Black Businesses Matter. Black Employees Matter.
I’ve been pretty quiet here for the last few weeks.
Living in New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus US, and a city that has been seeing a lot of activism, I’ve heavily recognized that it wasn’t my place to take up space in your inbox while there were more important things going on.
I started SewEthico specifically with the purpose of providing resources and information for people who wanted or needed to build power in their lives. We define this kind of power as the ability to decide what challenges you want to take on, rather than having to spend a huge amount of your time dealing with problems that life delegates to you. It’s the ability to decide what you want to do or what problems you want to solve and focus on doing that thing.
In the United States, Black people, indigenous people, and people of color deal with toxic environments that prevent them from building power in their lives, in business, and in every space imaginable. I am white, and I have privilege that has kept me from sharing these experiences. That whiteness protects me in a lot of ways. It means that as a business owner, I’m much more likely to have access to support and services, it’s more likely I’ll have access to funding, and a lot of other things. My whiteness benefits me, and I didn’t do anything to earn those benefits.
The majority of businesses in the world are small businesses. It’s easy to think that we’ve got enough on our plates as small business owners. Let’s all be real for a moment: being a small business owner is very hard. You spend 90% of your time trying to figure out how to hold everything together, there are tons of late nights and exhausted days, and there are challenges you never thought possible. As small business owners, it can be easy to think we have to figure out our own mess before we can go combat something as serious as white supremacy and racism. But that’s simply not the case.
Daily actions that we take can make a difference in the success of our business. Those small, uncomfortable actions add up over time to become the hard work we need to do to make great change. It’s not about sweeping generalization statements on social media that say we stand for something. It’s about actually standing for something and consistently showing up to use the power we have for good.
Steps you can take
Instead of asking BIPOC and POC customers, friends, team members, or others to write or review diversity statements and actions, seek out specific research, training, and professional assistance for these things. Pay for the courses, buy (and read)the books, hire someone for it and learn with them.
Asking the people who are significantly impacted by racism to figure out how your business can communicate messaging around it without paying them is asking for free labor. Emotional labor is taxing, especially this kind, and asking for the consultation of how your business should handle its messaging around these times without documenting and paying for it shows that it’s not important enough to be added to your company’s expenses. Your business and your customers benefit from that emotional labor. While there is also a large conversation about attaching financial worth to emotional labor that shouldn’t be ignored, making sure to indicate to those who are benefiting from this labor that it is valuable and important is a good practice.
Listen, learn, and then speak up and talk about things, publicly, even when it makes you uncomfortable. Especially when it makes you uncomfortable. Be willing to learn and be willing to fail. Be willing to learn from your failure and keep showing up. Make a real commitment to do better next time. Hold yourself accountable for your promises. Stand by your values and show who you really are.
Right now, we’re seeing a lot of companies and solopreneuers being called out on social media for issuing statements saying they’re anti-racist, but their past actions prove otherwise. If you believe in anti-racism, but you haven’t previously invested the time and energy to learn what that really means, you have an opportunity to start. Everyone has to start somewhere, and now more than ever, we have the documented resources that are easy to access in mainstream media. You have the tools to start, but please don’t do yourself the disservice of saying you’ve already done the hard work when you haven’t. When we say we’ve completed work that we actually haven’t, we’re less likely to go back and do the work, and we’re less likely to gain the valuable lessons that hard work has to teach us. Successful business is about hard work, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. Anti-racism is no different. If you’re starting today, that’s ok. The important part is that you’re starting.
Ask for the expertise of more BIPOC individuals in the multiple areas of your business. Besides the fact that it’s simply the right thing to do, research shows that the more diversity involved with a business, the more successful that business is. Speaking of diversity, don’t limit your speaker and panel invitations to BIPOC and POC individuals to only revolve around diversity and inclusion panels. For your panels or events, make the research effort on your part to find multiple rockstar experts who are also Black, indigenous, or people of color. Don’t check the boxes. Support voices.
Support, promote, and hire Black, indigenous, and people of color in your business. Nurture a work environment that supports people whose needs are different from yours. Take some extra consideration on things like child care, family care, travel time to the office, or work-from-home policies. Train yourself on better hiring policies, and educate yourself to recognize the systems that were built to lock people out, instead of bringing them in.
There are so many other things I can say, but this is a start. There are many resources out there (especially right now) that talk about how white people can support Black people, indigenous communities, and people of color. Because of SewEthico’s work, when we create communications around racism, they will be related to business practices. Why? Because I don’t intend to pretend that I’m an expert on something that I’m not, and I don’t intend to take credit for the hard work that others have already done. I do have some work I’ve done in this area (my master’s thesis was written on exclusivity policies, marketing and communications, and creating space for BIPOC and people of color in nonprofits and museums) but that work was a blip on the radar compared to what my responsibilities are for a lifetime.
So, my lovely business friend, thank you for making it all the way here. We’re going to include some links and resources, but please take the time to do A LOT of research, which will heavily benefit you and others. Black Lives Matter doesn’t stop at “stop killing black people.” It isn’t limited to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Jordan Davis, Samuel Dubose, Botham Jean, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Justin Howell, Sean Monterrosa, Jamel Floyd, Markeis McGlockton and the many many others who have died from police brutality or from legal loopholes and racist policies that have allowed non-uniformed community members and civilians to escape justice for their crimes (lookin’ at you, stand your ground). It’s not limited to this extreme aspect of violence.
Like I said at the beginning of this, I and SewEthico believe in the building of power as the ability to structure your life in a way that allows you, as an individual, to build the power to decide what problems you want to focus on, and solve those problems. It’s the pursuit of happiness. “Don’t kill Black people” is a low bar. It is the LOWEST bar. Let’s raise that bar. Black women are creating businesses at a higher rate than any other single group of people in the United States, and these businesses have grown by 164% since 2007. They are pillars in our community, or if they’re just starting out, they deserve the chance to be pillars in our community. Hell, a lot of them are better than the businesses that already exist, and capitalism suggests that we should give everyone a pair of boxing gloves and give them a chance to go to competition, so why are we locking SO MANY business owners out of the arena? We stand with Black Lives Matter, and in honoring that, communications from SewEthico on this specific matter will center around bringing more Black people, indigenous people, and people of color into the arena because the concept of “the pursuit of happiness” and building power doesn’t stop at the lowest bar.
Via Ben & Jerry’s
There are a lot of resources out there to help you find places you can donate, Black-owned businesses you can buy from, resources on white fragility and education out there. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about business, and I’m trying really hard to keep it to business so I’m adding something that may be unique and not just noise that takes from the work other people have done. It is also not my place to tell any black person, indigenous person, or a person of color how to build resources or mend the mess that they didn’t make. It is my place as a white business owner to tell other white or white-passing business owners what steps they can take to make a change. Here are some resources that may be helpful:
- For anyone who wants to see what it looks like to have a large company have this conversation correctly, check out what Ben & Jerry’s is up to. By the way, their work and strong (publicly published) opinions on the fact that we should treat humans like they are humans (why is that even radical?) hasn’t hurt their business, and it won’t hurt yours either.
- To see more about how to talk to your employees about racism, check out this article by Frances Dodds.
- For some info on speaking up and taking meaningful action in the workplace, check out this article by Laura Morgan Roberts and Ella F. Washington. It includes some books you can also buy to help dig in deeper. Buy those books. Don’t download them for free.
- The above article mentions this, but I would like to include a museum text on this list. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has created content on “Talking about Race,” and it’s a useful portal to look at. You can view it here.
- Policy Link has some good writings on Corporate Racial Equity Advantage that are also beneficial for small businesses.
- Train yourself and your small business staff in Bystander Intervention against racism in the moment.
- If you want to recognize your implicit bias, here is a training you can take from Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute For The Study of Race and Ethnicity. Implicit bias plays into the way you operate your small business on a day-to-day basis.
- Jemele Hill and Ibram X. Kendi came together in a course on “How to be Antiracist,” which you can spend some time learning from here.
- Dr. Mica McGriggs is hosting a graduate-seminar-style online workshop focusing on multiple areas of systemic racism. It includes multiple “tracks” you can take that get more granular into your personal experience. One of these “tracks” is “Executive: Racial Equity in the Workplace. For Managers, HR, Executives.” This starts June 15th
There are many many other resources out there as well. For some basic resources on the things I mentioned that I wouldn’t get into, but I still thought were useful for starting your personal research on anti-racism, check out these two articles.
- Fighting for an anti-racist future together by Jordan Brooks
- First, Listen. Then, Learn: Anti-Racism Resources for White People by Julia Wuench
I’m not going to end this article with some sort of leadership quote or further explanation of why this is important. You know why it’s important. I’m just hoping that this is useful for someone who is looking for ways to be a better person and business owner in the journey towards being an ally.
Hi there, I'm Cat Bradley
Founder of SewEthico, systems enthusiast, marketing expert, and nonprofit career alum. I help women founders build their first marketing departments and structure their company around their clients, so they can grow, prove traction, and gain funding for their mission-driven businesses. Get my support to grow your business.