Last week, I shared my thoughts on the importance of speaking up when things have gone horribly wrong in society. I also shared that I would be hosting my “Black Out Show” as my first Ask Czarina Live after vacation. What I didn’t realize was how much extra courage and strength I had to muster up to get through my show.
It’s one thing to tell yourself you are going to do something monumental. It is quite another thing to recognize your accountability to deliver a message and story that resonates in spite of the difficulty of the topic.
Prior to the show, I watched the videos of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killings again. I watched the breaking news stories for the slain police officers and I immediately became emotional. I attempted to put on makeup to make myself appear as if I had it together, but the reality was I was a milli-second away from falling apart for everyone to see.
At the stroke of 10 pm, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I knew that I was speaking for more than just myself which pushed me beyond my very palpable fear. I remembered those two little girls pictured above and recognized the duty I have as their mother and as a woman to show them that nothing should prevent them from being fully seen, appreciated and heard in this world.
I want my daughters to know that raising your voice when others find it easier to be quiet takes courage. I am showing them through my own actions that speaking the truth in a time when it is preferential to lie takes strength. In the end, I hope they will see that business should not only be profitable, but socially responsible.
An hour and nine minutes later, I felt lighter and proud that I delivered on my promise. My viewers kept up their end of the bargain as they listened without starting any arguments, fights etc. All of this proving that we can have civil discussions around race issues and politics, if we first are willing to listen more than we speak. It also illustrated that we all can speak up without it being disastrous for our reputations and businesses.
As a friend of mine shared, you can’t go wrong when your words are from your heart and they are delivered with poise and professionalism.
In case you missed the show live, I am making sure to share it with my readers here. Thank you to those of you who have reached out to share your feedback on the show. It really makes me feel good to know, I made a difference by using my voice and platform.
Many years ago, my parents enrolled me in a camp near my childhood home. The children that attended the camp were mostly black with a sprinkling of Latinos. Besides the usual water gun fights, outdoor sports and movies – I learned something that summer. It was the goal of the camp organizers that every one of us campers learned the black national anthem. If you are African-American and you grew up in the states, you have probably heard or know by heart the black national anthem: Lift Every Voice. The camp counselors said it was important that we knew it because we come from greatness and should be proud of who we are.
All I knew back then was it was a beautiful song and it made me proud of my heritage. What I didn’t know is this song I hold dear is really a poem by James Weldon Johnson that was set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson in 1899. I, also learned that the very first performance was on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1900 sung by 500 children who attended the segregated Stanton School where James Weldon Johnson was Principal.
I found myself thinking of this song recently – as I took stock of the massacres of black men and cops that have marred almost every shred of optimism and hope I have for the people of the U.S. at the moment. It got me to thinking that while it is the official black national anthem; it is a song that every citizen of this country needs to hear and embrace.
The lyrics of the anthem goes as follows (note: this is the short version):
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.
I won’t rehash what has gone on in this country in past two weeks, because I am not yet in an emotional place where it would be received well. Instead, I will draw everyone’s attention to the importance of speaking up when things have gone terribly wrong in the world. For as vocal as we have all become about everything from why the baristas at Starbucks can’t get your name right to the terrible service you’ve received at a restaurant – we are incredibly quiet and inconsistent on standing up for one another when injustice is plaguing one of our fellow citizens.
We raise hell if we sit on the tarmac for longer than five minutes during a flight takeoff. In some cases we take to airing our dirty, frivolous laundry out in hopes that onlookers will take pity and support us in our narcissistic moments of needing to be right in the court of “Facebook Friends” ( I really witnessed this recently). Insert hashtags, creative graphics and filters for an extra show of support for some of the world’s tragedies and you have in me a woman who is thoroughly fed up with the phenomenon of “social media activism”.
What is “Social Media Activism”?
It is when you meander from tragedy to tragedy (which often conveniently excludes tragic events that affect people of color) online with no real purpose. You will throw up a Facebook filter in support of a recent tragedy, because everyone else in your timeline did – yet you say nothing of value about the subject. It is creating a hashtag in outrage of a world event or tragedy, but the movement lives and dies on social media and never gets traction in real life. Moreover, it is when you lurk looking for opportunities online to force your political agenda, views and/or hatred for others, but you stand for nothing in real life.
None of this helps anyone if you don’t say something or even better do something when tragedy faces us as a society. I was asked in a recent interview if I worry about tackling controversial topics and whether or not it will impact business. I replied with a smile and said the following: “I am at a point in my business where I am happy to work with businesses with whom I have synergy. I don’t say anything that isn’t rooted in fact, so if they aren’t pleased with my approach they can always hire the next gal.”
While I have no desire to live in the pits of controversy day in and day out, I know that I have a following and influence. I also know that having influence puts you in a unique space to educate people and raise awareness. To be in that unique space, you need to have the courage to speak up for those who cannot or who would be otherwise ignored.
There are plenty other instances when we can laugh at absurd videos, marvel at babies and kittens and have fun while being social beings. 2016 is calling us to be more than the latest viral video or business tip we are discussing for the thousandth time. Speak up, add value, educate, collaborate with a social organization to raise awareness. Do something, but do not be silent.
Some more perspective…
I have two Caucasian friends who have been in communication with me since the killing ensued in early July and if I’m honest every killing of a black person prior to as well. Their words were kind, loving and supportive. When I say “lift every voice”, say something or do something, it doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor. It can be a simple text, email or phone call to show support or merely to listen and better understand why many of us are fed up. Just don’t be silent.
My way of doing something is to educate and speak out. I will be doing just that when I return to my Periscope.tv show Ask Czarina Live this Thursday night. I will be hosting “The Black Out” Show. It will be a show to educate and to have a civil conversation about what’s going on in this country. If you are up at 11pm EST and want to join in follow the instructions in my promo graphic. Let’s be better than what I see playing out online, in real life and in the news.
On Wednesday, Steve Levy and I kicked off the first of three webcasts hosted by College Recruiter called: Honest Diversity Conversations. The aim of these webcasts is to step outside of the realm of the typical diversity conversations. We want to open the eyes of business owners and HR practitioners alike to the issues and missed opportunities that exist when we don’t consider the impact of what’s going on in society, their homes and most importantly the impact of our policies and procedures.
One of the questions we didn’t get to was:
“Speaking of the racially-fueled riots in cities around the US, we can imagine most companies being tight-lipped about what was going on. In your opinion, does the company have a duty to address social issues of the moment?”
Allow me to answer. Remaining tight-lipped about the racially-fueled topics of late is both a mistake and missed opportunity. When 9/11 happened 14 years ago, there was not a person that I encountered at work or after 5pm that did not want to discuss what happened. I suspect that was the case because we were so blind-sided by the event. However, I also believe it was a constant conversation because it was not just an attack on one demographic; but an attack on people from all walks of life.
The fact is unless an event affects the majority we tend to ignore it or minimize it. Likewise in HR, we tend to ignore racial undertones, sentiments and even discriminatory speech until it is a bigger problem. In my opinion, companies have a duty to speak up about atrocities in society. However, I’d like to add that it is really a matter of preference and what you want to be known for. If you care that your employees see you as a company that genuinely cares about the trajectory of the human race; you may be inclined to tackle this. Conversely, if you don’t see current events or news headlines as connected to your business this may not be something you would address. Either way, all of us in HR must remember that silence is as much of an answer as a carefully crafted one.
If any of these recent events directly affect any portion of your workforce, they will remember your laughter and never-ending chatter during the typical and often-times nonsensical water cooler discussions. They will also remember that you said nothing- if that is what you choose. Both are equally damaging as we live in a time where social responsibility is an expected business competency.
Compliance and legal considerations aside, we work in the human side of business where it is inherently required that we ensure the well-being of our employees. It is our duty to see that people can come to work everyday as a whole person affected by the elements of life and society without judgment.
Steve and I had a spirited conversation about everything from HR not having the guts to have these conversations to why most diversity programs lack on this webcast. We hope you will join us for the remaining two webcasts. You can register here.
Check out the webcast replay below and join the conversation.
Want even more? Check out my preview of the “Honest Diversity Conversations” webcast series on “The Voice of Jobseekers” Podcast here.
One of the things that has troubled me throughout my career is the inability for many people to be truthful in business situations. I’m not naive to the art and power of a carefully crafted message versus being blatantly honest; but I still think we could use more truth and integrity than not in business. HR in particular, has always been an area where I never understood the place for deceit. Fundamentally, people want and expect an increased level of both integrity and truth in HR because of the nature of what we do in an organization. Yet, in so many instances we disappoint when we don’t have the courage to be honest with the C-Suite about apparent organizational opportunities or concerns and equally so – when we aren’t honest with our employees. According to a 2014 American Psychological Association: Work and Well-Being Survey, 1 in 4 workers stated that they don’t trust their employers. The question is why do they feel this way and what can we change to turn this around.
When truth is a business imperative, trust is earned.
If we look at the racial events and rhetoric of the day, it is safe to say very few companies – let alone HR departments feel truthfully comfortable addressing what’s going on in society. Somehow, employers have decided it is a conversation for the water cooler, but not necessarily something for them to address. Just take a look at what happened when Starbucks kicked off their #RaceTogether initiative. Good, bad or indifferent, I still believe that Starbucks was well-intended and extremely brave for trying to tackle this very sensitive topic at an organizational level. The unfortunate thing is Starbucks is just one company. Most companies are generally conflicted as to whether or not they should allow dialogue around racism.
For sustainable change to happen on and off the job, we need many more companies and HR departments to stop and think about how you can constructively discuss race, discrimination and other social injustices in the workplace without being scared straight about the legal ramifications.
Every attempt to tackle racism, prejudice or bias in the workplace is generally seen as a liability. As such, we HR practitioners carefully craft trainings and communications to address things like diversity and inclusion, because it is safe, it’s avant-garde for HR and it fills a compliance need. Meanwhile, the burning questions among your employees about your position on social injustices are looming and your neutrality or lack of a straight answer is perceived as concurrence in the negative.
I am not the neutral kind when it comes to racial injustice. The past few years of senseless killings and racial rhetoric in the U.S. have pushed my colleague/friend Steve Levy and I to write about how HR should be handling Race Relations in a rather blunt exposéof current events. Now, we are happy to share that we will be presenting three consecutive webcasts in September sponsored by our friends at College Recruiter to address the need for “truth in HR”. In fact, the hashtag for our series is: #truthinhr. The series is called: Honest Diversity Conversations. We will let you decide if you think we are “honest” enough. The three part series will address: Race Relations & HR, Discrimination and The Hiring Process, and Bias Leadership.
Please consider joining us. I am listing the webcast topics and dates below. We are aspiring to shift the way HR, jobseekers, and leaders approach these incendiary topics.
In addition, I am finally breaking my silence about some of the more recent events regarding race relations. I am providing an honest synopsis of how I feel. You can watch my latest “Ask Czarina” episode here to see what I have to say.
I hope to see you all next month. Let’s keep talking and thinking about how we can do this better. This is about social responsibility. When you’re in business, it should be a consistent consideration.