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Anti-racism at Work: Honesty, Support, and Commitment By Reachel Knight


HE PANDEMIC WAS A GAME-CHANGER FOR ME. Like everyone, I suddenly had a lot of

time on my hands with nowhere to go and nothing to do. I reflected on my personal and professional life, and all the social unrest associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. As others have shared before, being a Black woman in a predominantly White, male industry comes with challenges—and anyone like me can share the ones they’ve faced. You hear stories about demotions, being overlooked for promotions, and being denied access to certain projects and opportunities, but unless you’ve lived them—which many of us have—it’s hard to grasp. As part of my healing process, I set objectives for myself: ■  First, I wanted to become fluent in the principles of diversity and inclusion and be able to apply them to my everyday life. So, I completed a Leadership and Inclusion Certificate in my spare time. ■  Second, I wanted to be more unabashedly vocal around my experiences of racism, especially in my professional life. The time to turn the other cheek to uncomfortable conversations has passed. ■  Finally, I wanted to create clear expectations of what I need from my employer and colleagues as part of an anti-racist professional environment to guide my professional development. What became apparent to me is the qualities I seek in my professional and personal relationships are the same: honesty, support, and commitment.

Honesty Honesty seems like such a simple concept, but honesty around race and racism is much more complex, especially when defensiveness, anger, and frustration are involved. No one wants to be called a racist or to be accused of racist behavior, but there are too many stories (mine and others) and too many incidents of overt and covert racism to ignore. The intent of anti-racist work is not to dissect each individual instance, but rather to have safe, open discussions that result in forward-focused solutions. (I strive to perfect the art of calling people in versus calling them out: calling people in is a gentler


approach to difficult conversations about race and racism, and is, ultimately, a more effective way to work through problematic behavior.) It’s crucial that individuals and employers do not look to the oppressed to fix the problem of systemic, institutionalized racism. I’ve been in countless discussions where I am looked to for suggestions and recommendations because I’m a person of color. As a Black woman, I’m living in a racist society and trying to navigate it as best I can. I continue to do the work to educate myself, and my expectation is that colleagues, peers, and leaders do the same: It’s no one’s job to educate you but you. It is the responsibility of those with privilege, especially in leadership roles, to champion change and work toward being openly anti-racist, seeking out expert support when needed. Do some quick research online to locate the diversity and inclusion experts in your area who can facilitate important conversations about employee relations, hiring practices and policies, and more.