By Sunshine Muse, originally published in Colorlines.
In addition to navigating interpersonal relationships and day-to-day challenges faced by the average Joanne, most, if not all, of the Black people I know also work. Many of us work in, or alongside, institutions where we are silenced, overlooked, underpaid and called on to “represent” equity efforts in the workplace with little thanks, no additional pay and frequent retribution.
Given this context, we are all getting exhausted watching the horse-and-pony show of institutions, organizations and for-profit businesses whitewashing racist track records, awful policies and never-ending micro-aggressions with statements of so-called Solidarity With Black Lives. Some, like Airbnb, have even started taking donations on behalf of Black lives*. This is not just marketing, it’s pimping, and that is terrifying.
Black people know the shallow nature of these symbolic statements, having been suffocated by historic displays of this same behavior, resulting in committees, task forces and listening sessions that do zero to improve Black lives. We are also aware that donations and pledges must go directly to Black-led organizations that exist to do equity work, with no middleman or woman.
So, for all of our sake, here are some pointed directives for White led institutions and marketing gurus that have purposely excluded Black women and people, in spite of our dogged best efforts to be heard. This moment in time is not a marketing opportunity for institutions, organizations and for-profit businesses.
- Stop using our names and the names of our deceased in vain. Immediately stop making public statements about how you stand with Black people. If Black people and Black-led organizations have been knocking on your door and you have refused to open it wider than to say hello until now, you do not stand with Black people and it’s disingenuous to lie to yourself and us.
- Know if you have a history of being racist or exclusionary. If so, statements of solidarity and committees to “investigate further” are what my grandparents called “a day late and a dollar short.” Be prepared to pay a late fee.
- Directly fund Black-led organizations across sectors with a particular focus on Black women-led orgs, including those that you may not feel comfortable with. Do not perpetuate sexism, ableism, transphobia and homophobia in your funding behaviors, or focus only on Black organizations and people that somehow make you feel comfortable. Get over your harm inducing desire for comfort. All Black lives matter.
- Ask before you Act. Deciding how you want to support Black people, Black-led organizations and movements without first asking how we would like to be supported is another act of colonialism and racism. Before initiating a project, event or effort, “on behalf of”, “in support of” or “in solidarity with” ask us what we need and want. Then have the courage to do it.
- Be honest and acknowledge to yourself, and your stakeholders, that there are necessary amends involved in asking people that you’ve harmed what they need. Absent the willingness to make amends, you are pretending to ask but really telling. When amends are involved you may be asked to do things which you are not comfortable with, and have not budgeted for. If you are not ready for that possibility, have the integrity to stay away from public statements of solidarity or support.
- Recognize that difficult conversations do not require the participation of marginalized groups and organizations. Solutions, however, do. It is essential to know the difference. Racism makes it nearly, if not, impossible for Black people and Black-led organizations to have these conversations with you without defending ourselves from microaggressions and assaults on our personal time and power. Do not ask us to do this anymore and never ask anyone marginalized to do this for free.
- Redistribute power, including your own. To do this, you must accept leadership from Black people and Black-led organizations and reject opportunities that are in front of you, so that Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) can have them instead.
- Do not look for Black people who are unfamiliar with your racist and exclusionary track record to partner with. Instead, do the hard work and partner with Black people and organizations that know your shortcomings. And pay them. That is way more difficult than a conversation.
- Fund things that have nothing to do with you and take a backseat. Think silent or humble donor. Sometimes good work means you’re not involved.
- Rinse and repeat. Be sure you do your own laundry and don’t hire a person of color that you’re comfortable with to do it for you. White people having to feel comfortable and Black lives being expendable so that you can is what got us here in the first place.
*Editor’s Note: Since this article was published, Airbnb has followed many of the suggestions here, and made their donation efforts more transparent.
Sunshine Muse is a health equity consultant who runs a Black women-led non-profit focused on shifting paradigms and experiences to help create a world where public health is more effective, people are more thoughtfully engaged and history is not forgotten. To learn more visit here.