Ugh. This week sucks. I’ve talked to so many folks in my community over the past few days — as much as possible despite being abroad until last night — and the exhaustion, fear, anguish, and utter despair can’t be overstated. I keep wanting to write that my heart breaks for the black community, but that centers my experience too much. My heart isn’t the point. My sadness isn’t the point. The point is that BLACK LIVES MATTER and white folks need to get on board or get out of the way.
So in that spirit, this is a post for all my fellow white business owners. Every article I’ve read and conversation I’ve had about how to join this fight in an effective, meaningful way advises: BE VOCAL. TAKE PART. Many of you have done that, in private. You are upset. You are reading and sharing articles. You are offering words of support. But not on your business accounts. Not on your websites. And while, yes, online activism can only go so far, I urge you all to do more.
Here are a few common reasons I’ve heard from friends and colleagues who say they are supportive of the movement but don’t post in support of #BlackLivesMatter on their online business platforms.
- “My business is meant to serve my clients/audience, not be political.”
Making a pro-#BlackLivesMatter post on your business page and as a business owner does serve your clients. It might not serve all of them (e.g. the #AllLivesMatter types or the people who are lucky enough to be able to be ignoring this whole hot mess) but it will serve the ones who are personally affected by the continued violence against the black community. And those are the people who want to be seen. Standing in solidarity with them is an important service to your clients/audience. It’s not the be-all, end-all of helpfulness, but it makes a difference to stand up and say, “I hear you. I see you. Your struggle matters." And although some people do think it's radical to insist that black lives really do matter, it’s not the same as endorsing a candidate for office. That would be an issue of politics; this is an issue of basic human rights.
- “I don’t want to alienate people”
Similar to #1, this comment means that some folks in your audience feeling uncomfortable/abandoning your business is something that concerns you more than being a vocal advocate for justice. You already know that the movement is real and necessary. I saw your awesome Facebook post on your personal page eviscerating the naysayers. I know you know that #BLM is essential and legitimate. So why won’t you be supportive on your larger, public platform? Are you afraid of people un-following your page or not booking you because they disagree about whether or not black lives matter? Would you really want to work with someone who denies that systemic racism is enabling these murders? Let them go. It's a part of white privilege that our fear, when considering speaking out, is merely losing customers.
- “I’m afraid I will say the wrong thing”
You don’t have to say much. You can just say #BlackLivesMatter. You can just say their names. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown (to name a few). Just don’t be silent. We have the capacity to reach so many more people through our businesses — past and future clients, their families, their friends. And because of our whiteness, we are more likely to be listened to by fellow white people (sad, but true). So let's be the leaders in these conversations.
- "I don’t want to co-opt another group’s movement."
OK, then don’t co-opt. Be a voice of support and don’t make it about you. Make it about your friends, family, clients, and strangers who are denied basic freedom that we white people experience, simply because of the color of their skin and the racist fuckery that our country was founded on.
- "It won't make a difference."
You are partially right: online activism can only go so far. But I believe that white folks need to be vocal wherever we can. Start conversations with other white folks about privilege, racism, and oppression. Call other white folks in (or out) when you see bullshit. And strive to make sure your concern for justice trumps your concern for white fragility. Here are a few lists (one, two, three) of more things that white people can do to help support the movement beyond being vocal online.