We need to talk

For the past week, I have been waking up to news surrounding racial discrimination every single day. It is everywhere – on social media, the news, my inbox, phone messages and even Headspace. For the first few days, I told myself that there’s enough being said, maybe I do not need to say more. My writing schedule for today had a totally different topic. Yet as I poured through a few more emails I received from leaders last night, I knew I had to say something. I could no longer continue to pretend that enough is being said because when it comes to discrimination, no matter how much is said, it will never be enough.

If you have been living under a rock, George Floyd’s death in the hands (or rather knees) of a police officer has caused wide spread rage across the United States. This along with the death of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Nina Pope has led to a lash out against the government and law enforcement agencies; the very people trusted to save lives vs snuffing them out. It has been over a week and the protests continue and rightly so. Since the event, multiple leaders have written open letters on the need for solidarity, conversation and change. Tim Cook (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Evan Spiegel (Snap), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Sundar Pichai (Google) are just few of the many CEOs who have made public statements regarding the incident. Amazon Studios, Starz, HBO, Hulu, Disney, ViacomCBS, Warner Bros., A24, BET, FX Networks, Fox Entertainment, AMC, and YouTube have all since issued statements of support

Discrimination is not new nor limited to the United States. People around the world find multiple reasons to put people into boxes. People of color, low income groups and women are preferred targets world over and have been for generations. In India alone, innumerable decisions are made keeping religion and caste in mind. Protests against discrimination and heinous crimes against marginalized communities aren’t happening for the first time. What is different now?

I recalled a statement I made yesterday in a different context but it applies equally to this scenario – ‘Sometimes the reason for re-evaluating how things work isn’t important. The triggers for change can be many. Irrespective of the trigger, it is important to take the opportunity to reanalyze why things are as they are.’ So yes, the trigger may be the same as those before. What is important is that now is yet another opportunity to recognize the need for change and to do something about it.

I woke up to a stark reality this morning. I work with people from innumerable nationalities in my day job and outside – Indians, Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish, & Irish. But no blacks. I have not in the past nor in the present ever worked with them. This fact alone brings home the truth that there aren’t enough blacks in the workplace. 

If you are reading this, I need you to do four things:

  1. Talk about it: To be silent is to be complicit. Do not assume that your voice isn’t as important or that it doesn’t need discussion in your circles. To talk is to acknowledge and acknowledgement of what is happening is the first step to driving any form of change. The phrase ‘talk is cheap’ does not hold true here. By talking about it, you are throwing open the topic for discussion and expressing support. Tell people that you are on their side and that you are as outraged by what is happening as everyone else. I have come across multiple websites that choose to veer off uncomfortable discussions as it does not resonate with the brand or that it isn’t the right platform. Right now, every platform is the right platform.
  • Ask for suggestions: Leaders around the world do not have all the answers but they are doing one thing right – they are asking for suggestions. Every individual can make a difference. Ask. You will be surprised by just how many solutions can be gathered by asking for suggestions. Especially if you are the part of a leadership team or an HR professional, you hold tremendous power to instill change. All you need to do is ask. It is not someone else’s responsibility.
  • Find a way to do something, no matter how small: Do something. Anything. It can be as simple as picking up books that relate to this topic, reading them, recommending them, discussing them. Encourage movies, toys, books that represent more than just one point of view. Discourage racial jokes. Reanalyzing the terms you use in everyday life. Replace words like blacklist, whitelist, broken windows, brown bags and the like from your vocabulary. It may mean nothing to you but may trigger another. Read the 75 suggestions and see which you can implement. Just don’t do nothing.
  • Introspect: No matter how educated and fair we believe ourselves to be, there are silent ways in which we perpetrate the crime. Did you bargain with the vegetable vendor for one rupee yet spend multiple thousands on something frivolous? Did you decide to deduct pay from household help for a mistake they made or for taking time off while expecting your own organization to provide leave and forgive little mistakes? Take time out to think about it. Think about how you can be just a little bit kinder; a little more forgiving.

I see no reason why one community should live in fear and why children need to be taught how to stay safe when they see the rest of the world walk without the same fears. What makes one set of people more privileged than the other? I do not know why the world is as it is but I do know as someone with privilege, it is my responsibility to acknowledge that my circle of information is limited and that I do something to change it. Problems like the coronavirus will find a solution. Science will help us. However, systemic discrimination is going to take a much larger movement and we need all hands on deck to be able to make a difference.  

I want to end by including below open letters from some leaders who say it better than I do. If you haven’t read them, I strongly encourage you to do so.

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