Experts show how it takes more than black boxes to stand against racism

Updated: Sep. 18, 2020 at 8:55 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Remember blackout Tuesday? On June 2, a week after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, people, companies and organizations quickly scrambled to post a black box to declare they are not racist.

Companies created new ads, slogans, websites with banners declaring Black lives matters, statements to stand against racism, or declarations to create diversity, and inclusion.

But let’s pause for a moment. Was there any real change?

Enlightened Solutions a Cleveland based company explains why this sort of thing is called performative allyship.

Companies like Refinery 29 made headlines when they were caught.

“Their employees, the black employees were repeatedly disciplined, harshly disciplined," said Chinenye (“ChiChi”) Nkemere. “They were repeatedly put at lower rungs in their in their company. The media heads of refinery 29 only chose two or three black celebrities that they would highlight. However, they would state that other darker skinned or outside of their beauty standards, celebrities, we’re not individuals to sell them. Right. And what ended up happening was the black employees were able to screenshot and put up these emails on Twitter and literally say, Your words are one thing, but your actions are doing the exact opposite.”

“I saw companies post a black square that have not one black person on their entire Instagram feed, or that doesn’t have a black person on our staff,” said blogger, Courtney Ottrix. “So it’s like you say this, but your actions don’t show that you support this.”

Your words are one thing, but your actions are doing the exact opposite.

“Many times with performative allyship, you’re utilizing your employees, your employees that have diverse identity, so your black employees, your female employees, your lower staff to draft these ideas. And then you get a rubber stamp by an executive that says these are our ideas when you’re really just using the labor and the words of a marginalized person," Chinenye (“ChiChi”) Nkemere.

“As a white person here to have this conversation, I want to tell other white people this is a white people created problem and we need to be solving it we need to be participating in solving it,” said Bethany Studenic.

A recent article in fortune magazine says corporate performative allyship is going unchecked.

“Where we went to college or we went to a trade school or we gathered skills to be able to do our jobs. We did not gather these skills to be your diversity and inclusion experts in the workplace.”

Finding a solution to systemic issues means skipping the work place committees and using information and data to create change.

Bethany and ChiChi launched Project Noir to research the lived experiences of Black Women in Cleveland, Ohio based on three livability metrics: health conditions, education and income/workplace status.

“Bloomberg News put out a report saying that Cleveland is still the worst place in America for black women to live work, receive an education and receive health care,” said Nkemere. “And so we knew we wanted to focus on black women at that particular intersection because of how marginalized our city makes them.”

With hundreds of women responding to Project Noir’s survey-- the stories range from workplace harassment and bullying to deep societal issues.

“And our hope is to utilize that all those stories, all those conversations to generate a white paper focusing on what can organizations do better? We want to give women particularly black women tools to protect themselves as they’re participating in these systems that are not designed for them," said Studenic.

It’s not just a multiple choice survey, Bethany and ChiChi are doing personal interviews with subjects.

“I think the most common theme that we keep seeing within the project new our research is that black women across all industries, all ages, all experiences are not given grace. And that is a word that keeps coming up in every single personal interview that we have,” said Nkemere.

While some companies create committees and task forces to outwardly show they’re tackling racism in the work place, that’s creating more work, and more pressure on the very employees who are marginalized.

“Here’s an example of a younger black woman, a millennial was talking about her workplace, and was really frustrated with the idea that again, just like a lot of different jobs, there was another diversity and inclusion committee that she was supposed to be a part of," continued Nkemere. "And they’re burdening her with the idea of drafting and creating these new policies, these new systems, but she’s also got to do her actual job, her regular, regular job. She’s juggling two things at the same time, and her regular job started to slip. And instead of her organization to look at her and say, Oh, you know what, let’s take this a little bit slower. Let’s give her a little bit more time. She wasn’t given grace, and she was immediately fired.”

“For women in general, we know that workplaces are not accommodating," said Studenic. “And in particular, in Cleveland, we’ve seen a larger wage gap than we do nationwide. We’re not doing a good job for women here in Cleveland. It’s very troubling.”

If you would like to participate in the survey you can click the link to connect.

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