"The work of anti-racism is the work of becoming a better human to other humans."
-Austin Channing Brown
Black Lives Matter. These are words that many solopreneurs have proclaimed over their social media channels in reaction to the growing awareness that the national promise of life and liberty is systemically denied to Black Americans.
For small business owners, personal values are inextricably linked with their companies’ mission and ethics. As titles like How to be an Antiracist and So You Want to Talk about Race top the New York Times Bestseller list, there is palpable trepidation in the business community about how to proceed with taking action in the ongoing march towards racial justice.
Being an antiracist—working to overcome centuries of hatred and its myriad impacts on Black people—is not a passive endeavor. Moving forward and making mistakes is part of the process. Giving up is not an option because the stakes are too high.
According to the Small Business Administration, there are 30.7 million small businesses in the United States, defined as companies of 500 or fewer people. That makes up a whopping 99.9 percent of all businesses. If even 75% entrepreneurs committed to being antiracist in their practices, that’s 25 million businesses working towards racial justice. So please don’t think your business is too small to make a difference.
Antiracist efforts may look different for small businesses or solo entrepreneurs. There is a big push for more diverse hiring processes, but if you don’t have employees, this is not helpful. Also, large corporations have extensive training budgets to invest in intensive diversity training, but solopreneurs can struggle to access similar levels of education.
So what’s a small business owner to do to infuse antiracism into their business? Here are five ways to move to action.
1. Draft your diversity statement.
Fighting for racial justice may be understandable as a concept, but can feel overwhelming when considering how one person or business can make an impact.
You can start to make sense of how you can confront this enormous issue by answering these prompts:
- What is it about this movement and this moment that has caught my attention?
- Why is it important that the status quo of systemic racism be dismantled?
- How will I reflect a commitment to antiracism in my business values and practices?
Gaining clarity on what you're reacting to can help you narrow down what you're fighting for—and where you can start.
2. Brainstorm ideas for antiracist actions into three timeframes.
We’ve created a worksheet that will help you break your action plan into different timeframes: now, the next six months, and ongoing. These timeframes indicate areas to focus your brainstorming: ideas on what you can do now to be antiracist; what you plan to do six months from now; and how you can fight for racial justice on an ongoing basis.
The desire to have the perfect answer to where to plug in immediately can keep you stuck in fear. Now that you've done some thinking about your antiracist values, you have an understanding of why the work is essential for you.
So pick one thing you can do now to make a difference. One thing.
For instance, you can identify an activist organization dedicated to bringing about racial justice and make a monthly donation.
This isn't about perfection. It's about action.
In the "next six months" category, think about the things you want to do but feel overwhelming to pursue at this moment. Part of your action is creating the steps needed to bring those ideas to fruition. Maybe you identify one issue that you are passionate about that you know has a disproportionate impact on BIack communities. You’re just not sure how your business can help.
Identify local organizations and advocates working on the issue. Reach out and begin having conversations to discover the most pressing needs. Ask for their input on the most needed resources and forms of support. Then, create your plan. Outline the steps you'll take to get your business actively engaged in fighting for the cause you identified.
The “ongoing” section isn't about specific actions, per se, but speaks to an action-focused way of being. This may include, for example, committing to challenging racist comments and behaviors anywhere they appear in your life, including from colleagues and clients, or moving your accounts to a Black-owned bank.
Look to the recommendations and resources of the experts and activists who have made racial justice their life’s work. It’s okay to acknowledge that you don’t know enough yet to know what you ultimately want to do—so follow their lead until you find your footing.
Remember that the question you’re asking yourself is, How will you fight each day to be a better human to other humans?
3. Examine your language.
Words matter, and there are uses with loaded implications that are so embedded in our culture that you may not even be aware of the damage they inflict in perpetuating racism.
Do you describe evil as "black," and "white" as innocent and pure?
Do you refer to makeup that matches the color of those with light skin as "nude"?
Have you considered the implication of the word "fair" being used to describe light skin?
Question what you think you know and what you say with a close eye and a new perspective.
4. Get used to discomfort.
Realizing that much of what you thought you knew about the world is false or is designed to perpetuate the oppression of others is...not a fun time.
Perhaps you issued a statement explaining your commitment to Black Lives Matter and were then questioned as to why your social media feed continually features only white people and perspectives.
You will feel angry. You’ll feel attacked. Your long-held beliefs will be challenged. Your image of yourself will shift.
Each time you react strongly to something, do not lash out at someone else. Sit with that feeling of discomfort. Explore it. Do not center your discomfort in the reaction, because this is not about you. Take a deep breath and get used to this feeling. You’re going to feel it often.
The work is about learning, undoing, and advocating for others. It is messy, uncomfortable work. There is no blueprint or spreadsheet to tell you exactly what steps to take. But small actions taken by every small business owner will add up to significant progress.
The sea of change is brought about by each of us continuing to make waves time and time again.
5. Buy from Black-owned businesses.
White supremacy and entrenched systems of oppression have inflicted economic hardship for generations of African-Americans. It’s by design.
Black-owned businesses receive significantly less financial assistance than their white-owned counterparts. On top of that, Black-owned businesses have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
According to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “the number of African-American business owners plummeted from 1.1 million in February 2020 to 640,000 in April.”
These figures add to already bleak statistics about African-American wealth relative to that of whites. The wealth gap between Blacks and whites is as large today as it was in 1968. As reported by the Washington Post, “As of 2016..., you would have to combine the net worth of 11.5 black households to get the net worth of a typical white U.S. household.”
Take a moment to think about that. The staggering economic growth of the American Century and the first two decades of the 21st century have completely left Black families behind. Increased access to higher education has not changed this reality.
That's why this is an important place to begin having an immediate impact. There are plenty of lists available of Black-owned businesses locally and nationally. In addition, the Pepperlane community has a diverse membership that can help as you update your network of resources. You can look to the entrepreneurs we’ve spotlighted on our social media as a starting point.
Consider how you can change your personal and business spending habits to support these companies who have to fight harder than ever to survive. Do you have to get those books from Amazon, or can you purchase them through a Black-owned bookstore like Harriet’s or Uncle Bobbies? On your preferred vendors list, why not use a Black designer or photographer?
Part of the continuing challenge to building wealth for Black Americans is access to opportunities. So expand your network to include Black-owned businesses. This is a great example of how to make your commitment to racial justice an ongoing part of your life.
Small business owners can—-and must—make a big impact in taking continuing, collective antiracist actions. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It's a commitment that must be lived every day of our lives. Don’t let the expanse and complexity of the issue keep you in a state of inaction. Small, sustained action can lead to big changes.
Then as you learn more, do more. Embed it into every aspect of your business and your life. This is the fight of our lifetimes.
Which of these suggestions will you start with for your business? Download this companion worksheet to help you stay accountable.
Brandyn Campbell is an Antiracist Communications Consultant and Diversity Content Strategist. Drawing on her 15 years of experience managing diversity issues in international education and facilitating Diversity & Inclusion trainings for educational leaders, she helps businesses build and articulate their commitment to racial justice. www.brandyncampbell.com