What you need to know before reading: I'm a queer white woman. Over the last few years, I've had lots of conversations around my other business (an online lingerie boutique geared to the LGBTQIA+ community), with folks in the lingerie and fashion industries who insist "business isn't political" and that "you need to be above politics" and that "politics doesn't affect our businesses, anyway."
The bigoted arguments that I field as a queer business owner are similar to what I see my fellow white entrepreneurs say when it comes to #BlackLivesMatter. Hundreds of black men and women - straight and LGBTQIA+ - have been murdered this year alone, the result of systemic racism and xenophobia that manifests in police brutality, in the ad-hoc life-and-death, jury and executioner position to which too many police officers appoint themselves.
And to this, white business owners send out their newsletter, as scheduled, with no acknowledgement of the systemic trauma their POC readers, clients, and customers are going through. White business owners keep their social media automated and on schedule. White business owners promote their latest e-course or workshop.
White business owners act like nothing has happened - leaving the tragic impression that perhaps, for them, nothing did.
This is white supremacy in action, friends.
These actions from white business owners say, "Business isn't political." Code for, "Not my problem." Code for, "I don't have to care about you." Code for, "I am not invested in dismantling my own white privilege and working for the equality of everyone."
It is political. It is your problem. You do have to care. As my friend Fiona Benjamin commented on Periscope yesterday, if you are taking black dollars, you better care about the lives behind those dollars.
But also? (And do we honestly have to say this?) Black. Lives. Matter.
You are Paris, but you are not Philando Castile, you are not Alton Sterling, you are not Sandra Bland, you are not Travyon Martin.
Peel off those media callouses and let the reality of what's happening sink in.
There are three points here, and some action steps. This is not particularly elegant or eloquent. I hope you read anyway.
1. @@Stop saying your business isn't political@@
It is. The ability to check out of a conversation, side step it, and go about your daily life "uninterrupted" by "politics" like black men and women getting murdered by police? That's privilege, friend.
(We could talk about white people's access to resources - which generally comes easier - or whether the folks at City Hall gave you a hard time about your business paperwork or whether your spouse can't be on your heath insurance cause you live in a state that criminalizes LGBTQIA+ or you've worried about whether you can bring your same-sex or other-race partner along on a business trip or, you know, any number of things.)
2. Say something
"I don't know what to say." Say that. (Don't ask black people to educate you or catch you up to speed. Do your own research. Google is your friend.)
"It's not my place." It's not your place to talk over black and brown folk today or to co-opt an experience that isn't yours.
@@It is your place to check white privilege@@ (your own and others'), to hold your representatives and local PD accountable, to demand change on a national level, to stand in solidarity.
There is one thing I can promise you: your black and brown customers do not assume you are for them unless you say something.
I feel this way as an LGBTQIA+ person: you aren't an ally or a comrade until proven otherwise.
Your people don't know about your sister's black husband and your adorable nieces and nephews. They don't know that your best friend is trans. They don't know that people in your "real life" consider you a loving, inclusive person.
They don't know because you are operating under the assumption that your business is "separate from" or "above" politics. And this is the very definition of white privilege.
Black and brown folks? Their businesses are not separate from politics today. Their people are grieving. They are grieving.
If something traumatic happens and you are inclined to carry on business as usual, chances are you are operating from a place of immense privilege.
To draw a parallel: after Orlando, I noticed every person on my Twitter Timeline or Facebook Newsfeed who said something about LGBTQIA+ rights, equality, love. Who expressed outrage at what had happened. I paid attention to the corporations, like Google, that responded to the tragedy, who painted their logos in a beautiful rainbow.
Notably, corporations are not speaking out in solidarity with their black customers and employees. Corporations are silent. This is white supremacy at work.
You, as a small business owner, have the chance to speak against this, to stand with your POC family.
If you are silent, you are complicit. You are part of the problem. As Desmond Tutu, a South African minister, famously said:
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
@@It's not comfortable to speak up. Doing the right thing is rarely comfortable.@@
Do it anyway.
3. Think about who you want your audience to be
"I don't want to offend my customers."
Your white customers, you mean?
Do you really want bigots in your audience?
4. Stop making excuses and do something
No, you should not try to lead the #BlackLivesMatter movement or co-opt black leadership in the Times Square protest. Don't be that person. But YES, you should support #BlackLivesMatter and efforts to dismantle white supremacy in this country. And your business can support them, too.
Here are a few things you can do:
Reach out to your black and brown friends, colleagues, community
Maya Elious tweeted this:
And y'all. That's so real.
After Orlando, the worst thing to experience was silence from folks. People who just went on posting about their daily lives. I figured they didn't know what to say, but their silence was deafening. It felt like they didn't care. @@Don't be a business that doesn't care.@@
When people reached out - even if just with heart emojis, or to say "I don't know what to say but I'm thinking of you" or "I love you" - y'all. I cannot express what that meant.
I've been the person who was too scared of saying the wrong thing, so I said nothing. White people get paralyzed when this happens, and our fear of being branded a "racist" outweighs our love and care for our community. Y'all know what I'm saying.
Reach out to your people. Tell them you love them.
Write your representatives
Check out the interactive map at Campaign Zero to find out how your representatives are voting (or not voting) on issues around gun control, police brutality,
Donate to a black organization, if you can
Like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Sign up to be involved
Check out staywoke.org.
Keep the conversation going
After 48 hours, white people drop out of this conversation.
Don't drop out.
Follow and support black bloggers, activists, preachers, writers, creatives. Retweet. Repost. Use your platform. Talk to your bigoted family and friends. If you're a teacher or educator, check out the Ferguson Syllabus. Engage with customers who say "it's not my place/your place to speak about this." Engage with other white people who don't know what to do or how to feel.
@@Dismantling white privilege goes one step a time.@@
And dismantling white supremacy?
That's our job. That's on us. So let's do it.
It's easy to feel helpless, and one action, singularly, is probably not going to topple a centuries-old system of oppression overnight.
@@But there is power in many people doing many small things.@@
You can speak up.
And if you care, you should.
P.S. This blog post got a shoutout on Racist Sandwich, the podcast about race, gender, and food. Take a listen here.