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Last week, I messed up. I disappointed people I care deeply about, and people who look up to me as a role model. I made the mistake of silencing the voices of the Black students in my program’s FB group that needed to be heard during this time of deep pain following the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others.
Instead of creating a safe space for them to express their hurt and pain, I chose to temporarily close commenting without attempting to understand their point of view.
I take full and complete responsibility for my mistake. I was 100% wrong.
While we had guidelines in place about the type of posts and comments that are acceptable, our core values are rooted in kindness, compassion, and respect and I didn’t uphold those ideals. The fact is, Black people cannot separate their business from their race or any other aspect of their lives. Any business that has people of color as customers has a responsibility to acknowledge, respect, and embrace that.
At the time, I had two glaring blindspots:
- Wanting to protect myself, while also having the privilege to pause thinking about race if I choose to do so.
- Not setting up my team to moderate online discussions on anti-racism. I hadn’t done that important work yet.
That’s white privilege.
That’s unconscious bias on my part.
Over the weekend, a number of Black women put time and energy into calling me in and educating me about these blindspots. I sincerely thank you. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but you began to open my eyes. And for that, I’m grateful.
I finally did what I should have done at the beginning: I shut up, surrendered, and let go of my defensiveness.
That’s when things began to crack open.
Where I Stand
One lesson that’s emerging from this time is the importance of stating and restating my values. So let me be crystal clear where I’m at on these issues.
- I stand in full support of the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement.
- The U.S. criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul. It’s a racist system designed to protect white people and put Black people behind bars.
- White privilege, white supremacy, and institutionalized racism must be dismantled now. As white people, it’s our job because we created this problem. Inequality exists because of us. We have to wake up, speak up, and get to work.
- Economic, educational, housing, voting, and health inequalities that negatively impact marginalized communities, and specifically Black communities, must be made right. The playing field is not equal, and it never has been. Enough is enough.
- I don’t care about losing followers or customers who want to blather on about “all lives matter” or pretend that they “don’t see color” or want to argue “reverse racism.”
The Actions We’re Taking Now
- Train our internal team to actively combat racism, with ongoing reinforcement training. This is a long-term initiative.
- Overhaul our management, leadership, and hiring practices to recognize bias and increase the number of Black people on our team.
- Prioritize the health and wellbeing of our team, especially our Black team members. That might mean resting, having conversations, supporting each other, being there for family — whatever they need.
- Actively remove people from our FB community who participate in racist behavior and dialogue.
- Award at least 50% of our scholarships to businesses owned by BIPOC.
- Use our platform to feature, elevate, and promote more Black experts, authors, and creatives.
- In current and future training programs, we’ll amplify Black-owned businesses and elevate their voices, visibility, and success.
- Make a $50,000 donation to Color of Change.
This is our action plan as of right now. I’m sure it will evolve as we learn, grow, and work closely with our community and team.
We’re also having a lot of tough, but valuable conversations in the FB group. We’re connecting on a level that, frankly, we’ve never connected on before. We’ve instituted office hours to facilitate constructive conversation. I’ve been in the comments connecting, listening, and learning.
We’re sharing ideas and suggestions to make our community a safe place where everyone, but specifically Black people, can feel seen, heard, and understood. It’s a messy process doing this with over 30,000 people. There are a lot of disagreements. But we’re committed to growing forward together.
We want that growth to be rooted in respect, love, and justice.
They say that within any crisis lies great opportunity. I believe myself, the people of this country, and the world are embarking upon one of the greatest and most profound learning experiences and transformational shifts of all time.
This Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint.
There’s no getting back to business as usual.
We can’t quickly “do the work” and claim victory.
We can’t unpack deep-seated, unconscious racism and undo injustice and discrimination in a weekend.
This is not about attending an inclusivity webinar. Or watching a particular movie. Or reading a single book.
There is no list of “The Top 5 Anti-Racist Actions” to add to your morning routine.
Don’t look for a set of boxes to tick off and declare, “Well, we did that! Let’s move on!”
Change won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. It’s already happening. We need to come together and build long-lasting solutions that get at the root of these problems. This is an important journey that we’re going to take together.
My focus right now is on my community and my team.
This is where I caused the most hurt and this is where I must focus my efforts. Please know that work is being done in the background (it never seems to happen fast enough at times like this) that you will see rolled out over the weeks and months ahead.
This is an awakening. This is an opportunity to take what I’ve built for 20 years and use it to do more good in the world than perhaps I’d ever imagined.
Now, there’s one more important thing I need to say.
Dear White People, Do Not Defend Me
Anti-Blackness is so utterly pervasive, most of us can’t see that it exists — especially in ourselves. When we’re willing to see it, it’s uncomfortable. It’s disorienting. It can unleash a torrent of emotions like shame, denial, grief, regret, anguish, anger, guilt, and profound sadness. But being uncomfortable and sitting with that discomfort is required for real growth and lasting change.
Spend your energy actively listening to Black people and other people of color right now. Listen to their stories.
I invite you to learn alongside me. To begin the education process of becoming an anti-racist in every sphere and scope of your life. Then, you must commit to action.
Bold, risky, imperfect, unrelenting action.
To everyone reading this right now, whatever your race or ethnicity…
With my whole heart, let’s find ways to create a fair, just, and equitable world together.
There is no going back, there is only forward.
With enormous love and respect,