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Dear white people: Our nation turns its racist eyes on you

June 9, 2020, 11:44 PM UTC

It feels like a reckoning.

Major companies have been making statements of support for police reform and racial justice and matching those words with monetary support for organizations like Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Color of Change. And for every monumental moment, like this Twitter act of solidarity between Adidas and Nike, or this outstanding statement from Ben & Jerry’s, there are plenty of public statements that are being held to a higher standard by employees, customers, and the public. 

The reckoning has taken some seats of power.

One of them belonged to Andrew Alexander, the CEO of the famed improv theater, Second City. In a statement, he said he “failed to create an anti-racist environment wherein artists of color might thrive. I am so deeply and inexpressibly sorry.” Wait until you see what went down at Crossfit.  Reformation.  Refinery29Bon Appétit! A longtime actor from the CW series The Flash got fired for racist and misogynist tweets. And, in a slightly different turn, the head of the New York Times editorial page has resigned for publishing an editorial by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton calling for federal troops to end the protests in support of police accountability. The uproar was led by employees.

Trouble keeping up? Simply Google “steps down amid.”

These leadership reckonings are the result of long-simmering internal tensions, now illuminated by the bright light between what leaders say publicly and how they behave inside their companies. I expect many more to come.

My takeaway: What happens inside a company now is an important clue to how they will fare going forward.

“Don’t get me wrong: Black Americans are glad that finally after 400 years, there is mass outrage at racial injustice,” says Najoh Tita-Reid, the senior executive of marketing reinvention at Logitech, in this Fortune opinion piece. “But I want to shed light on the fact that while this is indeed a unique moment, the responsibility of dismantling systemic racism must not be placed solely on black employees by asking them to fully lead diversity and antiracism efforts.”

Or, keeping them from their day jobs by asking them to explain it all to you.

White allies need to get up to speed on the reality of this moment, says Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer and advocate and the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. “Only by pausing long enough to study the cycles of oppression and resistance does it become clear that simply being a good person or not wishing black people any harm is not sufficient,” she says in a New York Times opinion column

By now, you’ve been inundated with lists of anti-racist information to read, watch or listen to. (Here’s Fortune’s.) These resources are amazing. And now, they are legion. How to wade in?

I suggest any under-informed potential ally begin with this simple strategy.

  • Choose one book, film, or podcast recommended by a friend you know well.
  • Finish it.
  • Discuss the material with your friend, and get comfortable with the experience of talking about the issue.
  • Choose a second resource, this time recommended by a person who you may not know well (any list works well here) and which has been created by someone as different from you as you can possibly imagine. That’s your opportunity to encounter a truly new point of view.
  • Pay it forward by recommending that resource to your peer-group for later discussion.
  • Do it all again.

By the time you’ve plowed through barely half a semester’s worth of material, you will be more confident, fluent, and prepared to have these important conversations in the wider world. And you’ll be more likely to feel able to understand and support any conversation about race and equity in your workplace.

Trust me on this.

This terrible moment will not be resolved without you—but you must do the work and survive the journey.

We’ll leave a light on for you.

Ellen McGirt

On point

George Floyd was laid to rest today, next to his mother His casket arrived at the Fountain of Praise church in Houston, Texas, this morning, after a public viewing before a crowd of thousands. New York Times reporter Astead Herndon was in line with mourners. “[M]asks and social distancing enforced. temp taken at the door. struck by the amount of kids in the line,” he tweeted. “[F]ull UH bball team was behind me." The funeral was by-invitation-only, and it was a tribute to his life and the issues his death has raised. Rest in power, sir.
New York Times

A man who drove his car through a crowd of protesters in Virginia turned out to be a high-ranking Klan member Harry Rogers, 36, is currently being held without bond, and has been charged with attempted malicious wounding, felony vandalism, and assault and battery. The Richmond area march was organized by Black Lives Matter; several witnesses reported the attack. According to Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney, Rogers is an "admitted leader of the Ku Klux Klan and a propagandist for Confederate ideology.” Crazy, right? Even crazier, nobody was seriously hurt.

We are all BTS Army now. Fans of the South Korean music group BTS, known as Army, have come out in force for racial justice and have matched the group’s donation of $1 million to a variety of equity-focused non-profits. The Army—some graduate student is studying these people, right?—self-organized under the #MatchAMillion and #MatchTheMillion hashtags. The amount is now $1.35 million and rising—click through for the organizations they’re supporting.

What does “de-fund” the police really mean? It’s not what it sounds like, or more accurately, it’s not what people seem to fear it to mean—the removal of the last barrier between order and a crime wave without end. In many ways, it is a reinvestment in the kinds of services that police themselves have asked for. “To fix policing, we must first recognize how much we have come to over-rely on law enforcement,” explains Christy E. Lopez, a Georgetown Law School professor and a co-director of the school’s Innovative Policing Program. Everything from accident reports to domestic fights, to rounding up the homeless, to jailing people with addiction disorders instead of offering treatment. And yes, arresting—instead of citing people who may or may not have passed a counterfeit bill. “Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need.”
Washington Post

A candid conversation about race with Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins I love all the episodes of Leadership Next, the podcast I share with my own CEO, Alan Murray, equally. I really do. But I hope I will be forgiven for saying that this one meant so much – in part because it spoke to the moment we’re in. We talk about how a national conversation about race, including police policy, became a business issue at Cisco, and how Robbins is building a culture or courage, trust, and respect. And I talk with Erin Thomas, PhD, the Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Upwork – who offered some heartfelt advice on any organization that wants to support Black employees and do the difficult work around race and equality in their own organizations.  BONUS- Leadership Next has a whole new joint on LinkedIn! Join the conversation and subscribe here.
Leadership Next

Are you 'Working While Black?' Many companies are speaking out against racial injustices right now, right? But how do those statements compare with the lived experiences of Black employees? If you’re a Black employee in the corporate world, we want to hear from you. We’ve created a Google form to capture your thoughts and stories. If we choose to publish your comment, we only publish your first name and age and no other identifying info. The responses are fascinating. Including the ones from white people! Which we've removed.


Amplifying Black voices

  • “I am proud to be black. And also…being black is exhausting,” says writer, community builder and tech policy adviser Corey Ponder
  • Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, the powerhouse who has made anti-racist thinking accessible in the modern era, sat down with Brené Brown to discuss policy, empathy and how to examine the racist ideas we’re all steeped in.
  • The reckoning must begin with unlearning, says Michelle Alexander, who should know.
  • Black Lives Matter is not a design challenge, by the way. Pencils down.
  • “Companies, the lifeblood of our economy, must step forward not just in solidarity, but more importantly in leadership,” says tEQuitable CEO Lisa Gelobter. Now is the time to get your cultural house in order—“the beliefs, values, and behaviors that are communicated, even indirectly, to employees and dictate how people will be treated and valued.”

Todays' raceAhead was edited by Karen Yuan.

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