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Racial Reckoning Turns 1: Light the Way vs Burn it Down

I could give you another listicle on where to donate, toolkits on how to be an ally and self-paced teaching tools to help you unpack your implicit biases. And you should certainly pursue those pathways, many of which I’ve eagerly advised around. But there’s a more fundamental question...

When you consider what it means to you to be “on the right side of history,” what question hits home:

Do you identify with “burn it down and start afresh”?

Or do you identify with “light the torch and lead the way”?

We can find examples of each during cultural and social movements throughout history. It’s even the philosophical backbone of many parables… not to mention Marvel movies.

Indeed, we find ourselves collectively in this philosophical cross-hairs

now. As we round the bend on 1 year since Juneteenth 2020 racial reckoning protests, now is a great time to triage where your equity efforts are going. Who is “we”? Certainly North America as we observe a year anniversary of Mr. Floyd’s murder.

This episode of Racial Reakonding Turns 1 is brought to you by money.

How so?

A few factoids to start us off:

George Floyd was interacting with cops because of a $20 bill.

Over $21 M in 2021 grants offered from Black Lives Matter Foundation to local chapters.

Over $1.6 B “has been pledged” to racial equity causes.

… All while donations remain one of the most popular yet controversial equity actions around.

Why is money such a controversial response? It’s an additive or affirming response, after all. It’s almost like saying, here, have some fuel for that fire you’ve got cooking.

Yet, as powerful of a tool as money is, it’s also relatively cheap: the numbers show up in the books immediately and there’s a quick press release. Scratch the surface, and money requires very little investment--aka time or effort--for a large return in public and employee perception.

Listen, I’m not a kazillionaire and don’t have the means to donate a cool hundred mill to NAACP legal defense fund. And I commend those who make such donations. But it’s not helpful to equate donations to dedications. It’s worth saying again:

Donations ≠ Dedication

To drive the point home, dropping some cash when that’s all you can muster is a bit like dropping trow when that’s the only way you have to get attention. You might get a lot of eyeballs for flashing your audience but it’s not always apparent whether folks are laughing at you or with you. Sometimes huge donations without ongoing dedication and relationship building are just like the emperor not wearing any clothes: everyone knows you’re naked but you.

So when we ask whether we want to create racial and ethnic equity in our companies and communities, we should talk about money as an energetic exchange--aka fuel on the fire. Do we want to light the way for ourselves and for others toward growth and resilience...not to mention companies so healthy you can’t pay people to leave? Or do you want to stuff your dollar bills amidst the kindling of employee discontent? Choose the type of leader you’d like to be and light it up!

Fire lit the way for the underground railroad. It also burned crosses while families were murdered. Let’s not get money, fire, and other forms of power confused with the ways in which it’s wielded.

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