. Look at him. This is his lifestyle.” Now, aren’t we going through this huge cannabis industry boom? So what are you talking about? Two, everybody loves rap music. Creativity and music is a beautiful thing. Three, don’t get me started on drinking. None of that matters. Not only that, but just the other day, an Afro-Latino man, Caron Nazario, he was held up at point-blank at a gas station with his military fatigues on. But see, what happens is–and white supremacy wants us to believe that we’re responsible for our own oppression, that’s the narrative, and frankly many of us Black and brown people compound that by buying into it. We compound it by buying into it. Black people are not being shot and killed in the streets by police because they’re sagging their pants. Black folks were being lynched in this country for over 400 years. Understand that when Black people came back from WWI and WWII that they were being lynched in their military regalia. You cannot hide your Blackness. Your Blackness is not something that can be peppered over or dressed up or avoided by speech or attire. White supremacy hates Blackness. They don’t hate Blackness when it’s dressed up. They don’t hate Blackness in a hoodie. They hate Blackness period, and so going back to this whole corporate world, it does not matter how well you conjugate your Rs, or your verbs, or whatever. It don’t matter. That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna say it again. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you come in there with a blue blazer or a gray blazer or a black blazer. They’re going to look at your Black skin and that’s going to be a problem. That’s going to be a barrier for you. That’s part of white supremacy culture. Stop thinking that you can outperform white supremacy. You cannot. White supremacy must be dismantled. It can’t be navigated. It can’t be manipulated. It can’t be negotiated with. It’s actively costing us our lives. As I think about this moment, of course, I go back and I think about last summer, and I think about George Floyd, and I think about all of the work that was stirring up and people, organisations, companies suddenly caring about Black people and suddenly caring about diversity, equity and inclusion. I think about that now. I think about the fact that it’s been less than a year and we have another Black man who was murdered, and this is also recorded. Shot at point blank range by, at the very best, an incompetent cop. So what are you going to do, corporate America? What are you doing? What’s up now? What are we doing now? I’m talking to you all now. I know. I have people in my network, a lot of you all work at these places. Talk to me. I’m here. It’s me and you now. What are you going to do now? Are you going to continue to do these candid conversations where you don’t talk about nothing for 45 minutes. Hmm? Are you going to continue to position your white leadership on The Atlantic, in The New York Times to talk about how great y’all are and how diverse and inclusive y’all are? Is that what you’re going to do? Is that what we’re doing? Are you going to continue to pimp your Black staff for their thought leadership while giving all your white staff credit? Is that what you’re going to do? Hmm. Are you going to hit up Living Corporate and ask to do work for free? Are you gonna do that? Are you going to hit me up personally and ask me to speak at your event for free? Are you going to ask Black women to do the same? Are you gonna hit me up and ask to take some of Living Corporate’s content and put it on your stuff to make it seem like we do stuff together? Because y’all were doing that before. What are y’all actually going to do? What systemic changes are y’all going to make? What examinations of your actual corporate policy are you going to make? Are you going to create more book clubs to talk about race in theory? Or are you going to actually pause and examine and your actual policies and practices and how you disenfranchise and harm the careers of Black employees every day at your companies? That’s what I want to know. What are you going to do? We’re not going to candid conversation our way out of this. That’s not the future. That’s not even the present. I’m so exhausted. No, your Black employees are not okay. And I want to be clear, this is not, like, we’re not okay, and we were okay before. We haven’t been okay. We’re continually frustrated. And frankly, some of us are more frustrated now than we were a year ago. After all of the nonsense that you, organization, (insert your business here) has been up to, with all of the performative bullshit you’ve been doing. It’s ridiculous. It’s insulting. It’s exploitative. It’s white supremacist. It needs to stop. It’s gross. Stop. Now, look, if you want to actually work with some organizations that are doing good work, that’s different, but I don’t know. I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t know. This is not me trying to end on a hopeful note because I don’t know. I really don’t know. I was already kind of iffy. If y’all listen to any of the podcasts from Living Corporate for the past year, I’ve been asking over and over. “Is this a moment or is this a movement? And what is this really?” Some of the biggest things out there that everyone, people are clamoring for, is a bunch of people who signed something to say they’re going to do something. We’ve yet to see any organization or any group, any group–I’m going to say it again. We have yet to see any group, any collective of executive leaders do anything tangible. All y’all do is get together and write something about what y’all think y’all want to do. I’m gonna say it again. All y’all do is get together and write things about what you think you ought to do, or what you’re gonna do or what you’re going to commit to thinking about. It’s a bunch of air. And that gets applause out here. That gets applause. Y’all pat yourselves on the back off that. Y’all ain’t even talking to Black people at all. You’re not talking to brown people at all. You’re not talking to East Asians at all. Y’all are just talking to yourselves. That’s not the reality. What you’re doing means nothing. It would be better if you actually literally did nothing, because what you’re doing is creating more harm. I’m so furious. Yes, I’m angry. Anger is a valid emotion. Anger is a valid emotion, and when you turn around and you deny the reality of anger in this moment, and the anger that your employees feel in this moment, you’re denying their humanity. People have a right to be angry. I’m gonna tell you straight up, if I see your stuff on the socials talking about shaming these Black people for rioting, yo, y’all gotta stop. Cut that out too. Some of y’all throw a fit when your macchiato frappucino soy latte is jacked up. A man was murdered. He was 20 years old. If he was white, he’d be a kid. He’s a grown man because he’s Black. So I get that. Man, I just–I don’t know, y’all. I’m frustrated. Like I said, I just wanted to talk things on my mind. Take care of yourselves. Until next time. Peace.