It’s Time to Be Uncomfortable

To say 2020 has been different is an epic understatement. It started with COVID-19, but that's only the beginning. 

The Black Lives Matter movement, the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, our current political environment and more have all forced organizations and brands to reevaluate their place and role in society.

It’s not enough just to have a good service or product at a fair price. It’s not enough to just not offend. Staying silent isn’t an option anymore. Even if organizations and brands wanted to stay silent and bury their heads in the sand, society simply won’t let them.

People are demanding to know where brands stand. What they’re doing to make the world a better place. How they’re fighting systemic racism internally and externally.

And that’s when things get real.
You can’t just “woke-wash” your way through this moment. When you really try to change, you have to ask hard questions. And you have to expect to be asked hard questions as well. It’s uncomfortable — and that’s a good thing. Uncomfortable conversations mean that organizations must truly listen to their Black employees, and learn that what they thought was an inclusive work culture actually wasn’t. If organizations truly reflect on their values, what they stand for and what they believe, then some progress will be made. 
And I’m not throwing stones. Every individual and organization has played a role in perpetuating injustice. Everyone has done or said something bigoted, and I’m no exception. Admitting our failures is the hardest and most critical part of growing. That doesn’t mean we need to hold others, or ourselves, to impossible standards. But unless we look at the mistakes we’ve made, we’ll only make them again. Without looking at our failures, we can’t evolve or make progress. 
Nebo is no exception either. We have always aspired to be inclusive, to value and love everyone. We thought we could improve in recruiting and in other areas, but we had no doubt that we were an open, loving and inclusive agency where everyone felt valued.

But not everyone felt valued. Or safe. Or comfortable. Too many of our employees didn’t feel comfortable telling us that we struggled to make them feel like they belonged. 

Systemic racism is hard to root out. Hidden structures and cultural norms make fighting systemic racism incredibly, if not impossibly hard even now, when we’re more aware of it than ever before.

We were proud to support the Black Lives Movement. We were proud to make Juneteenth a holiday Nebo recognizes.

We thought we were living our values as an inclusive place that wouldn’t stand for one ounce of bigotry.

Then, someone asked, “If black lives matter this year, why didn’t it last year or five years ago?”

I was so grateful that this person had the courage to ask this question (and did so in a group setting).

However, I also had to be uncomfortable giving my reply. I said we should have, but that we didn’t truly understand the prevalence and depth of the problem. We didn’t understand the true gravity of the situation. We didn’t know that every Black person experiences law enforcement very differently than their white counterparts. 

It was difficult to admit that I personally didn’t understand or act more quickly, but also it’s tough to admit that Nebo didn’t speak up more and take real action sooner. And that wasn’t the first uncomfortable, embarrassing admission we had to make. 

Many of us also had never learned about Juneteenth. Many of us never knew about the Tulsa massacre. This wasn’t taught in the schools that many of the people on our team attended.

Admitting this was also tough. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. And we have an obligation to learn about these things and more and fight our way through our respective bubbles. This is even more important for people like me, who have benefited from the systemic favoritism of white people, especially white males.

Meanwhile, too many people (African Americans, women, religious minorities, LGBTQ+ and more) have always had to be uncomfortable.

I think the only way we can make progress is to be uncomfortable together. To listen. To learn. To heal. And finally, try to slay the dragon that has haunted America since its founding.

America was founded on noble ideals, but also upon bigotry. And even worse yet, upon slavery. These noble ideals were intended for white men only. We’ve always tried to pretend that wasn’t the case. Not dealing with the truth was easier than facing it.

The thing we probably got most right in our constitution was the realization that we weren’t perfect, and that the constitution, laws and our country needed to continue to evolve. To do that we have to realize that none of us are perfect. 

We also need to realize that our organizations and brands aren’t perfect. That certain groups have been treated unfairly. Period. We can’t nuance bigotry, bias or systemic racism.

The only way forward is to have honest, transparent and uncomfortable conversations and truly listen to and love each other. Then we can turn the things we learned into action and change.

Right now, we’re working on several initiatives, but we also know that they’re not enough.

Over the past few months, we’ve created a separate HR task force to improve our diversity recruitment process, donated our time and resources to help pass the Georgia Hate Crimes bill by building this advocacy site, and have done a few other pro bono and internal initiatives to make sure all of our employees feel loved, valued and respected. 

We also recognize the importance of protest as a means of social change and have encouraged our employees to participate in lawful protests during work hours.  

We’re also planning to get a group together to explore opportunities for additional pro bono partnerships with advocacy groups. We’ll also be providing all employees and their family members access to legal counsel for encounters with police related to protesting or police encounters rooted in bias. We’re still working through the details and processes regarding how we bring this to life. We’re also trying to put together a workshop on knowing your rights and how to be a bystander for justice during one of our upcoming internal lunch-and-learns. 

However, we need more ideas.

We need to make better, faster progress. 

Although recruiting, retaining, and growing African American and minority talent is only part of the bigger picture, it’s something we have to get better at immediately. Only 10% of Nebo is African American. We need to do better.

We’d love to hear from others about the things they’re doing to drive change.

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below or by emailing me directly.

Written by Brian Easter on July 17, 2020


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