Firstly: if you refuse to admit that white privilege exists, that’s a problem.
As a white, middle class, cis-gender (she/her), able-bodied, educated woman, I walk through the world differently than someone who can’t tick those boxes. I carry a privilege that I have not earned and cannot un-have. This is true whether you agree or not.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve become increasingly aware of how my white privilege influences and informs not only my day-to-day life experiences but also how I show up in my business. With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the year ++ of ongoing divisiveness during the US election and the more recent shocking and unjust decisions of the US president, I am forced to think much more critically about my work in the world.
What do I stand for?
What am I unconditionally committed to?
Who do I want to be in the midst of a chaotic and uncertain political climate?
These questions have been at the centre of almost every coaching call I’ve had since November 8th. They’re at the heart of every email and conversation I have with my friends and colleagues from Canada to Qatar. They’re the reason I created the Stand up to 2017 Resource. They’re why I’m committed to talking about things in my business that are hard to talk about, like: white privilege.
As Rachael Rice said: “The rule of white club is never to talk about white club.”
But we need to talk about it.
The women I know are not all natural born activists, they’re not all on the frontlines of social justice work but they DO care deeply about the world and are committed to showing up in their lives and their businesses in solidarity. They’re ready and willing to think more critically about their impact and to adjust their approach to be much more inclusive, thoughtful and conscientious EVEN when the events or injustices of the world do not directly affect them.
I believe that: Awareness leads to activation. Activation leads to reform.
When it comes to white privilege + marketing, this is what I’m learning, addressing and thinking ever-more-critically about:
Our work can not exist in isolation.
As solo or small-biz owners we have a responsibility to use our platforms to speak out about the injustices unfolding in the world right now. Now more than ever, people appreciate knowing where we stand, what we’re doing, and what we’re unconditionally committed to. Everything is connected. If we choose to stay silent, to not engage, it will be noticed. It will have an impact. Speaking out may mean that we meet trolls, or we lose business from those that oppose our views, but it may also mean that we become a stronger choice for those who stand in solidarity with us.
It’s NOT business as usual.
I feel strongly that we need to *continue* to do our work and get paid for it (even in times of political chaos and uncertainty) but that we must also apply a higher level of insight and forethought to ensuring we link our work to the bigger issues (political, cultural, systemic etc) at play. I believe we need to adjust our messaging so that we are honest and aligned with our values, and deeply respectful of what people are experiencing right now. One of the greatest examples of white privilege is being able to say “I don’t get political.” or… “I’m tired of politics.” This signals that you are privileged by race, class, culture, gender, religion – or all of these things– in a way that protects you from being marginalized, deported, attacked or killed. Not everyone can “opt out” of the fight for human rights.
My colleague Stephanie Pollock modelled this beautifully: “I just sent out an email yesterday to my community, sharing my values and what I stand for (and how I’m navigating the world right now), because it’s important to me that they make an informed choice about whether I’m a fit for their values as well. AND I am not ok staying silent just in an effort to make money and not turn anyone off.”
Discomfort is a doorway.
If you’ve never linked your work to social justice, activism, political, systemic or cultural oppression then speaking out about this through your business may feel scary. Most often we’re afraid that we’re not informed enough to comment or that we may say something and offend someone or worse yet, that we may get publicly criticized or called out. When I feel defensive, avoidant, resistant, called IN or OUT, I remind myself to sit in the discomfort. Sure, it feels like hot bath water that sears my skin and makes me want to recoil. But I work hard to stay with those feelings of discomfort, like letting the heat from the bath dissipate (it always does) and then I get honest with myself about the feedback or criticism. I ask myself: Could I do better? What’s here for me to learn? Then I look for thoughtful ways to adjust my thought process, behaviour, or impact. We can learn so much from staying open and vigilant about our own biases and fears.
Safe space is not a requirement for growth.
I’ve noticed that when white women use the term ‘safe space’ what we’re really talking about is a space that is free from discomfort, where we won’t be judged. I’m learning that what the world needs more of is white women who are committed to unpacking their own implicit biases, white privilege and intersectional feminism rather than staying comfortable. This means our work includes being brave enough to sit in the discomfort of being wrong, criticized, misunderstood, or judged. Instead of asking others to take care of our feelings and ‘adjust their tone or approach’, let’s listen to the message, gut-check what’s true (and what isn’t) and course-correct as needed. My teacher Erica Hines said it best: “Stay humble and willing to fumble.”
It’s time to move beyond ‘well-intentioned white woman’.
Intentions are irrelevant unless they have the desired impact. This means putting critical analysis behind how the daily behaviours in our business explicitly express our intentions (or not). For example, if you’re a solo-business owner who claims your work is about healing, leadership, empowerment, spirituality or self-care but you choose to stay silent in situations of oppression or injustice, aren’t you missing an opportunity for real transformation? Not only that, but is it not disingenuous to preach healing and empowerment yet never address what this means beyond the individual? If you continue to post your daily pre-scheduled social media updates and sales funnel opt-ins as if nothing is wrong, your behaviours may appear out of alignment with your intentions and you may be perceived as disingenuous, shallow or self-serving. Let’s aim instead for ‘well-actioned white woman’. Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
It’s time to move to Other-centered.
If you’re like me, you’re primarily surrounded by people that look and think like you. Start to expand your own perspectives and views of the world by diversifying who you read, follow, friend and care about. Pull up a chair, listen, learn, repeat. Find a way to make a personal connection with someone who is different than you and just listen. When you hear the stories and experiences of those who are directly affected by events or systems that you are protected from it will help you activate in profoundly more committed and meaningful ways. Engage your empathy by interacting with people who differ from you in terms of race, culture or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical and mental abilities. Build connection across difference.
Note: This course was a great starting point for me: Diversity is an Asset.
We can Withdraw Consent.
We have the power to not participate, to unfollow, unsubscribe, and unattend. Especially when those events, people or businesses refuse to make an effort to bring diverse voices to the table, who stay silent and “business as usual” in the midst of injustices.
Layla Saad joined my Facebook thread to say: “I have been systematically unliking any business pages that keep popping up on my feed that have been conducting themselves in this way. I don’t believe in fear-mongering and adding panic and negativity. But more than anything, it drives me crazy when I see small business owners that are acting like it’s business as usual. It’s not. And it makes me see right through them. You don’t have to become an actual activist and completely change your business overnight or stop marketing and selling. But be sensitive to what is happening in the world around you, and see how this is an opportunity to deepen the integrity of your transformational work by saying something instead of keeping quiet.”
Do the right thing even if no one is watching.
We need to let go of our deep need for approval and put our head down to do the work – and there is a lot of work to do to dismantle the institutional systems of white supremacy. This work is about stepping more fully into our own integrity and humanness. We need to commit to the long road ahead.
Awakening is an individual process with individual timing. I am walking into a light of learning that I’ve never stood in before, and while it’s very discomforting, I also know that it’s right. Many of my friends and clients are struggling with their own awakenings, and aren’t sure what to think, or do, or how to change in response. I encourage you to listen to the stirrings inside you, and let me know in a comment: Did this post trigger a reaction for you? What do you think that means? What do these words awaken in you?
Photo credit: Nutch Bicer via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND