In today’s social climate, each company has issued their solidarity statements supporting #BlackLivesMatter and sharing their resentment for racism. In America, we are currently living in a time where being anti-racist is a badge of honor. Many cities, around the country, have taken to the streets to create street-sized murals showing support for anti-racist campaigns like Black Lives Matter. Historically, Detroit is a hot seat for social activism from a march led by Dr. Martin Luther King to the 1967 Detroit Riots to community building of Malcolm X to today’s “Power To The People” street mural proudly displayed on Woodward Ave. In business, everyone seems to be showing solidarity during this time.
Companies, like Nike, Reebok, and the NFL, have created entire marketing campaigns protesting racism and police brutality. However, more than ever, as a company, you have to be aware of “brand activism”. Brand activism is when a company seeks to have an impact on a social, economic, environmental, or political problem.The negative implication of brand activism is that it only surfaces when it is trendy and makes money for the company. It may be hard for consumers to take the NFL seriously because of their relationship with Colin Kapernick, his silent protest against racial inequality and police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem, and their not renewing his contract as an NFL quarterback.
In looking at your company, are you making solidarity statements to get on the bandwagon of activism?
As a small business owner, what can you do to promote your solidarity and affect change in your local communities? The easiest way is usually the way.
The most important and easiest option is to speak with your employees, colleagues, and partners. Share what your company’s position is on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Before you can report out a solidarity statement, you have to be sure that everyone in your organization understands the company’s position and they share in that mission of ridding the community of racism. Your solidarity statement should easily align with your company values and mission statements.
Be sure that you have created a work space where your employees feel safe to speak about racism and discrimination. You can start this by creating anonymous surveys. Also, if you choose to engage in work-place conversations about issues like racism and discrimination, then be sure to take the information from the surveys or consensus to use as a platform. This way no employee will like they are the representative speaking for an entire group of people. You can also revisit or emphasize the company’s policies on discrimination. You can also share or reiterate a zero tolerance policy for such negative behavior.
When the ugly head of racism or discrimination is apparent, then speak on it. In reality, the hope is no one wants to be a racist. In reality, many people are not aware of their insensitive racist statements. Speak to the individual privately. Explain how you were offended. They may not know that the statement is inherently racist. Always assume innocence, approach the individual, and start by saying, “I’m not sure if you know this, but…”. Allow them the opportunity to save face and learn from the situation. But, this can only happen when your company has put in the work of talking and creating safe spaces.
First, support black-owned businesses. Support any minority-owned business. If your small business is a landscaping company, then use a black-owned printing company to print your promotional materials. You can be supportive by purchasing and distributing water during protests in your community. Commit to giving a portion of your earnings to an anti-racist campaign. For example, your small business can donate to victim memorial funds, city or national campaigns:
This can help you create actionable steps to create change in your organization along with the tips provided.
The reality is not saying anything during this time of social activism sends a loud message to your employees and your local community. Be bold and take a stance. Remember the world is hearing, “I can’t breathe”, a phrase that has echoed in the African-American community, since 2014 when we watched Eric Garner being choked by a New York police officer. Sadly, these words returned on May 25th, 2020 in Minneapolis as they were uttered from the mouth of George Floyd, as a police officer placed his knee in Floyd’s neck. Racism and police brutality will continue, if we all do not do something to promote and be the change in the world.