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You Can't Dismantle What You Can't Name: Anti-Blackness in the Workplace

As coaches and facilitators, we often co-create and use mantras to remind our leaders of transformative mindsets and behaviors that cultivate liberatory workplace cultures and support the outcomes they are working toward. Mantras have a way of synthesizing complex challenges into seemingly simple steps. One particular mantra came to mind as I spent much of this month reading about, discussing, and reflecting upon the conflicting reactions to the use of the “You can’t see me” hand gesture used by both Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. In addition to this instance, the brutal shooting of Ralph Yarl also drew me back to the same mantra.

“You can’t dismantle what you can’t name.”

Despite one instance being physically violent and the other psychologically violent they are still cut from the same toxic tapestry of racism and hate. Over the course of several days and weeks, many news outlets, celebrities, and influencers weighed in and addressed this directly, naming the “hate” and “racism” on display in both instances, however, few named what it really is…”Anti-Blackness.”

Anti-Blackness is a two-part formation that both voids Blackness of value, while systematically marginalizing Black people and their issues. The first form of anti-Blackness is overt racism. Beneath this anti-Black racism is the covert structural and systemic racism that categorically predetermines the socioeconomic status of Black people in this country. The structure is held in place by anti-Black policies, institutions, and ideologies. Oftentimes we are reluctant to call out anti-Blackness, and tuck it under language like “people of color” or “underserved.” The mere mention of Blackness invokes such strong emotions in folks of all backgrounds because America’s relationship with how it treated and currently treats Black Americans remains unresolved and unaddressed. We’re far from reconciliation and healing racial trauma in all bodies, most potently in Black bodies, and anti-Blackness persists as a result.

graphic showing the definition of AntiBlackness

These mainstream instances of anti-Blackness happen every day in the workplace as demonstrated by high turnover rates of Black employees and daily microaggressions, all while Black folks, especially Black women are being asked, and in some cases expected, to take on more for less compensation (Black women made 64 cents for every $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men in 2020). At Google, it’s been reported that while Black employees make up less than 3% of the workforce, they have an attrition rate that is 13% higher than the national average.

These are the systems used to marginalize Black employees in the workplace - the structures that sustain themselves, all while gaslighting Black people into thinking there won’t be any problems if we just “work hard” and “don’t ruffle any feathers.”

There are some organizations that recognize the anti-blackness in our society and workplace and have taken a clear pro-Blackness stance. It is critical to understand being pro-Black does not mean you are anti-everyone else. It actually means the exact opposite. It means you are for everyone and you recognize how marginalized Black Americans are in our society. Because by focusing on pursuing equity and liberation for the most marginalized in our society—Black people—everyone wins.

Pro-Black is a lifestyle that encourages the economic growth and development of Black people as a whole with the purpose of increasing the wealth and population of Black people around the world. Whether spending money at Black-owned businesses in your communities or online. Promoting a love for Black people, encouraging Black youth, and uplifting Black people in America to inspire pride are its sole purposes. It means to be in high support of African-American (Black) people; having a preference of Black people without bashing white people or those otherwise marginalized.

I leave you with a final charge, a call to action. Name Anti-Blackness. Call it what it is when we see it in the media and especially in the workplace. By doing so, you center the needs, talents, skills, experiences, and perspectives of the Black people in your workplace. Be open to learning from them and their experiences, then go beyond listening and commit to taking specific action to ensure the experience of Black folks within the workplace is one where they consistently thrive, innovate, and experience belonging.


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