Things feel different in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. The scope of continuing protests and demonstrations is nation-wide and global. The racial composition of protesting groups is diverse.
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My friend Beverly Wright is a Black former IBM executive who now is a consultant on diversity and inclusion. She is the Chair of the Dallas Dinner Table, a non-profit that organizes facilitated in-home dinner parties where small diverse groups can candidly speak about race. Her phone is ringing off the hook with white friends who want to know how to help and white executives who claim ownership of the racial inequities within their organization and want assistance in tackling them.
My wife, Barbara, and I recently attended a webinar presented by a firm called Linkage in which Bev was a speaker. The topic was Reflecting on Race and Allyship. 1500 people attended! We all wanted to know how to be allies in advancing racial justice and combatting racism.
Black professionals feel pressure to out-perform lest they be passed over for opportunities.
Bev and the other speaker, Eddie Turner a black Houston-based executive coach—one of Marshall Goldsmith’s top 100—related incidents of “everyday racism” experienced by professional people like them. Eddie said, “I am not impervious even though I am wearing a suit.” Their stories showed that Black executives worry whether their adult sons will come home when they go out. Black professionals feel pressure to out-perform lest they be passed over for opportunities. Even with internal corporate mentors and sponsors Black managers often must go through more steps than whites to get similar advancement opportunities. Even in their own neighborhoods, casually dressed young Black professionals are stopped by police, mistaken for “Ice T wannabe’s” or for intruders. Retail shops and banks in high-end residential areas mistake casually dressed Black shoppers for employees doing errands for their employers rather than recognize them as local residents.
What did we learn from the webinar? Linkage provided a summary “Guide to Becoming an Ally”:
Increase Your Awareness
- Be willing to get uncomfortable
- Have direct conversations about race with family, friends, and colleagues
- Look for and continue to listen and learn daily
- Keep doing the hard work of recognizing your own prejudices and biases
- Practice compassion with self and others
- Have courage: be willing to make mistakes
- Examine how you may benefit from the continued marginalization/oppression of others.
Use Your Privilege
- Elevate Black voices
- Call out racism when you see it
- Pull people aside in private
- Help them see the negative impact and unintended consequences of their behavior
- Teach them a better way
- Become a sponsor or mentor for people who don’t look like you
- Actively work to dismantle system racism inside and outside your organization
- Recruit a diverse leadership team and board
The suggestions to have direct conversations and call out racism should be unpacked. This is where many of us have the most opportunity to use our privilege. However, sometimes we hesitate to call out friends who express racism for fear of threatening the relationship. My wife and I suggest the following techniques that may help reduce this risk.
- Ask permission to have the conversation.
- Help a friend understand the negative impact and unintended consequences of their words or behavior and teach them a better way.
- Disarm them. When someone tells a racist joke, for example, just say “I don’t understand.” When they try to explain, then again say, “I don’t understand.”
- Reflect back on what you are hearing so they know you are listening to them.
- If there is a part they get right, acknowledge that, and then move to the part that needs a different perspective. For example, “yes, we have made much progress in the last fifty years, but consider data that show disparities in income, education, health care, housing, and employment, and the everyday racism that Black people experience. There is much work still to be done.”
More important, keep some basic principles in mind. Meet those friends where they are; each one is on their own individual journey. Be willing to take a risk. Will your relationship be threatened with a conversation undertaken in private, with permission, and with the goal of helping you understand their intentions and helping them understand the unintended consequences of their language or behavior? Be open to learning more yourself, so don’t be afraid to make a mistake. And if you aren’t able to change their minds, give them grace. For as Bev also likes to say, change comes “one death at a time.”
- You may register to view a recording of the Linkage webinar Here.
- An interview I conducted with Bev Wright during a session of Highland Park United Methodist Church’s Affirmation class is here: Affirmations Conversation with Beverly Wright.mp4