Written by Aisha Marshall, VP of branding and digital marketing, and Destinee Dickerson, VP of public relations and digital marketing, Creative Label.
Systemic oppression and racism have thrived within professional spaces for decades. Even as black entrepreneurs who have their own business, we still encounter racism. Dangerously subtle or overt microaggressions have plagued people of color in various professions. It is only now that accountability is slowly seeping into corporate systems, causing a long-overdue shift in how we treat anti-racism within the workplace.
The first step to anti-racism in the workspace is to acknowledge the power of allies. An ally is someone who is not a member of an underrepresented group but who takes action to support that group. It is no longer enough to be passively anti-racist. Posting in solidarity on social media means very little when the racist systems go unconfronted. Trust us, as marketing and public relations professionals, black audiences see right through performative activism. True solidarity comes in the form of action.
Check out the tips below if you are searching for ways to become a better ally at work.
Acknowledge That You Can Be an Ally At Any Level
You do not have to be in high positions of power to make effective change. As a white person, if you feel you cannot affect change as a lower-level employee, you are not aware of the power of your privilege. The first step is to acknowledge that being a good ally means getting honest with yourself about your privilege. To be a good ally, you have to understand that your actions may go against people who look like you in supporting the underrepresented group. At times it will be uncomfortable, but you must remain active and consistent. Allyship is not a noun; it is a verb.
American activist Marian Wright Edelman once said, “education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” If you want to actively support your friends and co-workers of color, take the initiative to educate yourself on their culture, history, and movements. The Racial Equity Tools Glossary is an excellent resource for understanding different terminology and its relation to the movement.
Another step in education is breaking the echo chamber by diversifying employees at all levels, social groups, and personal and professional social media feeds. No, this does not mean enlisting one or two people of color to be peppered tokens within your mostly white circles. It means actively seeking knowledge, listening, and taking notes on others’ experiences, even if they make you uncomfortable. If you are looking to expand your knowledge during your social distancing downtime, check out these excellent reading suggestions!
Understand Your Privilege
This one is a biggie! When you have privilege, equality can feel like oppression. It is important to note that when minorities ask white people to acknowledge their privilege, it is not an attack. Reject the victim mentality that hinders you from hearing other sides. Also, be conscious of your guilt and do not insert your personal experiences into a narrative that is not about you. Though your intent may be to show support through empathy, expressing your guilt prioritizes white feelings.
Don’t Expect Praise
If you are expecting a pat on the back for standing against racism, don’t. This is not about you, and awaiting validation for doing the right thing is the opposite of being an ally. True allyship is valuing impact over attention.
Keep That Same Energy
We live in an age of trends and challenges that often fade quicker than the seasons. It is crucial to be clear that fighting racial injustice is a matter of life and death, not a social media trend. When people go back to posting their “normal content,” we need allies to keep the same energy in your home, at work, around your non-Black friends, and around your Black friends. Protests and death should not be the motivating catalyst for you to show your support. Continue to advocate and support Black art, media, charity, schools, business, etc. even AFTER the attention dies down (if it ever does).
Research the entities or companies you support or work for and make sure they are aligned with your values. Expand your criteria and standards when job hunting. In addition to inquiring about health care and benefits packages, assess how many non-white positions of power are within the company. If the answer is none, consider speaking out or looking elsewhere. Taking the initiative to ensure you surround yourself with diversity is a significant step.
If you work for or own a company that values community outreach, consider tailoring your programs to Black organizations. If you cannot make monetary donations, donating time and resources can be just as impactful.
We know this can be easier said than done at times, but calling out injustice is necessary. Do not be afraid to check a co-worker or lose a friendship with someone who does not share the same allyship as you. Part of being an ally is knowing that you are contributing to a bigger movement than yourself.
Speaking up does not always have to be confrontational. Often ideas from certain marginalized groups tend to be overlooked or appropriated. If you see this happening, call it out by drawing attention to your Black colleagues’ contributions. This approach not only offers credit but highlights your co-workers’ value to the team.
Help Open Up Space in the Workplace
There are two ways we suggest supporting diversity in your workplace. One, if you are in HR or in an upper management position, hire a diverse team. What better way to have the representation of all races as part of your staff? Two, if you are an employee working in a predominantly white space, request your management/HR department to start diversifying your workplace.
Show Yourself Grace
Becoming a great ally does not happen overnight. It takes guts, dedication, and a commitment to learning. It is okay to make mistakes or be unsure. The important thing is to allow yourself grace and time to learn more about racism and becoming the best ally you possibly can.
Don’t Be Afraid to Have Difficult Conversations
We live in a society that prioritizes white comfort. Drop the notion that the issue of racism is political, it is not. It is a human rights issue. To combat workplace racism, we have to be willing to have difficult conversations. It is all of our jobs to provide safe spaces for these conversations and spaces in which white privilege can be called out, and white people can ask questions. Many people in their hearts may not feel that they are racist, but there are ways in which they operate that are insensitive or at the expense of others. Though some actions may not be intentional, it is essential to acknowledge and understand the negative impact they have on the people around you. Having these conversations is the only way to encourage consistent education around privilege. The education that will spark change.
About the Authors
Aisha Marshall, VP of branding and digital marketing, Creative Label
Creativity and Aisha go hand in hand. Having worked in creative development and its impacts on digital strategy, she has adopted a special niche for finding the most unique visuals for clients. Aisha is an Arizona State alumni, having a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication and a Juris Doctor from ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Aisha was also a former ASU Spirit Leader, and she still enjoys dancing in her free time.
Destinee Dickerson, VP of public relations and digital marketing, Creative Label
Des has an eye and a passion for production. She has worked behind the scenes of major TV shows and networks such as The Dr.Phil Show, Lifetime, HGTV, and YouTube. Des knows what is visually appealing to an audience. This is why creating successful marketing campaigns and visually appealing digital content is her forte. Podcast and video production is her niche, and she loves being able to bring a client’s vision into an audio/visual reality. When Des isn’t working behind the scenes, she loves kickboxing and photography.