As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gather momentum and call for an end to systemic racism across the country, many people have sought to support the BIPOC community through donations, activism, and supporting Black-owned businesses. But in addition to important changes you can make in your personal life, you can also take steps to ensure that your career reflects these priorities.
We turned to Kyana Wheeler, M.Ed, MPA, a consultant and board member of the Non-Profit Anti-Racist Coalition who trains leadership to challenge inequity in their organizations, to find out the questions to ask and steps to take to make their business more antiracist.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
There is no “on” or “off” switch for running an antiracist business. You have to understand the continuum of which it’s a part and see how each point on the spectrum factors into your business.
“Diversity, access, inclusion, equity, anti-racism, and decolonization—they are a continuum. You can be anywhere on that continuum at any time…The further down the continuum you go, the more equitable and antiracist you get.”
Working on diversity is a start, but it doesn’t affect systemic change.
“Diversity is literally a numerical calculation of difference. It is quantifying who you serve, who you work with—it actually has no regard to change. Diversity is going to be transactional. It’s going to be: How can we get this many people into this organization? How can I serve this many people who commonly don’t engage in my organization? Diversity is literally for quantifying. It does not actually have an impact on change.”
Making your business more accessible opens doors to more diverse groups.
“Access [asks], can those people in those categories access your organization? Are there physical barriers? Are there knowledge barriers? Are there language barriers? When they get there, is it possible to engage with someone who’s going to understand their community? If diversity is those numerical categories, access is, can those numerical categories engage with your organization?”
Seeking inclusivity will make those groups feel more welcome.
“When they get there, do they feel included? Do they feel reflected? Do they see people that look like them, who might have some of the same experiences with systems? Can they get into [your] organization, whether it’s through services or working there? Do they feel comfortable? Do they feel seen, valued, and heard? Diversity is really about counting and inclusion is really about those people that you count. Do they feel good there?”
Equity means opening up a seat at the table, but it has its limitations.
“[Creating] equity would be [asking if] those people in those numerical categories who can access your institution—are they at the table helping to make decisions around other folks feeling more included? Are they able to give suggestions?
“Most organizations are comfortable staying at equity because the organization still gets to be self-serving. It still gets to decide the agenda: what’s going to be negotiated, what’s not negotiable. They still get to decide on funding priorities. If somebody at that table says, ‘Hey. we should do it this way,’ the organization can still say, ‘We don’t have money to do it that way.’ They still get to decide who are the communities that get to the table. They built the table, so it’s going to serve them. They’re not going to let the table function in a way that isn’t self-serving.”
Practicing anti-racism means questioning those limitations, if not moving beyond them.
“When we get to antiracism, it [means asking] how is power and gatekeeping upholding the current systems we have. If we’re talking about people being at the table in equity, in antiracism we’re at the table asking, ‘So why isn’t such-and-such negotiable? Why is that the deadline? Are there alternative funding streams? This is the difference between equity and anti-racism…Equity says, ‘We’re going to take our current structure and we’re going to make something new fit inside it.’
“Antiracism seeks to be transformational rather than transactional. Transformation means that you’ve got to dig into the nitty-gritty of what’s not working and what’s possible It means that you are questioning how information is being gatekept; how people are gatekeeping information or funding or decision-making. With antiracism, all of those things are on the table, saying we are all collectively in this and we’ve got to figure this out.”
Holding yourself to the standard of antiracism will be a lifelong practice, one that requires self-awareness and an understanding of the society in which you live.
“Accept the fact that we’re in a racist society. Our society is built on a history of ableism, sexism, heterosexism, nationalism, elitism—all these different things that have caused people to be pushed to the margins our society is built on that history, and our current terrain is the outcome of that history. Part of what it means to be accountable for running an antiracist business is accepting that everything in which we do is racist…How we hold ourselves accountable is interrogating what we hold to be true.
“If you really want to be antiracist, the people who society has deemed not important are the most important people to you. Center those folks, figure out how to navigate institutions to ensure those folks are upheld as the most valuable and most worthwhile to be considered and do your own work. You’ve got to untangle your own socialization from white supremacy [which says] that some people are more worthwhile than others.”
Wingspan will cover one hour of legal consultation for 50 Black business owners or independent professionals looking to get started or take their business to the next level. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little bit about you and your business.