To Tackle Racism and Drive Change, We Must Lean Into Discomfort

June 30, 2020

How the B Corp Community Is Learning from History and Advancing Anti-Racism Work

How the B Corp Community Is Learning from History and Advancing Anti-Racism Work

At a tumultuous time for businesses around the world, the Certified B Corporation community in the U.S. and Canada gathered virtually for its annual look ahead, known as the State of the B, led by the nonprofit B Lab that certifies B Corps.

“It does take discomfort to drive change,” says Anthea Kelsick, Co-CEO of B Lab U.S. & Canada. “For many, these months were the first time the inequities in our healthcare system and our economic system were laid bare. It has set the stage for a collective awakening to what systemic racism actually means and how it has continued to devalue Black, Indigenous and People of Color lives over and over again.”

B Lab, the nonprofit that oversees the certification of B Corps, recognizes it must “practice what we preach” by modeling a commitment to JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion), says Dr. Ellonda L. Green, Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the nonprofit.

“Being a leader is hard, goals are a moving target and it’s never going to be ‘good enough.’ We have to be committed to always being willing to do the work,” Green says. “If it were easy, everybody would be doing it. But we aren’t everybody, and the world expects more — it deserves more.”

While some people hold the misconception that racism is solely about race, she says, technically it is discrimination directed against people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is marginalized. This means that the work of anti-racism involves multiple work streams across different countries related to power inequalities, unequal access to opportunities, and policy outcomes that vary by race. It also means that racism, xenophobia and intolerance are not just problems for people in the U.S. and Canada but that oppression exists globally.

“We all have an opportunity to gain insight from both inspiring and devastating events in history, as well as to apply new understanding to our own life experiences,” Green says. “To be an anti-racist is a radical choice in the face of history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.”

In addition to Kelsick and Green, several B Corp leaders shared the steps they have taken on the journey to dismantle systemic racism and how others can start or continue their own journeys. Here are a few takeaway messages they shared.

Understand history. As the founder of TMI Consulting, a B Corp that provides diversity and inclusion consulting, Dr. Tiffany Jana has seen the power of education. But it’s challenging work that takes time, making it imperative to lean in to what will be a deep, personal journey.

“This is arguably the most challenging conversation that we have never been able to navigate in American history,” says Jana, who shared more about the relevance of and the history of Juneteenth in a recent article. “So understanding the history, understanding your personal relationship to all of the biases, to racism, how you benefit or do not benefit from these systems and structures, how you contribute to them and support them, and then understanding how you fit into the larger construct is really important.”

It’s also vital to realize that the current challenges worldwide are creating a shared suffering, Jana says, making it important to instill some grace within organizations for the difficult work ahead and provide support to colleagues of color and seek the education needed to handle this conversation well.

“It’s time to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Jana says. “There’s nothing easy about this journey. There’s nothing short about it. You can’t hack it or shortcut it. You just have to get in.”

Reach out to groups who have more experience. “Our commitment to the movement for Black lives really began in earnest about four years ago on the heels of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri,” says Jabari Paul, U.S. Activism Manager for Ben & Jerry’s. “And from that point, our company came out with an anti-racist position supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. We first committed ourselves to the process of learning and that involves reaching out to different civil and human rights groups.”

Work with Black businesses, invest in Black communities. At Sundial Brands and its subsidiary Shea Moisture, investing in Black-owned businesses is nothing new. It’s a dedicated practice that Simone Jordan helps oversee as head of community commerce for the B Corp. Shea Moisture launched a $1 million COVID-19 relief fund to help support women entrepreneurs and small business owners of color, and recently formed a social justice coalition.

“Closing the wealth gap between Black and white families is important. … This is a society that has not and does not afford equality and shared power to all,” Jordan says. “When you invest in Black-owned businesses, they have a sustainable way of making sure that their communities are impacted. When you’re looking at your supply chains, be sure to buy from these Black-owned businesses. Really look at your supplier diversity and how you’re investing.”

Stop making excuses. To harness organizational power, B Corp women CEOs started a group called We The Change, and Olayinka Credle of Melanin Essentials was among its first Black members. “We’re still mostly white, but I’m here to say that we’re being bold and saying that we’re going to do something about it,” Credle says. She shared how she found the inspiration to speak up for herself in these words from political activist Angela Davis, which is a modification of the Serenity prayer Credle learned while attending Catholic school: “I am no longer accepting the things that I cannot change. I’m changing the things that I cannot accept.”

B Corps should seize similar inspiration for their anti-racism work, Credle says. “So my question is: Are we ready to change the things we no longer can accept? In other words, are we ready to stop making excuses?”

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