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How to be an anti-racist ally as a local business

July 17, 2020

This is not an easy article to write and it may not be an easy read.  It is not designed to be a set of checkboxes for you to tick and say that you’ve done it. Anti-racism is a lifelong commitment. It’s a business value. For as long as racism as we know it exists.

Image credit Leaf & Co

I have experienced and witnessed direct and visible racism in my own life several times. At school I had teachers treating me differently from white students when we had done exactly the same things, some of the other students had parents who clearly held racist attitude as they were passed down to their children and towards me. Fast forward many years and the day after the Brexit referendum somebody shouted at me to ‘go back home’ from their car window. Only 2 years ago in Berkhamsted I saw a man shout racist comments at a non-white Big Issue seller, and I was the only person who responded to ally and defend her. Those are just the things I am aware of.

And yet, I haven’t been active enough myself.

The reality of the situation was: I was tolerating it. I was so tired of it in my life that I had just accepted it. I am also lucky enough to have some elements of privilege which protect me from it, some of the time.  I am in the minority of people of colour who has access to good education & is fairly affluent. I am one of the very lucky ones. I don’t have to face it every day, it just pops up every now and then and reminds me it still exists. And so, I acknowledge my privilege and have pledged to be actively antiracist going forward, on behalf of those with less privilege than me. As a business owner, I’ve pledged to bring it fully into my business, and that’s why I’m writing this today. I hope to inspire and support those of you who want to be allies and don’t know quite what to do yet.”

2020 has been a difficult year for local businesses because of coronavirus. It’s been a difficult year globally due to the pandemic but discussions around anti-racism are equally prevalent, challenging and emotive – as the world gets to grip with the true realities of racism and we begin to understand it’s history. In the UK black people are 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. A survey in 2019 shows that 71% of ethnic minorities experienced racism (up from 58% the previous year).  It is also important to understand that the history of slavery plays an important part in understanding systemic racism. Britain industrialised black enslavement in the Caribbean, initiated systems of apartheid all over Africa, using the appropriation of black land, resources and labour to fight world wars and then used it again for peace time. Britain therefore lead the way for this systemic racism and it is a part of our a society today. Anti-racism means to acknowledge the permanence of racism through organisations, industries and communities, and to recognise that racism is a system of disproportionate opportunity and disadvantage or penalty based on skin colour. BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of colour) educators are encouraging us all to view things simply in this way:

We are either anti-racist or racist. This encouragement is coming because of the prevalence of racism globally for BIPOC happening for so long. It is systemic. Supporting a clear anti-racist cause allows you to be part of the solution and the eradication of racism over time. It might seem scary to talk about racism in your business or on behalf of your business. If you’re a yoga teacher (as I am), a jewellery shop or a cafe, it perhaps doesn’t immediately obviously how anti-racism can apply to you. It might seem ‘off message’ or irrelevant. It may also be scary because you’re worried about saying the wrong thing – using the wrong terminology and offending somebody without meaning to. It doesn’t have to be like that. If we, as businesses (and people), take an honest reflection of ourselves and our organisations  – it can be viewed as a real sign of strength to admit where there are areas we can work on to support anti-racism better.

Many businesses popped a #blackouttuesday square on their social feeds a few weeks ago, which is a great start, but there is much more depth to the issue than that. Racism will not go away until allies who have the racial privilege that BIPOC do not actively amplify their voices and truly listen to what is being asked to help end this.

This list is intended as a starting point, there are many more resources out there to use and many more ways to help. But starting is much better than doing nothing.

 

Educate yourself

The most important thing you can do is take some time to educate yourself so that you can make some genuine and committed changes within your business. If you put a black square on your timeline and haven’t done this yet – I suggest you do it ASAP so that you can back up that square with some action. Set out to research and understand ‘white supremacy’ and ‘white fragility’ as they underpin a lot of what is going on. There are some really fantastic BIPOC educators out there that you can learn from, many podcasts to listen to, social media accounts to follow and books to read. I personally recommend following

@everydayracism_ on instagram,

reading ‘Me and White Supremacy’ by Layla F Saad, and ‘White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism’ by Robin DiAngelo, as well as ‘Brit(ish): On race, identity and belonging by Afua Hirsch. If you like to listen rather than read – the podcast About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge is a good start

 

We all have to understand that racism is inside of all of us in some way. You can have inherited racist views that you’re not even aware of from your childhood somehow and still endeavour to do the best you can to be aware of them and be anti-racist.

If these terms make you uncomfortable, please try to remember that BIPOC have experienced hundreds of years of discomfort (to put it extremely lightly). To be antiracist is to sit with the discomfort of what our ancestors have done or have experienced and aim to be a better ancestor ourselves. Nobody is blaming you (or your business!) specifically for what has happened – but all of us have to be a part of changing it.

It isn’t something that we can opt out of and call ourselves anti-racist. Once you’ve done this education you might immediately see how your business can be more anti-racist.

 

Here are some further ideas to explore.

 

Donating

It is a financially difficult time, but if your business is doing well enough to consider donating to causes that support anti-racist work then please do. You might consider offering a percentage from a particular product to these causes. Black Lives Matter UK are seeking donations for education, activism, changes to lawmaking and aiding other anti-racist charities in the UK.
https://www.gofundme.com/f/ukblm-fund

One of the largest anti-racist forces in the UK, Stand Up to Racismorganise marches and calls to action with membership of just £2 month. https://www.standuptoracism.org.uk/join-donate/

Founded in memory of Stephen Lawrence, the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Fund seeks to work with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed in the career of their choice regardless of their background. https://www.stephenlawrence.org.uk/support-us/

Buy from businesses run by BIPOC

As businesses we all need to buy from other businesses. Look at your list. Are any of them run by BIPOC? If not, do they have any BIPOC employees? See who you can support that you aren’t supporting already from a BIPOC background. How does this help? It helps to close the racial wealth gap, where historically BIPOC have been discriminated again and ultimately prevented from wealth building.

 

Feature BIPOC

If your business requires you to feature others (models, other businesses) – do a proper reflection and review of what proportion of the time you feature BIPOC. Set yourself a goal to actively seek themout and feature them. Be careful not to just plaster your social media with images with BIPOC and nothing else. This is not a marketing exercise. This is a genuine commitment to showcasing people who will have been disadvantaged or penalised in some way based on their skin colour. It is also a genuine commitment to being representative of all the cultures and types of people that make up your potential customers in what you produce.

 

Protest

It is possible do this in a social distanced and responsible manner, Black Lives Matter UK have been involved in organising many of these protests around the country and they continue. If you feel able to attend a protest in person – this another way to show support and be an ally.

There are many more things you can do, but these are where you could start.  Even though I am a person of colour (having experience racism throughout my life), I am not black, and I have been through this above process myself recently to try to ally more with the black community. I am still doing it. It is not easy. You may be confronted by things you don’t like, but if you do the work and commit to this you will be able to play a part in ending systemic racism, contribute and connect even more deeply to your local community, and have your brand known as one that stands with people who need it as a matter of priority.

 

Sources for data points given:

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/may/04/stop-and-search-new-row-racial-bias

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/20/racism-on-the-rise-since-brexit-vote-nationwide-study-reveals

 

Raeeka

Her website: http://www.lovemindbodyheart.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/raeekayassaie/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/raeekayassaie/