It’s a question I ask myself a lot.
What do I owe? What can I do?
I mean I’m just one white dude. I don’t run a huge company. I have so much on my plate, with clients, and deadlines, and deliverables, and culture. It’s too much already.
So what do I owe BIPOC people?
I know I owe more, but this is what I came up with…
1. I owe them remembering – Being white means I have the privilege of forgetting. About slavery, discrimination, hate speech, micro-aggressions, and all the trappings of systemic racism.
It’s so easy for me to forget, to let it fade in my mind, to let it be someone else’s problem, and to pay it “lip service” and nothing else.
At the very least I owe remembering that the system I live in, make money in, pay taxes in, and maybe someday raise children in is a system that benefits few and harms others. I didn’t choose or design this system, but I have benefitted from it and it has harmed good people.
I can start by simply remembering that truth instead of letting it fade away.
2. I owe them anti-racism – I grew up in the era of being color blind, race not mattering and being a taboo subject, and for a long time I thought simply not burning a cross or using the N-word when I recite rap lyrics was enough.
But it wasn’t, it isn’t, and it never will be. I owe them more than merely avoiding racism or being overtly racist. I owe them being actively anti-racist, which starts with learning and listening and continues with a commitment to acting and growing.
I owe them by acting in a way to actually COUNTERACT racism. Hiring more people of color, voting my conscience, donating money, and learning to speak and think in an anti-racist way.
3. I owe them leadership – If I claim I am a leader does that mean I only owe my leadership to other people of privilege? With a gentle nod or the inclusion of some token people of color in my life?
Leadership isn’t about being in charge, it’s about being ON THE HOOK for the world we create. Leadership is about being inside our social circle, companies, and communities.
I don’t need to ‘save’ BIPOC people with my leadership. I need to LEAD non-BIPOC people to join me in the movement. I do this by being responsible for that which I didn’t create. A racist system, inherent bias, unfair pay advantages, and more. I can hire trainers to help create an anti-racist company, I can be on guard and out front, leading others to say, “let’s have this hard conversation, let’s risk making mistakes and looking foolish, let’s risk being leaders”.
As an entrepreneur, I am good at building a company and inspiring others to follow, but if the end result of that is simply to fill my own pockets or the pockets of others with privilege then what good is my leadership? .
I don’t need to stop what I’m doing and change the world. I need to take what I’ve learned as a leader, as a founder, as a risk taker and be willing to put my heart where my mouth is.
This, at least, is what I owe BIPOC people as a white leader.