Five Things You Can Do Right Now (and Forever) to Be a Better Ally to Black Colleagues
Updated: Jun 30
The recent energy around reckoning with racism in corporate America has been unprecedented. Many organizations and individuals are moving toward action and implementing strategies to tackle racism.
As an individual, your work shouldn't stop at the racism reading list on Amazon. The work required to combat racism extends to your everyday interactions, and how you use your white privilege to undo racist policies and systems, and advocate for anti-racist policies and systems to replace them.
There's a lot to consider, I know. But it starts simply. As a person committed to being a part of the change, here are five things that you can do today, and that you should continue to do even after headlines shift focus to the next earth-shattering event. Turn your teachable moments into a movement of heightened awareness and intentional anti-racist action.
5. Continue educating yourself, and change your actions too.
Understand white fragility and seek ways to engage in honest conversations about racism without perceiving it as a personal attack.
White fragility, as defined by Robin Diangelo in her book White Fragility Why It's so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, is the discomfort, anxiety, and defensiveness displayed in response to racial stress, that work to reinstate white equilibrium and maintain white dominance in racial hierarchy.
Although you may have been involuntarily socialized into a racist world, you benefit from white supremacy. Face the facts and do your work.
Be anti-racist. Debunk your closely held myths of being colorblind, “not racist”, or race neutral. They do not exist.
4. Advocate for change.
Use your voice to advocate for change that will benefit Black colleagues, and the organization as a whole, by campaigning for anti-racist policies.
Policies needing change may center on pay equity, career progression equity, diversity in hiring, and those that govern the tracking of discrimination complaints and diversity metrics. Here is a list of policy and cultural changes you can advocate for within your organization.
Remember, racism is more than hateful actions by mean or ignorant people. Racism has been built into all corners of society and its institutions. The only way to undo it, even at your job, is to replace racist policies with anti-racist policies.
3. Name the issues.
A significant step in responding to racism with action is naming the issues in clear and certain terms. To aid you in this, learn the vocabulary and use it properly. Here are a few terms that offer a baseline to describing and naming the issues as defined by Ibram X. Kendi is his book, How to Be an Antiracist. One World, 2019:
Racism results from a collection of powerful policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas.
A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group.
A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.
Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing.
When writing, capitalize Black when referring to people. The Associated Press recently revised its style guide to include “capitaliz[ation of] Black in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, conveying an essential and shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa. The lowercase black is a color, not a person”, as explained by John Daniszewski, Vice President of Standards, in a blog post by the Associated Press.
Learn the difference between Black, African-American, and person(s) of color (POC). Use the terms correctly when discussing issues that may acutely affect one or more of those populations. The words are not interchangeable.
2. Call out racism.
If you are committed to being anti-racist, create a culture of zero tolerance for racism at home and at work. Don’t go with the flow. Champion a culture of anti-racism by standing up and pushing back against racist policies and actions even if someone who may be offended is not present.
1. Bring Black voices to the table.
Is there a voice missing from the table at which you work and make decisions? Is everyone around the table white? Are there Black colleagues that should weigh in on the decisions being made?
Then, invite them.
Is the current system broken? Should there be a panel or working group decked against issues that would have better outcomes if reviewed by colleagues with diverse perspectives and lived experiences?
Then, create new tables.
Hire Black firms to facilitate the work to be done within your organization, including but not limited to: providing a safe space for your work community to confront racism, envisioning an anti-racist workplace, and strategizing on ways to achieve that vision. Let me know if I can help.
When we hear of oppressive systems that took centuries to build, the work to undo them can seem daunting. And it is. The good news is that racism is perpetuated through each of us, and this means that you have the power to dismantle it in your personal life, and in professional spaces. As a white person, you can create change by facing the realities of the racial system into which you were socialized, and by leveraging the privilege that you have within that system to recreate a world that is anti-racist.