In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and global protests, many organizations—private and nonprofit—clearly communicated their condemnation of violence and support for racial justice. However, social media communities have been calling out organizations they believe missed the mark and either waited weeks to respond or offered disappointing platitudes.
What if an organization you’re associated with inadequately addressed Black Lives Matter or another important social movement? What can you do if that makes you feel unsafe or insecure, irrespective of your race or ethnicity?
Continue reading to see how you can approach the institutions you belong to and be a part of the solution.
A timely response
Before we can discuss the common challenges that can contribute to an inadequate response, it’s important to know what a strong response can look like. It includes:
- Clear communication of an organization’s position on racial violence and racial justice. This should be shared internally, and with external clients and collaborators—if not the wider public.
- Acknowledgement of the Black experience. This can come in the form of support and resources for BIPOC—and especially Black—community members. For instance, grant employees or students extra personal or “mental health” days, or direct them to available mental health services.
- Investment in and encouragement of continuing education. Whether it’s through diversity, inclusion, and equity (DEI) training or hosting an antiracist book club, there should be clear opportunities for community members to educate themselves and learn more about the issues being discussed across the country.
- Review of internal policies and procedures. Employers need to work with employees—and university administrations need to work with professors and students—to see if there are harmful policies and procedures that need to be dropped or replaced to ensure racial equality.
- Engagement with impactful partners. This could mean collaborating with or pooling donations for racial justice organizations.
- Ongoing commitment. Racial justice will not be achieved overnight, so employers and universities need to make a concerted, ongoing commitment to create and support safe, secure environments for all.
The challenges at work
Given the number of high-profile police brutality cases in recent years, it seems inconceivable that employers don’t have a prepared response.
Many of us want to know that our employers decry racial violence and support racial justice. This is an important and valid ask, but here are six reasons that can contribute to a bungled response:
- Ignorance. If your employer hasn’t responded to previous incidents of racial violence, it may not have recognized why George Floyd’s murder felt different to the public.
- Political neutrality. Loss of life is not a political issue, but the cause of death—such as police brutality—is highly politicized. Taking a clear position could alienate employees or turn off supporters. In the interest of staying neutral, your employer may believe silence is the best option.
- Discomfort. Your employer may be feeling the discomfort of not knowing how to clearly communicate its position. This could be because it does not have BIPOC leadership or advisors to turn to for guidance on how to navigate this sensitive conversation.
- Lack of training. Your employer may lack the training to discuss race, racism, and racial justice.
- Unfair delegation. In the absence of training or a plan, your employer may be unfairly relying on its Black employees to be teachers and guides on all race-related issues.
- Lack of accountability partnership. Your employer may not have a formal person or team that is responsible for starting a dialogue about DEI.
The challenges at university
In addition to the above six reasons for an inadequate response, universities also face these two challenges:
- Safety and security of a diverse student body. In taking a clear stance, university administrations may be afraid to “rock the boat” or be seen as taking sides, and possibly incite widespread campus conflict.
- Parental pushback. Parents want the safety and security of their children guaranteed at school. And if a university doesn’t respond mindfully, it also faces the threat of losing revenue if students transfer to another school.
The challenges of a university are very similar to that of a workplace. But there is one key difference: though your university may communicate its position clearly, this can break down at the department-level, as an anonymous Columbia University graduate student noted. Students within specific programs then may not receive the support or platform they need to start a dialogue.
Despite what your organization’s response has been, there are ways you can prepare and participate in bettering your workplace or university. To understand what you can do, you need to assess where your organization is right now. Ask yourself these questions:
- Who is responsible for communicating important messaging internally and externally?
- Is there precedent for how your organization has responded to sensitive events or issues?
- How has your organization been able to show support for its community?
- Does your organization have BIPOC advisors?
- Has your organization invested in DEI training?
Finding out the answers to these questions is the first step towards figuring out how you can help. If there are no answers, then that needs to be brought to your organization’s attention.
When you do find answers, they will help you build a strong argument and participate in a plan for stronger commitment going forward.
Have you seen a great response to recent social events? Or have you called out an organization whose response was less-than-perfect? Let us know on Facebook.