Although many people feel a degree of relief after the recent verdict in the murder of George Floyd, the contemporaneous news of police killings of children Adam Toledo, Ma’Khia Bryant, and Tyrell Wilson show the depth and breadth of the racial disparities in policing and justice. Every year, mostly white police forces shoot and kill 1,000 individuals who are disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (“BIPOC”).
The impact of such trauma affects people in unannounced and unplanned ways, including in the workplace. Many BIPOC workers already experience low-level stress while navigating predominantly white workplaces, but flashpoints such as this trial can have an acute effect on their mental and emotional health. Employers may not be sure what to do or say in the present moment. It may feel easier to simply say nothing.
The truth is that talking about racism is uncomfortable—and yet absolutely necessary. Silence protects racism, and does nothing to ameliorate the adverse effects it has on workers of color. While companies may rightly fear saying the wrong thing, or opening themselves up to criticism for past racist practices, saying nothing will only increase workers’ feelings of isolation and stress.
Addressing the topic of racism is the first step toward creating an anti-racist workplace. Employers can do this by remembering a few things: Keep your words authentic, consider their impact, and follow the acronym S.T.I.R.
S. State the truth. Reiterate your Company’s beliefs. This can be a simple statement like,
“We believe that all people are created equal and should be treated with dignity and respect. The police killings of persons of color reflect horribly pernicious racism that is antithetical to our company’s values.”
T. Thank your employees for working during these hard times.
“We know that many of you are hurting and yet you continue to show up and work hard for us. Thank you.”
I. Identify resources. This can be as simple as inviting workers to call HR and talk to a qualified staffer, reminding them of an employee assistance program (EAP), and looking for community resources.
“We want to support you during this difficult time. Please remember that HR/EAP is a phone call away and we care about your experience.”
R. Resist. As a company, commit to engaging in anti-racist work to resist systems of oppression. Resistance could include hiring a diversity consultant, reviewing pay disparities between BIPOC and white employees, or starting a company dialogue about racism. Depending on your company, it could also look more overtly political, such as urging local politicians to reform use-of-force guidelines for police departments. Whatever you decide, you must be authentic and commit to follow-through.
Part of authenticity is acknowledging where you have fallen short. For instance,
“We recognize that our company has not prioritized dismantling institutional racism and has missed opportunities to be effective allies. We plan to do better by taking the following actions [describe them]. We also invite your feedback on how we, as a company, can better commit to racial equity.”
Supporting your workers at this time by beginning to take steps toward achieving an anti-racist workplace may require you to S.T.I.R.: State the truth by saying what you believe and why. Thank your workers. Identify resources. Resist oppression and commit to anti-racist actions. While following this simple acronym cannot undo 400 years of institutionalized racism, it can start the necessary, slow work of rebuilding trust and restoring hope, and creating anti-racist spaces one workplace at a time.
Author’s Note: My anti-racist education began in 2020 by taking Speak Up Chicago’s 7-Week Course, “How Do We Talk With Children About Race?” Speak Up Chicago is responsible for generating the fundamental ideas underpinning this post, such as modeling your beliefs and engaging in conversation about racism.