By Mark Harrison, Founder, T1 Agency
I am in a race to end racism in the workplace.
Sadly it took George Floyd’s murder to get me to the start line of this race in 2020. It took that horrifying video and his painful cries for his mother to inspire me to find my voice. Remarkably pitiful on my part.
Have you ever heard the expression of building a plane while flying it? Well, that is how I feel right now. I am running very hard, with thousands, but I am not sure I always know what direction to run in. Is this the way to my North Star, or is it that way?
I don’t know what lies around the corner. I don’t have a map to tell me the distance I need to go. I sometimes get questioned by my fellow runners if we are even making progress. How on earth do we know?
What I do know is that where we began wasn’t fair. The starting line for Black people is much farther back than it is for White people. The minute we are born, we are identified differently, treated differently and slotted differently.
Why am I described as coloured and you’re not? Why is White not a colour?
Why am I a Minority, automatically making you the Majority?
Why am I a Black Canadian, and you are 100% Canadian?
I am a Black person, in case that point has not been made clear yet. I will be Black for the rest of my life. But, like all of my Black sisters and brothers, my colour will never wash off, and I do not want to wash it off.
But what I do want is to understand where the Finish Line is. The line in the ground that will tell me we have conquered racism in the workplace. What I do know is that we are nowhere close.
Today we are surrounded by racism, prejudice, bigotry, and unfortunately, even hate.
There is a particular reason I use the word racism. Allow me to explain why.
When I walk into a smoothie shop, the cashier tells me that the “food delivery drivers” use a different door, which is prejudice. For the record, that has happened to me twice this year alone. In the past, I have had people ask me to check their coats, fetch their cars from valets, or tell me that I could not come into a building to pick up my children. Why? Because I am Black.
When people I meet immediately ask me if I am American, I wonder if they think Drake is American. People often ask me right away if I played basketball or football in university. Really? I am 5’9″ and overweight? And now people like to immediately launch into how great an ally they are at work to their BIPOC colleagues.
Bigotry, as you know, is at an entire other level. I want you to imagine for a moment that due to your skin colour, your facial structure, or your clothing that you are called horrible names, threatened with violence, or physically accosted. The bigot is the person with prejudice mixed with anger. Many Black people have suppressed the most painful memories of such occurrences, as a coping mechanism.
I doubt along my life’s journey I have been able to influence the bigot’s mind, nor re-educate the prejudiced. Remarkably the circumstances of those incidents do not make me nearly as angry as racism. Racism in schools, workplaces, community groups, and playing fields is structural, systemic, and institutionalized. These are the historical, legal, and political conditions which deny Black people their fair access to advancement. Structural Racism is the real enemy we must fight.
I have met hundreds of people over the past year who tell me the same story. Their company talks about diversity and yet has no Black LT or Board members. Before George Floyd’s murder, they would have to remove their photos from their LinkedIn pages to get interviews. Now they are constantly asked to lead the DEI efforts at their companies.
Underemployed Black people can’t get interviews because of job postings in primarily exclusive outlets or schools. In addition, they lack the requirements, such as a degree, to even get through the screening software. Job postings, even those at my own company, reinforce systemic racism with their language of exclusion.
It goes on and on. Why do large companies feel it is okay to mandate Black talent in their advertising but do not make the same mandates for supply chains, venture investments or strategic partners.
Why do companies want to talk about Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion but not mend the damage done to the Black community?
What is so wrong with expediting change in your organization as a way to acknowledge that we are the descendants of African slaves, children of people evicted from their Canadian property, and heirs of people not allowed to vote in this country.
As I continue to sweat and pound on this journey, I do want you to join me. But only if you can see that it’s not enough to be along for the ride to promote acronyms or change the faces in your advertising. You need to look at every corner of your company and tackle racism of all sorts. You need to swing the pendulum far past the barometer marker for equality and squarely land in the redemption zone.
You need to demand that the only way to ensure justice for Black people is by levelling the playing field, adjusting the start-finish lines, and letting those of us that so badly need to catch their breath, to breathe.
Mark Harrison is the Founder of the MH3 Group, a collective of ventures focused on Passion-Profit-Purpose which includes the Black Talent Initiative, Park Street Education, Humanity Agency, SponsorshipX, and T1.
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