By Julia Collins, Founder + CEO of Planet FWD
On June 2nd, I was scheduled to give a talk on regenerative supply chains at the Stanford Business School. I decided to throw out the lesson plan and speak from my heart. Here’s a video of my talk and summary of my thoughts from that day.
Let me frame this difficult conversation by saying this: histories can end.
The notion of the United States of America as an authority in the world is built on the notion of expanding democracy. A democracy that is constantly unfolding and through its unfolding brings more people in, extending more justice, more liberty, more freedom, more equality. That is the idea of the U.S. Democracy.
What we are seeing is not just a result of the events of the last few weeks but what has unfolded over the last four hundred years that mark the beginning of the African Slave trade. America has failed to fulfill its promise. This great promise to the world of being a bastion of freedom and equality cannot be met if we do not first dismantle and destroy structural racism and white supremacy.
If the U.S. is not a place where democracy unfolds, and through its unfolding encompasses more people in justice and liberty, then what is the United States? Who are we, if we are not that?
When I talk about dismantling racism and ending white supremacy at the systems level, I’m talking about more than just putting a bandaid on injustice by increasing the number of women, non-binary and non-white people in your organization. Diversity and inclusion (DNI) initiatives are table stakes. These initiatives are necessary but not sufficient to drive systemic change.
What we need to do as individuals, organizations and as a society, is embrace anti-racism. We need to move beyond DNI and understand how we can actually attack structural racism and dismantle it every single day in our work and in our lives.
This is not something we can do overnight. But for those of us who are motivated to live in an anti-racist world — one that tears down racism — here are a few steps that we can take to go forward.
Start with yourself
Individuals are the building blocks of systems, organizations and movements. Any work that we want to achieve as a society needs to begin with each of us looking inside and acknowledging our own internalized racism.
Anti-racism work should feel hard, heavy and tiring. You should feel awkward, unsure and out of your comfort zone. Maybe you will feel frustrated or embarrassed. If it feels easy, then you simply aren’t trying hard enough. If you posted a black square on Instagram and then felt hollow because you did nothing else, you were right. It was hollow and you need to do more. Much. More.
If we’re committed to not only creating more inclusive environments but actually dismantling our own internal racism and privilege, we have committed to making this a practice that we engage in for the rest of our lives. You don’t expect to learn how to code or to become fluent in a language in one weekend, so you shouldn’t expect the same while unlearning racism.
Anti-racism isn’t just for “white people.” This is not a token expression to make white people feel better. Many of us have internalized aspects of white supremacy and structural racism.
Whether you already are a business leader or working to be one, there will be a day where it is required for you to speak up and speak out to your community and the world. I promise you, this day will come. Whether you are part of a team or a team of one interacting with your clients, the day will come for you as well. Whether you are just beginning your anti-racism education or doubling down on your existing commitment, please remain vigilant.
I urge you to make a list of resources, write a study plan, form an accountability circle, set deadlines, and make a commitment to doing this work. Invest in it like you would for other things that matter to you like your fitness, meal plans, or vacation planning. Do so without relying on a Black friend or colleague or other person of color to servantly guide you through or spoon feed you this education.
When anti-racism work feels too hard to keep going, please multiply what you are feeling by a few orders of magnitude and then you will begin to understand the lived experience of your Black friends and colleagues, their families, and their ancestors.
If you’re interested, but unsure where to start, I’ve included some resources to jumpstart that process at the bottom of this post.
Unpack your privilege and use its power as a force for good.
Peggy McIntosh, an anti-racism activist and Senior Research Scientist of the Wellesley Centers for Women, describes privilege as, “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.” She began her journey of unpacking her white privilege when researching male privilege in our society.
Your privilege, although unearned, is a powerful tool that you can use to dismantle racism. Privilege is power, so understand it and use it for good.
If you have been privileged with education, then educate yourself and others on anti-racism. If you have been privileged with wealth, then redistribute some of that wealth by investing in Black founders and supporting Black-owned businesses. If you have a strong voice, then use it to speak out. If you’re a connector or have a large sphere of influence, then expend your social capital to empower black influencers. If you have a strong back, then carry some of the load that we Black people have been carrying for centuries.
On a more tactical level, you can
- Hire Black employees.
- Invest in Black founders.
- Buy from Black businesses.
- Educate yourself on reparations (or here)
- Fund non-profits and NGOs focused on racial justice.
- Support efforts to combat mass incarceration.
Understand your role and play to your strengths to fight against racism
Each of us has a different role to play and they are all vital to moving the work forward. Some of us are creators, some of us are caregivers, some of us are bridge builders. Some of us are born with these skills and others have been refining them our whole lives.
In the world of entrepreneurs — many of us are visionaries, builders and disruptors.,
If you’re a visionary, you can see through the darkness and you have an ability to find the light, even when everything seems murky and unclear. This is your time to see a vision of the future that is anti-racist and just, even in a time when we see continued brutality happening. You might also be good at articulating that vision into words. If you’re good at that, do that.
If you’re a builder, you go from ideas to actions, laying the frameworks within your organization and then building on those frameworks. You can create the scaffolding and structure or restructure what’s broken. Build a community of accountability, build an organization, build a task force, build a spreadsheet or Google Doc, build some content that can help attract other people to this movement. If you’re good at that, do that.
If it is in your nature to be a disruptor, then this is the time for you to speak up. By your nature, you’re particularly good at speaking up and taking action when it’s difficult, scary or uncomfortable. If you’re good at that, do that.
This, combined with continued self-education will be the foundation of your work.
You do not have to take on every role to have an impact, nor must you stick with one role for the rest of your life. Now is the time to figure out your current role, embrace it and get to work. You don’t need to be at the highest level of your organization to recognize these skills and begin this work. Each and every one of us can make changes in ourselves and our circles that ladder up to greater change.
I implore you to make a commitment, to do the work and to rise to the challenge ahead. We can do better, and we must, for the sanctity of our democracy and the sanctity of humanity.
Black Lives Matter. Democracy Matters. What You Decide To Do Now Matters. This is your time, so get to work.