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Following George Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter protests have erupted across the world. Protestors spurred a global call-to-action for political and cultural change. This has left many white people to navigate their privilege, complicity, and responsibility in ending racism.
White people must first understand racism as it is: a systemic issue. It is entwined in all aspects of life including culture, politics, education, and the workplace. To end racism, we must commit to be anti-racist. This commitment goes beyond performative allyship; it requires an understanding that white people benefit from the system and are inherently responsible for fixing it. Being anti-racist must be ingrained in all arenas of white peoples’ lives – family and friends, politics, education, and the workplace.
Below is guidance on how to be anti-racist in the workplace:
Do not participate in racial harassment.
Easy enough, right? Well, it should be.
Commit to not use racial slurs, make racist jokes and comments, or harass someone because of their race. Look beyond the more facially obvious forms of racial harassment, too, and learn about microaggressions and implicit bias.
Intervene if you observe racially harassing conduct.
Use your privilege as a white person or someone in a position of authority to speak up. If you observe a coworker engage in racially harassing behavior, such as making an inappropriate joke or using a racial slur, say something. Test your comfort in being an effective bystander. Responses could range from saying, “Let’s talk about something else” to “That word is racist and offensive, please don’t use it.”
Importantly, check in with the person who is being harassed. Knowing that they have an ally in the workplace makes a world of difference. Do not push your agenda on them. Being an ally is not about being a savior or acting paternalistically.
Report racially harassing conduct.
Whether or not you feel comfortable confronting the harasser, report any racially offensive conduct to a manager or Human Resources department. If your coworker feels uncomfortable reporting that they have been harassed, offer to report the offensive conduct on their behalf or accompany them to make the report. Whatever your response, focus on providing support to the person being harassed and follow their lead.
Act as a witness.
Participate truthfully in any investigation. Whether the company is conducting an internal investigation, it has hired a third-party investigator, or there is a lawsuit, speak up. As a witness, you have the same legal protections as someone being harassed: it is unlawful for you to be retaliated against for participating in an investigation.
Speak honestly about what you have observed. Silence equals complicity. Not only will speaking up help your coworker, but it will also create a better workplace for everyone. We are all entitled to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination.
Don’t take up space.
“Space” in this context is both literal and figurative. Literally, minorities have not had a seat at the table. Pull up a chair for a non-white employee. Beware, however, of tokenism. Meaningful change does not come from having a single BIPOC employee at the table just for the sake of “diversity”. Though we can’t all renounce our positions in order to empty our seat for a BIPOC candidate like Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, we can strive to diversify our workplaces. This means conscious recruiting and diverse hiring boards.
Figuratively, the voices of people of color have been silenced. This can take form as being interrupted in a meeting or as someone’s input be invalidated and undermined. Use your privilege as a white person to uplift and dignify the voices of non-white people. If someone is interrupted, call it out. If you notice someone’s input being dismissed, circle back to it and encourage the rest of your team to listen again.
Importantly, admit when you are wrong and learn from it quietly. For many white people, topics of anti-racism are entirely new. Uncovering the reality of systemic racism feels like opening Pandora’s box. It is okay to be overwhelmed and confused. But it is not okay to be defensive and angry. Nor is it okay to flood the room with your guilt and sorrow. Doing so takes up more space and drowns out BIPOC voices. Navigating your emotions is important work, but it should be done privately.
Never stop learning.
As Audre Lorde wrote, “Revolution is not a one-time event.”
The commitment to being anti-racist requires constant work, reevaluation, and education. Inside the workplace, recommend to your HR department to hold anti-discrimination and implicit bias training, honor holidays like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Juneteenth, and provide resources to employees.
Outside of the workplace, commit yourself to learn about systemic racism and all its symptoms. A quick Google search of “anti-racist reading list for white people” will offer you dozens of titles penned by BIPOC authors and academics, as well as other anti-racist white people. Our CCRLG team recommends How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi and Waking Up White by Debbie Irving.
Being anti-racist is not an achievement, it is a thoughtful and purposeful set of actions, beliefs, and commitments. If these last few months have taught us anything, it is that unity and communication can change the world.