How to Build an Anti-Racist Business

The beautiful writer and all-round wonderful human being, Esther Zimmer, recently shared an “ask” on her Facebook page, inviting contributions from people who are actively seeking to build anti-racism into their businesses. I initially interpreted this as a general question, and started sharing my experience of challenging policies in an organisation, and the intersectional approach my company was implementing. But when she clarified that it was more intended towards individual entrepreneurs and small business owners I reflected on it and realised that there are some core principles that could help us all in building fairer, more inclusive organisations.

Black and white image reading: " Who are my friends who are actively doing the work to make their business safe & inclusive & anti-racist? Where did you start? Who are the teachers you're learning from? What resources have you found valuable?
(c) Esther Zimmer

From what I’ve learned so far, there is no one right way to be anti-racist – there are many ways to show up, and keep showing up to tackle systemic racism and structures that maintain the default that is white supremacy. (To clarify, from my learning, the term white supremacy does not just refer to active racist aggression, but more the fact that whiteness is the default in society. White = normal, and everything else is “other”. So we all have a responsibility to make sure we are not perpetuating that default in how we build our businesses and organisations.)

Regardless of how big or small a business may be, here are some ways I have learned that we can build anti-racism and inclusion into our working lives:

1. Name Your Intent

What is it exactly that you want to achieve by building anti-racism into your business? What does inclusion mean to you? It’s important for you to be clear on your purpose.

There are many ways you can tackle issues of racial and social injustice and inequality, and you might become confused, overwhelmed and despair if you try to do too much.

So, what do you want to achieve through anti-racism? And how do you see your business being more inclusive? Is it through your team, your customer base, your partners or your affiliations?

Consider that, and then you can commit to tangible objectives (ideally measurable, if possible!). For a larger business it could be targeting fair representation at all levels of your organisation. For a smaller business it could be about simply taking a more inclusive approach in all areas as you grow, to make sure no one is excluded or left behind.

2. Own Your Privilege

Owning our privilege doesn’t mean we have to dismiss our hard work and efforts to get to where we are today – it simply means acknowledging the fact that we have not had the same challenges as other people who may have had to tackle more barriers on their own journeys.

Image shows two people about to start a race - one older white man with just 2 hurdles, and one younger black woman with many dangerous obstacles in her path.
(c) Emanu

The concept of privilege can be a difficult one to unpack – Peggy McIntosh’ backpack analogy is a helpful one for people to wrap their heads around. And when people are struggling to build a business, or they have come from disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, it can be even harder for us to accept that we have any form of “privilege”. The word conjures up images of elitist entitlement that we quickly want to distance ourselves from. But it helps if we imagine that we are simply naming the fact that do not have all of the challenges that other people may have had. We can name our background and our advantages while also owning our adversity, if that might help bring a clearer perspective to our position in the world.

Owning your privilege could take many forms – it could simply be a statement on your website, or in your publications. Megan Gray managed this so beautifully in the introduction to her book, Enjoy Your Life, where she clarified her lens on the world as an able-bodied, white woman raised in relative safety and comfort in America:

Extract from Megan Gray's book, Enjoy Yourself, stating her position of privilege as an able-bodied white woman who grew up in a safe and secure neighbourhood in America.
(c) Megan Gray, Enjoy Your Life: Thoughts for Awakened Daughters from Conscious Mothers

3. Educate Yourself

As you may already be aware, it’s important for us to educate ourselves on anti-racism, and not to rely on our black friends and connections to show us the way. Similarly, although there is an abundance of free material available online, through Instagram accounts to Ted Talks, it is also important that we pay and value the existing support provided by black women / educators / activists. Some great options available include:

Rachel Cargle’s The Great Unlearn, where you can sign up to support her Patreon to access monthly educational content, guidance and much more. She also unpacks powerful posts on her Instagram page that are educational and insightful. 

Nova Reid provides an anti-racism course that is currently waitlisted, but in the meantime she has free anti-racism guides and her Tedx Talk is available for reference. 

Layla F. Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy, is great for people to start their anti-racism journey, particularly as it’s a book you DO rather than just read. It’s intended for you to take at least 28 days to unpack each of the sections to reflect and internalise the learning before taking action.

These are just a few examples of the helpful resources available for you to educate yourself further, and once you start reading or following people on Instagram etc., it’s easier for you to continue the journey to read and learn more as you progress.

4. Use Your Platform For Good 

It’s not just about speaking out about topical issues – publicly making statements about events in the news on social media – but also about looking at how you use the audience you have. It’s important to reflect on what messages you are sharing with people, and what action you are taking to redress balances in society to create a fairer and more equal world. 

So whether you have a social media platform, or a mailing list for your newsletter, or you contribute to public speaking events and panels, or even organise events of your own, you have the power and opportunity to use your platform for good. Take a look around you and see who is “in the room” and who isn’t – who are you recommending, who are you supporting, who are you partnering with, and who are you affiliated with. And if everyone around you looks/sounds/thinks the same, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how that has happened and how you might change that going forward?

It can be easy and comfortable for us to stick with people who think and look like us, but how can we bring about change if we don’t change the way we are working and who we are working with? 

5. Be Open to Feedback/Learning

If you’re trying to do something new, you are going to get it wrong.

You’re going to make mistakes and missteps, no matter how good your intentions may be.

So if you genuinely want to make meaningful change happen, it’s important that you not only do your best to listen to feedback when it is given but also explicitly state your openness to receiving feedback as part of your willingness to learn and keep learning. Not only does this allow you to keep improving and learning, but it makes it safer and easier for people to let you know if/when they feel excluded, hurt or offended by removing barriers to conversations, and naming your intention to listen and receive as graciously as possible.

(That said, if and when you do receive feedback, constructive or otherwise, it’s entirely normal to feel attacked, hurt and defensive yourself! It’s important that you step back, take a breath, and come back when you are ready to respond as openly as possible, rather than shutting down and missing out on not only an opportunity for learning but also connecting.)

With that in mind, I would now love to invite you to share your thoughts on this list – what am I missing, what I have forgotten, and what can we call do better/differently to build a more anti-racist world? Please share your thoughts in the comments below – I would love to hear them.

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