I will often say to executive teams – there are countless examples of racism and discrimination within your company and you should frequently hold space to listen. This isn’t about shedding tears or wallowing in guilt – it’s about understanding the reality of what it’s like to live, work and play in white dominant cultures who also hold institutional power and control of resources. The same power and resources that could be used to dismantling systemic racism.
Yet there seems to be a default method of raising awareness that, at times, feels voyeuristic and just…not quite right.
The vicarious consumption of Black trauma.
Over the last few years, the media, and to some extent we, have become obsessed with sharing and re-telling the traumatic stories of systemic racism – be it on the streets or in the boardroom.
The rationale, in most cases, is that if we can trigger empathy within individuals who are least impacted by racism, it would somehow provoke action, allyship.
And hence corporate programs to raise awareness were born.
“Too often, those traumatized in these “breaking news” stories are people of color. Most often, the people capturing the footage are not.” - Leslie Fields-Cruz
Not for a moment am I suggesting our stories and experiences should be hidden or muted for palatability and comfort. I do, however, feel that we need to wean ourselves off using our trauma as the only tool or vehicle for progress.
It’s for that reason I deliberately steered away from using colleague and leadership stories of racial trauma in my bestselling book The Anti-Racist Organization.
I never thought, in my lifetime at least, that we would be having so many open conversations about racism. That we would name this system of oppression, calling it exactly what it is and being very aware and vocal about how white supremacy is the bedrock of how consistent favourable and unfavourable outcomes are afforded to groups along the lines of their ethnicity.
Yet for all the sharing of stories, the petitioning for allyship, co-conspirators, whatever our language of choice, here we are still seeing how anti-Black racism is casually accepted, dismissed and rendered ‘an unfortunate aspect of humankind’, which itself implies a passive acceptance.
“One can be forgiven for wondering how long this stupidity will be allowed to continue before we do the honest work of social justice and create an optimally productive society by building intersectional equity for all?” Anthony Watkins
Awareness-raising is now being used as a deliberate tool to block change or to delay doing the substantive work, under the banner of:
“The business isn’t ready yet to properly tackle this so we want to ease them in gently.”
“Our leaders have a lot on, we don’t want to overburden them with this as well.”
“If we do it this way, then our teams won’t feel like they are being attacked. It’s important we get the onside in the right way.”
Such care and consideration. Afforded to some people. Consistently.
Awareness-raising is a procrastination tactic to hide behind discomfort and a reluctance to address the interplay between behaviours, systems, processes and the unequal application of policies and procedures.
So, what do we do?
Earlier this year I recorded a podcast episode titled ‘Uncomfortable Coalitions’ (you can listen to the 20-min episode here).
To genuinely do the right thing for colleagues, customers and communities, and readdress the imbalance of where power and resources are concentrated, means to ask uncomfortable questions about how your business practices, the way you conduct yourself as an individual, a colleague, a leader, organization or institution, continue to cause harm.?
What opportunities could you seize if you deconstruct the way you do business – from rewriting the rules on partnering or collaborating with competitors, communities or individuals to how you can influence your peers, wider industry and networks - all to enact quicker and more meaningful change on a larger scale?
Or are you still worried about how it might look? Or who you will upset in the process?
How we can empower ourselves, as African-heritage people, to turn the page?
To honour the irrefutable truth of what we have and continue to experience, yet also direct our energies to the opportunities ahead? Homing in on what we can do, with who we are, what we know and the resources we have access to. Today.
There is absolutely a place for allies, leaders, individuals who care. Yet it must root in us having autonomy of action, control over our resources and moving with pride, through embracing our cultural heritage and redefining our identities outside of how we are viewed and treated?
So, rather than talk about the concept, I have found a way to bring it to life – for one day only – on Tuesday 21st February 2023 – and I hope as either a delegate or a brand, you’ll consider being part of this.
An outward expression of my belief that we can be more and do more, #ARECON23 is a virtual conference based on Afrofuturism- a cultural movement that pulls from elements of science-fiction, magical realism, speculative fiction, and African history.
TURNING THE PAGE is about recognising that, irrespective of the challenges faced in advancing racial equity, there are things we can do as individuals, as leaders, as brands and as coalitions – all working together to ensure the workplace is genuinely inclusive for all.
Speakers include high profile global individuals and brands from the business and entertainment world, hosted by yours truly.
Incorporating the legendary musical DJ and producing talents of the Dixon Brothers, they are providing a bespoke curated soundtrack to accompany the conference and using the expertise of our LIVE production team Soundcredit.tv, this TV grade conference will be filmed and broadcasted live to a global virtual audience from Landing Forty-Two, London’s highest dedicated event space. 500ft above street level in the heart of the city’s financial district.
Our speakers will be travelling from all over the world, to join us in-person, including the phenomenal Christian Smalls, Reeta Loi, Elfried Samba, Jason Jules, Clara Odero and Ben Samaroo to name but a few.
The line up is incredible and I am beyond grateful that they have given up their time and knowledge to support what I'm trying to do. We're all doing different things, in different ways yet pulling in the same direction for fairness, equity and self-determination.
There will be no talk of business cases for ‘diversity and inclusion’, and we won’t be petitioning for allyship or begging for seats at magical tables.
Instead, we’ll be exploring the POWER we have as colleagues, leaders, public servants, brands, entrepreneurs, consumers as well as the POWER of emerging technology, entertainment, media and fashion.
We have a few limited tickets left at £45.99 (including VAT) otherwise our All-Access Virtual Pass is £89.99 (including VAT) and also includes 30-day replay access so if you’re not available to watch us live, you won’t miss out on the action.
If you’re coming, still not sure or just want to keep tabs on how the conference is progressing, visit our LinkedIn events page here and select ‘I’m going’.
This is where we’ll share the bios of our speakers involved and give shout outs to the amazing brands who said yes to supporting #ARECON23, no questions asked!
Everything is possible.