Systemic Racism – Are you the ally you want to be?

Annotation 2020-06-22 164354

A few short weeks ago, it would have seemed unimaginable that any world news could bump COVID19 to second place for top news. The protests and civil rights of black citizens of America and beyond are now the focal point of our thoughts and discussions; a test of our collective moral compass. As it should be.  400 years of racial and economic inequality have exploded in anger.

Despite the pandemic, it is the right time. Change is now inevitable.

Systemic racism is institutionalized racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. It leads to discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing , healthcare, political power and education. It is prevalent in all hierarchy’s of organized institutions.

A simple bottle of syrup has for, 130 years, been imprinted with an image truly comfortable to the non-black community. We don’t generally think about how that image affects black citizens. Our privilege is so deep we miss the obvious. Micro-aggressions abound, a purposeful part of our vocabulary, as well as entirely unintended.

Much of what we see, hear and speak of is not always purposely meant to hurt or discriminate. Some of our micro-aggressions are due to our unconscious bias. Good people often don’t realize that systemic racism exists but the sting of it is still felt every day by our black brothers and sisters. I have often written about how micro-aggressions affect the disability community, but to be clear, discrimination against any form of “different” has historically been the norm. Having said that, those who truly believe systemic racism doesn’t exist, as a few of our leaders did last week, are themselves deeply privileged.

What can we do? First, and most importantly, acknowledge that systemic racism exists even if you don’t see it yourself. Assume that it is all around you…because it is. Learn, read books about the experience of black peoples, follow black organizations and leaders on social media.

My favourites are :

  • Brittany Packnett Cunningham – American activist and co-founder of project zero


  • Ana Duvarney – Filmmaker, Director. Her movie “when they see us” about the Central Park five is a must see.


  • Alicia Garza – Civil Rights activist, founder of blacks futures labs


  • Ibram X. Kendi – American author and historian


  • Wes Moore – Author, social entrepreneur


Act at work. Diversify and expand your networks. Demand diverse slates of candidates for hiring and promotion. Seek out untapped talent and provide opportunities. Notice what people are experiencing and ask how their experience differs from yours. Look at your board of directors. Does it reflect the society you live in?

We already know that the disabled are underrepresented on boards so what about people of colour? Is your company’s leadership or c-suite similar?

Get Active – join boards and organizations that support the black community. Contribute your time or money towards justice system reform.

In addition to learning, be an ally. Pay attention to how people are treated. When you see injustice speak up. Be prepared to understand and empathize around the challenges that exist for black people. Finally, since racism is learned, speak openly with your children and grandchildren. Encourage children to actively engage and lead discussions.

It isn’t enough to be non-racist. We have to be against racism – Angela Davis

Be Direct. Be Daring. Be Bold

with thanks to our friends at Korn Ferry


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