It wasn’t the first time we declined to work with a company, and we are certain it won’t be the last.
As we flagged in our digest 3 weeks ago, Trump issued an executive order banning federal agencies from engaging in training that mentioned America being a racist country or that some people benefit from racism.
This week we were asked by an Inclusion Team at a company where we have a longstanding and powerful partnership, and where the members of this team believe deeply in this work, if we could adapt our upcoming training to censor the words: racism, privilege or stereotypes. They were told to do this at the behest of their in-house Legal team. Continuing with our training, the legal team evaluated, would put their federal contracts at risk as they would need to state their compliance with them, and as we know, the legal team is there to mitigate and reduce company and shareholder risk.
And in that moment, the risk of losing out on revenue and profit was deemed more important than the everyday and ever present risk to Black lives – of walking while black, playing while black, driving while black, sleeping while black – at the hands of police who continue to murder Black people without consequences. Holding firm in pursuing the training as intended was deemed a greater risk worth challenging than the persistent risks to Black lives in America from the historic extraction of wealth through slavery to the defunding of and divestment from Black communities by way of such tactics as voter suppression and mass incarceration.
For any company that has issued Black Lives Matter statements internally or externally – or any statement in service of equity to date – let us be clear that adhering to the terms of the ban and the goal of equity are irreconcilable. You cannot do both at the same time. It is impossible.
It is also impossible to expect equitable outcomes while a company delegates this work to discrete inclusion teams or the communications and marketing division. It’s impossible to achieve equitable outcomes if you approach this as solely within the remit of how team members relate to one another. Unless every division in your company has the analytic frameworks to operate through the lens of building equity to design policy and process in service of that goal at the macro level, your efforts will be futile. Or perhaps worse, your word won’t mean very much to anyone.
And so a prioritisation and a choice has to be made. Which is it?
“But it’s an executive order!” we hear you cry. “We can’t break the rules!”
Throughout history injustice has always been legalised. Acts in pursuit of justice so often made illegal. Now is no different.
And yet here, no rules need be broken. It’s what you’re gaining that needs to be given up.
The stakes may feel higher for some of us in this moment. Yet for those with a stake in the matter of pursuing justice to survive, the stakes have always been high.
This is precisely the time to get clear as a company on what you wish to stand for. Whatever it is – and it may not be to act in service of Black lives – get crystal clear and then act accordingly. Because a prioritisation and a choice will have to be made. What will it be?