Systemic Racism and Business

In light of the George Floyd murder and the consequent marches for justice, it is not just enough to throw out another instagram post or another hashtag. I think we are all tired of social media action that doesn't translate to social change. And for the first time on this business blog, I am going to call it what it is. It is systemic racism. It is not a black people issue,it is a humanity issue. What is business if it not about creating solutions to humanity's problems? 


I have battled with that heading given that I did not want to ruffle feathers or make people uncomfortable. But it is a little peak into the world I live in. I am willing to pay the price for speaking my truth. At the same time , I will hold truth and grace in tension. It is not one or the other, it is both and. 




TRUTH

You see systemic racism is covert racism. It is not a lynching or slavery of people. These are overt. Rather,it is in the thought process. It is the fact that Apple has acknowledged that their facial recognition feature on iPhone has a problem recognising black and brown faces. Therefore, it takes me twice as long to unlock my iPhone than it would a white person. It was never designed with me in mind. Not my face, not my name or how I speak. Yet, it is an international product in a world that has more black and brown faces than white faces.


Similarly, when they made the Health app they forgot to track periods for women because it was mostly coded by men. They did not have women in mind. Until three years ago, there was only one shade of foundation carried by Boots No. 7 for black and brown women.

When you design a world that fits your features, that doesn't make you hateful, malicious or evil. But understand that it is a size that doesn't fit all. What has happened is that white faces have become the standard bearer for the design of iPhone's facial recognition features. Now imagine a whole system built with only one standard bearer in mind and yet it is supposed to fit all. 


The subtlety of this thought permeates into the design of business products, businesses and organizations we build. It is a patriachiacal work system, that is somehow supposed to accomodate women. Whoever and whatever we hold as the standard bearer, will inevitably have to change to fit in this disparate and diverse world. Otherwise we create an elitist culture, where we think of ourselves as a race and other people are just ethnicities. It is any sytem that puts people down by dehumanising, creating double standards intentionally or otherwise.


Let's not kid ourselves,there is also racism in black and brown cultures. Best exemplified by the caste system in most Asian cultures. Systemic racism is condoning the fact that my phone does not recognise my black face. This happens when the majority are the beneficiaries of the system as designed and therefore no need for change. So when someone says you've got white priviledge and you can't see it; it is because every system was designed with you in mind.


Systemic racism is condoning the fact that my iPhone does not recognise my face. It was not designed with me in mind.This is covert racism

Overt racism is writing into the American constitution that black people are 2/3 human. Any system built by dehumanizing another human is not just.

GRACE

As a result of the sweeping Me too movement, we saw alot of organisations become aware of the plight of women who are not served by the existing work system. It was just the beginning.

June is gay pride month and that is  new system built after dismantling a system that was designed for heterosexual people. These are just examples of changing systems and organizations that have had to start with changing the organism. The evolution is not complete ,it has just started.


Grace requires that I go beyond the surface and meet the human. I have had to build a bridge to understand people who have been racist to me. What I am asking, is for the grace to be reciprocated back to me.  This requires a change of thought and mind. 


The problem is we think that the work is done legislatively. Once we pass a law,we make it illegal to discriminate. There's no law that can change thoughts or hearts. This doesn't negate the progress made by passing legislation. What it is supposed to do is start conversations. Imperfect and uncomfortable conversations. Creating safe spaces where people ,whose intention it is to learn, become aware and stop being ignorant. Conversations that not only confront both anger and ignorance in all cultures but also lead to action and understanding. 


ACTION


After understanding/awareness then what? What can you do in the moment? Despair or guilt is not a strategy for change. The good news is that you can do something!

  • Since we are at home due to COVID-19, we are already in safe spaces where our world views are shaped. Start an imperfect and uncomfortable conversation there. Check your thoughts about people of different races. Challenge and question any thought process or opinion about another human being that is as a result of putting them down to make yourself feel better.

  • Join a march, this is a human issue. If I knelt on a dog's neck and choked it to death, what kind of outrage ,empathy and action would that garner? Would it be greater or less than this? Would you march?

  • Become aware. Learning always sheds light on our ignorance. Talk to people who don't look ,think or act like you. Get out of your comfort zone. This is the only way to diversify our thoughts.

  • There's unity and creativity in diversity. So diversify intentionally.


PS:Please wear a mask if you choose to march.  


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