How to handle racism as a company
Imagine that you had a friend who kept poking you with a stick. With every poke, a mark was left on your skin. Sometimes the mark disappears and other times, it remains present and scarred over. You tell them to stop. You ask why they’re poking. You say it hurts.
They tell you that it’s just a joke and they stop. They even say sorry and that they won’t do it again. But they forget and occasionally poke you with the stick. And they watch their other friends poke you with a stick. Months or years later, you see them post a proclamation on how they believe stick poking is bad, that they’ve never done it, that they’ll speak up when they see it.
Imagine reading that lie. The erasure of your experience and your voice.
If you thought you were going to read a step-by-step guide on how to absolve yourself of racism in your company, you thought wrong. There are no easy steps, no hacks, no words you can write, and no amount of black squares you can post to declare yourself “free” from racism. It’s a lifelong commitment to educating yourself on being anti-racist.
Change starts at the top. What your founders and leaders do or don’t do trickle down. The things they say when they think no one is listening, the job applicants they turned down because they “weren’t a good culture fit,” the friends they hire and promote from within – these all get absorbed by the people around them.
It’s easier to list things to not do than it is to do:
- Do not deny and double down on how you’re not racist
- Do not write a statement of change and “shock” if you are not willing to claim any long-term actions
- Do not post a black square and turn off the comments. You either shut up or you do the work, beginning with the comments.
- Do not externally say you’ll donate to a cause and then continue on business as usual
- Do not read a few articles on systemic racism and believe you’re all good
- Do not center yourself in an apology. Learn how to apologize.
- Do not ask your Black, Indigenous, POC employees to help in any anti-racism work or resources without extra compensation
- Do not wait until you get publicly shamed for racism. By the time that happens, that person has been poked with the metaphorical stick and spoken up so many times, that this is their only route left.
The time of company platitudes and PR spins is over. Consumers are paying attention to what you say and more importantly, what you do. They’re holding you accountable.
There are very comprehensive resources (each word here is a resource link) out there. Umeko recently published a piece with 150+ links for coffee businesses to read up on. You have no excuses when you say you don’t know where to start.
Do the work. Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, you will mess up.
To quote Michelle, “Do better or be left behind.”
This post originally appeared in Coffee Marketing issue no. 103, where there are additional articles to peruse. I have edited it slightly to make it fit a blog post style. Subscribe to my bi-weekly Coffee Marketing newsletter to be the first to read pieces like this.