The beauty of ugly answers

According to the US Census Bureau, Blacks account for 13.4% of the population in my country, 12.0% in my state, and 36.9% in my state capital.

In my home town, it’s 0.8%.

How did I get to live here? Why did I not know these figures until now? Why has this never been a topic of discussion with my relatives, friends and colleagues?

Because I’m White, privileged, and part of a society plagued with institutional racism. I am just starting to understand this now, at age 51. I am ashamed, embarrassed, and feeling guilty. I am also determined to learn how to see what has been invisible to me, to listen to the unheard voices, and to do what I can to right wrongs.

In this we can all be leaders. We can all educate ourselves. We can all ask the difficult questions and truly listen to the ugly answers. For only these ugly answers can illuminate the path forward.

Fight the injustice, not the protest

Colin Kaepernick heard, saw and felt an injustice.

He chose to protest peacefully. His protest led to a debate within his team, within the NFL and eventually around the world. It also led to the loss of his job.

On Friday the NFL admitted that they were wrong by not encouraging peaceful protests by their players. Some say that it is too little and too late. I disagree. It might be too late for Kaepernick but it is not for the hundreds of current Black players, the thousands to come, and the millions of Black fans. When the President of the United States still, to this day, believes that what Kaepernick (and other players) did was wrong, we need all the voices we can gather in opposition.

To be clear, I am not arguing in favor of kneeling during the national anthem. I am arguing in favor of peaceful protest against racism. And if kneeling during the national anthem is the necessary protest, then I’m in favor of that.

It is heartbreaking to see so many people less offended by the brutal killing of a Black man than they are by a Black man gently kneeling.

If one is shocked by kneeling in protest of police brutality, one has a choice: work to end police brutality or decry kneeling.

Isn’t the choice clear?

Had we all made the right choice in 2016 when Kaepernick first took a knee, perhaps George Floyd would be alive today.

Let us learn about racism. Let us learn about white privilege. Let us take action. Let us stop the killings.

We are all responsible

I have a saved search in Google for “chief culture officer”, which I visit daily.

In the last few days, the top results are not about a new CCO being appointed at some random company. The top results are about chiefs of police making statements about the police culture – what it is and what it should be.

I’ve seen a few articles asking if police brutality against Black men is a systemic problem or the result of bad apples. When something happens over and over again, it’s not because of bad apples. It’s a systemic problem.

The question is: of what system?

The system of a specific police district? The entire US police force? Or perhaps it is the entire US population. After all, that’s where police officers come from.

Let’s compare Buffalo, NY and Orlando, FL. Between 2013 and 2016, both had about 250,000 residents. About half of the residents were people of color. Buffalo’s violent crime rate was 33% higher than Orlando’s. However, Buffalo’s police did not kill anyone during those years, while Orlando’s force killed 13 people.

This image is from the website “Mapping Police Violence”. Click on the image to be directed in a separate tab.

Racism is systemic. It is in every society. It finds its way into every organization. But some organizations are better at fighting it than others. It often boils down to leadership and their expectations. The police officer who killed George Floyd by calmly kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes while being recorded on video looked confident that he was going to get away with it.

What we need is a united front at every systemic level. We need police chiefs everywhere to stand up. We need the National Association of Police Organizations to speak up. We need our President to promote unity and abandon divisiveness.

We each need to renounce and denounce racism.

Our kids are watching and learning.

Employee activism

Some Wayfair employees took to the streets yesterday after learning that their company had authorized the sale of beds to a federal contractor operating detention centers for children at the US border. They wanted no part of it.

Employee activism is on the rise, in part because more employers are promoting a speak-up culture. It’s often best for companies to learn about problems before they reach the customer, or the press, or the regulators. But while companies want their employees to raise quality concerns with their supervisor before a product ships out, they don’t necessarily want them to take to the streets with a bullhorn.

The younger generation of workers is increasingly choosing to work at companies like Mayfair because they don’t want to support organizations that make cigarettes or weapons or products that hurt animals or the environment. This is positive because companies get workers that believe in their purpose, which improves performance.

Until there’s a disconnect.

A speak-up culture is good but companies need to listen up as well. When detention centers or opioids or racism hit the news cycle, companies need to turn to their employees and ask “What should we do about this, if anything?”