What Can We Do in Response to Racial Injustice?

Like many I’ve been deeply troubled by this past week’s events in this country which have been the most ugly and disgusting that I have experienced. To see another man’s life taken at the knee of another, while three others stand by is crushing to the soul. It makes me cry just writing this. And, unfortunately, George Floyd’s murder is just the latest horrifying, unjust act that Black people have been subjected to for decades. We cannot forget the many thousands that have gone before him.  

We have to speak up, we have to speak out and we have to speak to each other. 

A friend of mine who is a Black mom has three sons who all attend the same high school as my daughter. Even today, in 2020, she is afraid for her boys every day, not knowing whether they will come home, and feels the need to remind them not to walk the 5 minutes to school with their hoodies up or their hands in their pockets. My throat wells up and I get sick to my stomach when I think about her and her boys.  Imagine if that was your kid. How would you feel if you had to tell your kid these things? She feels this way in our very progressive county. The fact that she, and so many others, feel this way is proof that we, their communities, their country, have let them down.  

Things seem pretty hopeless – as many have said we are fighting two viruses at once – COVID-19 and racism. We will develop a vaccine and fight COVID-19 soon but we have to prioritize fighting racism too. I’m an immigrant, and as a child I had always held the US up as an idyllic place – one where we could all live our dreams, a place that was fair and just for everyone.  I naively thought that the Civil Rights Movement had fixed everything when we elected President Obama. The fact that we are still fighting this deep-seated racism is absolutely appalling.  We all have to join this fight and do it as if our lives depend on it. Because they do.  

This will not just be solved with a hashtag movement.  

And, while there are many things that are out of our control, there are some things that are in our control. The only way we can get to the other side and actually create a place where everyone is treated as a human being is to start by having sustained conversations with each other.  We cannot be afraid to talk to each other and we need to seek to listen and understand.  It is not OK to treat people as if they are less human because they are different than you. Tammy Mann, President & CEO of The Campagna Center shared this terrific conversation guide from the Kellogg Foundation.  Start a conversation with your neighbors, with people different than you, with your friends, your family. 

If you are a leader in a company, be courageous and host these conversations in your organizations. It is the responsibility of those privileged to be in leadership to change the system.  We cannot leave it to people of color to be the ones to fight this fight alone. We have a responsibility to create organizations that are equitable, inclusive, compassionate and a place where our people feel they can belong. Yes, they are difficult conversations, and you may not have the right words but this is where you can be authentic, vulnerable and make a difference.  

I’m going start by reading So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo and safely gathering with my neighbors to talk about race and the events we’ve endured. I’m heading out with my family to a peaceful protest in the neighborhood this afternoon.  From a business perspective, I am even more committed and focused on helping leaders lead these important conversations in their workplaces.  

We can make a difference. We can readWe can donate. We can march. We can protest. We can also vote. 

Let’s do our part to make Black Lives Matter.  

Shaara Roman is founder and managing director of The Silverene Group, a culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals.