Now that Black History Month is over, what can we do to keep the momentum?

Posted in : Blog
Posted on : April 17, 2023

by Sarita Naa Akuye Addy, PhD

This year’s Black History Month saw a lot of organizations and individuals taking the time to celebrate the history of the Black community and to acknowledge the achievements made towards North American society. Several organizations made public the special activities they rolled out to celebrate Black History. It is important to remember that Black employees are Black people all year round, and anti-Black policies and practices impact us every day. And so, to move beyond sporadic and performative organizational allyship, here are some questions to ask yourself and your organization:  

Are you working to address unconscious anti-Blackness?

Doing the work of being anti-racist is not as simple as embracing the physical characteristics of Black folks, like accepting Black hair or accepting different African diasporan English and French accents. Nor is it jiving with the manifestations of the various cultural identities of Black peoples. Rather, addressing unconscious anti-Blackness involves interrogating some actions and attitudes that you may be comfortable sitting with regarding Black people:

  • Do you excuse the casual racism of people in your circle, instead of addressing the harm in their language and attitudes?
  • Are you comfortable seeing Black people in lower and mid-level roles, but never in higher roles, despite their best efforts?
  • Why are you not uncomfortable when proposed policies and practices will disadvantage Black communities and their families?
  • Do you feel that the urgency attached to initiatives designed to remove barriers for Black folks is overly exaggerated?
  • Are you comfortable when a Black person is tone-policed or is pressured to tone down aspects of their identities to get ahead?
  • Do you claim allyship to your coterie of Black colleagues or friends and not use your professional or personal network to help advance their careers or goals?

This exercise is not reserved only for those who are new to the anti-racism journey. A big part of doing the work is to first understand your unconscious anti-Blackness, find where it springs from, and actively question these thoughts.  

Do you understand how your industry perpetuates anti-Blackness? What are you doing to address it?

Building an anti-racist workplace means checking your anti-Black biases constantly, but also that which is wired into the industry or sector that you operate within. Systemic racism exists in almost all aspects of our social institutions. However, it does not show up in the same ways.

Take the time to learn and understand how it shows up in your field. How it shows up in the educational setting may be quite different than how it shows up in the tech field or entertainment industry. So, what are the ways in which your industry practices disadvantage Black employees? How does the recruitment, promotion and standard operational practices and policies leave out your Black employees or colleagues? If in doubt, dig into the history of your industry’s practices and culture or ask your Black colleagues. Desist from applying a generalized approach to addressing anti-Blackness in your workplace.

Once you understand how these attitudes show up, what are you doing or what have you done to address it? What are the resources you have at your disposal to change that status quo?

Is your organizational culture truly inclusive?

A workforce that is made up of different races and cultures does not translate as diversity of thought. When we bring Black people into an organizational paradigm that is culturally White-leaning without changing the organizational culture, we risk harming Black employees. Ask, what aspects of organizational culture need to change so that Black employees can feel included? Does the organizational culture consider the inclusion of various cultural perspectives? Consider who is getting promoted, who is not getting promoted and why? What are the systems/criteria in place that prevent Black folks from getting promoted? Inclusion is about transformative change that enables everyone including Black folks to be authentic in their workplaces.

Issues that affect us shouldn’t only be highlighted and addressed cosmetically during and prior to Black History Month and should be work that is done all year around. Without truly understanding how we unconsciously perpetuate anti-Blackness and how the standard operating principles of our industries promote racism, we will continue to harm Black employees all the while claiming to be championing their cause. The insidious thing about systemic racism is that it can survive on its own and does not need people to enforce it, especially when it is implemented under the guise of fair and neutral policies everyone must abide by. And so that is why addressing anti-Blackness requires people who understand the systemic nature of anti-Blackness, and not simply people who have a history of implementing social programs and initiatives.

Anti-racism work needs to be done with true intention and a profound desire to see transformative change. When organizations overly focus on the grand strategic plan without checking long-held biases, even the best plans and programs can be undermined by individual and systemic actions and inactions.

 

Recent Posts

Glottophobia: Let’s talk about language discrimination in Canada

Celebrating National Ribbon Skirt Day

The DreamMakers Council: CCDI and Indigenous Works collaborate to advance Indigenous inclusion and reconciliation in Canada

Now that Black History Month is over, what can we do to keep the momentum?

International Francophonie Day: Some particularities of Canadian French

Debunking five diet culture myths

Call me by my given name

The myth of racial equality in a humanitarian crisis