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Career Corner: BLM in the Workplace

Black Lives Matter manifestation in Stockholm June 3, 2020. – Courtesy photo / KulturSthlm (CC BY-SA 4.0)

By Angela Copeland

The last three months have been heavy, really heavy, and now, here we are. Things are heavier. But, unlike COVID-19, racial issues have been there all along. They aren’t new but some of us have had the luxury not to think about them every day. I saw a notable quote this week by Angela Davis. It said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”

If you haven’t experienced racism firsthand, there are a few things you can do to help at work. The first is to listen — and to believe. Having friends from different cultures and backgrounds allows us to learn about things we wouldn’t otherwise know. But, sometimes, for reasons that are often not conscious, we end up with a lot of friends who are very similar to us. When that happens, we miss out on those personal stories that help us to better understand the experiences of others.

If there’s one thing I would wish for, it’s that people would share their experiences more. Do you remember when the Me Too movement started? Many women shared their personal stories. The stories made things real for our male loved ones. But trauma is hard to talk about. It’s not something we want to put on display. When it’s over, we put it away. There’s a lot we could learn from each other in the BLM movement if we heard more personal stories from people we know. With that said, try not to overload your African American colleagues with questions. Not everyone wants to be the poster child for every issue. And honestly, each person is dealing with their own feelings, hurt, and grief in a way that is unimaginable.

If you observe racist behavior at work, speak up. As a white person, I’ve heard racist things said behind closed doors that someone else would never know about. Don’t let that continue. If you have the privilege of hearing these types of awful comments, you have a responsibility to say something. Being quiet and hoping the issue will go away is no longer enough. It never was.

I wish I had more impactful words to share today. This issue is so big that there aren’t enough words on the page to address it. I’ll leave you with this. This is not a new issue. And, it’s not yet an old one (as it’s not yet in our past). Soon, we’ll be going back to school and work. We’ll have less time on our hands to think about BLM. But, just because we’re distracted again won’t mean the issue is solved. And just because we may no longer see, it won’t mean that it’s gone or that it’s no longer time to speak up. If BLM is important to you today, it should remain important in one week and one month and one year and five years.

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.

June 11, 2020

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Angela Copeland


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