Black History Never Dies: Responding to the B Corp Community’s Call for Racial Equity
February 26, 2020
B Lab’s Director of Inclusive Economies Shares Ongoing Changes and Funding Opportunities at the Nonprofit
This article is a personal perspective from an employee at B Lab, the nonprofit behind Certified B Corporations. In this series, we invite individual B Lab employees to share their experiences, inspiration, hopes, and challenges as they work toward a more inclusive and regenerative world. This edition of B Lab Voices is from B Lab’s Director of Inclusive Economies, Dr. Sloane Kali Faye, Ph.D.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
― Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Asa Black woman, I know the greatest asset I bring to any role is the legacy of my ancestors. My passion for justice comes from the sacrifices made by people like Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Maggie Lena Walker, James Baldwin, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Inspired by the love for their communities, these leaders spoke truth to power, challenging imperialist, White supremacist, capitalist, patriarchial culture. This love made it worth risking their financial, psycho-spiritual, and physical well-being, if it meant future generations would have equitable access to the life chances they were denied.
Black History Never Dies
Black people, and our allies, continue the work that shows our current economic system is not designed to foster equity, diversity, and inclusion, but instead rewards exploitation and hoarding. I take so much pride in my role at B Lab as Director of Inclusive Economies because this position was not created in a vacuum, but in response to increasingly louder calls for social change, which started long ago. Like the people who came before me to foster social transformation, my ultimate job is to make participation in a society and economy that works for everyone irresistible.*
Having worked hard to create more equitable practices in majority-White institutions, I came to B Lab with open eyes. I knew that even though the staff was well-intentioned and passionate about creating positive change, there would still be opportunities for growth in terms of racial equity — within B Lab and across the Certified B Corporation community. I presumed my ideas and priorities for racial justice would need to be meticulously explained, supported by rigorous evidence, and coolly defended. At least, that is how I had learned to navigate graduate school.
While earning my Ph.D. in sociology, I found myself in various academic settings that gave privilege to positivist perspectives, which argued the world was most rigorously understood from a distance. This was counter to the work of justice-oriented scholars like W.E.B. DuBois, Dorothy Smith, Edward Said, Audre Lorde, Chela Sandoval, and Patricia Hill Collins, who showed the importance of understanding society through connection, and engagement with the communities theorized about. In my conventional academic environments, truth was often seen as something to arrive at through adversarial debate. The arguments that were most commonly praised were those that aligned with the masculine and Eurocentric perspectives shared by sociology’s forefathers, and not those scholars who challenged the status quo — many of whom were womxn, People of Color, and LGBTQIA+.
Yet, why has the burden of proof continued to be on thinkers like us? There is no denying that North American societies were literally designed to channel wealth, power, and prestige to White people. The B Corp movement is unfolding within a racially stratified society, in which Black people continue to be economically exploited and marginalized. Arguing that the history of slavery does not directly and currently impact the social, political, economic, and psycho-spiritual realities of Black people in the United States is like denying that climate change is real.
We continue to live in a world in which social identity markers like race, class, and gender are predictors of economic success. Too many people of all genders, races, and nationalities have given their lives to share the knowledge that makes this reality clear.
Racism Does Not Only Exist at the Interactional Level
While most people believe racism only exists at the interactional level, racism can also be expressed subtly through organizational design and practices. This type of institutional racism occurs when decision-makers do not explicitly disrespect racially minoritized groups, but the outcomes of their decisions disproportionately benefit Whites and disproportionately disadvantage others.
Racism will not end when all White people look into their hearts and choose to be kind and proximate to Black people. Individual White people will never end racism because the problem is bigger than people. The problem is Whiteness. The problem is that there is only one human race, but we now live in a racialized social order that confers greater opportunities for social well-being and economic advancement to those racialized as White. This problem is called structural racism.
If anyone has to defend an argument about the urgency of racial justice, shouldn’t the White majority be tasked with defending an illegitimate but continued claim to power? This is not the case because the same system of White supremacy that empowers the social identity of “White” protects it from having to defend itself. In majority-White settings, Black people and our allies are usually expected to be on the defense when it comes to race. As a result, White people get to have the history and social context they never had to learn** not only explained, but justified to them.
B Lab recognizes it cannot delay taking urgent action on the urgent issue that is racial inequity because we think it may rub ill-informed but powerful White people the wrong way. When we do so, we are tip-toeing around White fragility and perpetuating a White supremacist culture. However inconvenient — across society, and across the B Corp movement — this is our current truth.
Like the internal staff who worked hard to have my role created, various leaders across the B Corp movement have spoken truth to people in positions of power within B Lab, and across our broader community. Members of Dismantle Collective — a Person-of-Color-led Collective Action Group of B Corps — especially have consistently, creatively, and powerfully revealed practices that run counter to the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Often, their legitimate concerns about White supremacy, gender power dynamics, and economic accessibility had not been rigorously engaged, nor responded to, with concrete action by B Lab and the B Corp community.
Responding to the Truth the B Corp Community Has Spoken
Climate justice is a term used to describe the need to address the unequal impacts of global warming that lead people across the global south, racially minoritized groups, and people not gendered as cis-het men to suffer the greatest consequences.
Along with several other EDI specialists, including some of those affiliated with Dismantle Collective, B Lab’s internal Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Director, Dr. Ellonda Green, and I worked hard to ensure climate justice was represented at B Lab’s B Climate Leadership Summit. This event is an annual retreat where B Corp business leaders come together to explore ways the B Corp community can address climate change. We were really proud and inspired to see the community show strong interest in this important initiative.
Our team noted that, thanks to the many people who supported with the equity, diversity, and inclusion aspect of this year’s summit, some really positive outcomes came from this gathering. Attendees launched a Climate Justice Task Force to continue exploring and taking action on initiatives related to the intersection of climate and equity. Also, all of the B Corp collective action groups have decided to incorporate climate justice into their work going forward. B Lab is excited to see and support the community in maintaining this commitment going forward.
Still, as we move forward with planning for summits like this, B Lab will make critical changes: People of Color will not be the last to be invited; the agenda will be designed in advance with climate justice issues in mind; and experts of color will not be invited only to discuss equity issues, but to speak to the science of climate change as well.
B Lab has stated that our community’s climate action work emerged spontaneously among B Corps. So, too, did the collaborations with companies willing to fund our annual B Leadership Climate summit, due to the hard work of our internal team. Yet, in social settings, like the B Corp community, events rarely occur totally spontaneously. Rather context, conditions, and practices make some social phenomena more likely to occur than others.
A notable Black B Corp leader once told me: “If my people can’t afford to feed their families, they don’t give a f*&@ about the climate. They don’t.” Of course there are economically marginalized Black people who care about, and are addressing, climate issues. Yet, this leader’s valid point was not meant to be taken literally, but on principle.
In a majority White community, it is not surprising that impact issues that — as one of my White colleagues put it — “White people feel most comfortable talking about” build the most collective momentum and produce the most tangible results. Moreover, the White business leaders who decide such social impact agendas typically do not face the same systemic barriers to accessing resources and relationships necessary to fund an event like the B Climate Leadership Summit.
Putting our learnings from this event into practice, B Lab aims to take a broader perspective, when it comes to how we support collective action groups with EDI focuses like Dismantle Collective and WeTheChange. We must be intentional about equipping groups that are less likely to thrive within the context of our current culture and practices as we simultaneously work to change these dynamics at an institutional level.
Institutionalizing Love Means Resourcing Racial Equity Work
B Lab has indicated that we value and actually love our Black B Corp leaders, and the communities to which they belong. However, love is not enough to change the world.
One-off offerings, like a donation here and there, will not finance the transformative change our communities need.
Just as my ancestors demonstrated the importance of speaking truth to power, they also showed me that verbal dialogue is not the only — or even the most effective — way to communicate. Those in positions of power reveal their truth through actions, not through words. It would be problematic for B Lab — as a majority-White, male-dominated, and class-privileged organization — to hoard our power. Instead we intend to share our power with the B Corp community that makes us who we are.
This year, B Lab will be financially investing in B Corp collective action groups committed to addressing White supremacy within the B Corp community, increasing racial diversity, and creating new offerings and content for racially and ethnically under-represented groups.
Our aim is to take the first small step toward establishing a solid opportunity structure for B Corp community members to take action on EDI initiatives they deem urgent. Specifically, our goal is to increase the presence and wisdom of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian diasporan communities. It is important to create greater space for these voices within the B Corp movement and those prospective B Corp leaders we want to welcome.
More details will become available in the coming months, along with a webinar-style Q&A session. Sign up here to stay up to date with B Lab and the B Corp community’s Inclusive Economies work going forward.
On behalf of B Lab’s leadership, I assure you that we intend to take the lessons Black history has taught us, and the world, seriously. This knowledge was not only meant to be studied, but embodied and applied.
I am excited to carry the work of economic liberation forward with you; our visionary ancestors, from all backgrounds, sacrificed so much that we might have the ability to do so. Together, we will do justice to their legacies.
*The sentence: “Like the people who came before me to foster social transformation, my ultimate job is to make participation in a society and economy that works for everyone irresistible” is inspired by a famous quote by Toni Cade Bambara, a noted black nationalist and feminist who famously stated: “The job of the writer is to make revolution irresistible.”
**Some hyper-linked references in this article mention “White privilege.” It is worth noting that several scholars, including myself, argue that the social benefits conferred to whiteness should not be seen as positive advantages, but as internally harmful and limiting.
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