White Silence is Violence: a self-audit on doing the work

I run a community journalism organization in part because I believe independent voices that push honest, challenging and productive dialogue are vital.

Especially because of our audiences (a political range of business and civic minded with Technical.ly; and a social services coalition with Generocity.org), we can be a force for change in our communities. I find that everyday, which keeps me excited by our work. It’s even more true in moments of intense scrutiny.

On the heels of a pandemic and an ensuing economic shock, we are in the midst of one of the most consequential conversations on racial equity in a half-century β€” sparked by yet another high-profile murder of a Black man by a white police officer. I’ve found myself taking a critical look at how I’ve responded. I don’t do enough, but I’ve certainly already been to the “Acceptance Stage of Grief for white supremacy.”

This kind of analysis is not intended to serve as a kind virtue signaling.

Quite the opposite; I try to challenge my natural tendencies to lean toward the white moderate that Dr. King so reviled. My journalistic approach to centrism and well-rounded takes has its place. But in moments of unrest I need to push myself. Civility is complicity. This is an audit of how I responded, and how quickly.

For too long, American society has deemed issues of diversity, equity and inclusion to be issues for Black and Brown people, especially, to lead. As I’ve come into a place of leadership in the last several years, I’ve finally come to understand that inequity is a white people’s problem. It’s our responsibility.

As Angela Davis said: β€œIn a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”

Here’s a roundup of the reporting and efforts this month I’ve led with the support of my remarkable coworkers:

  • Rearticulate our mission, vision and values to our team. Fortunately our core work has always had a relationships to understanding systemic access to economic growth. It was important that as a team, we understood that we were already engaged in the work, so with increased attention we simply had to further focus that work. (We posted our stance on Black Lives Matter before “Black Tile Tuesday“)
  • I tried to be as responsive and honest internally. More than a third of our organization’s staff are Black, so we had many honest conversations. We encouraged people taking time to process the heightened stress and dialogue.
  • I called our newsroom into action. Aided by thoughtful newsroom leaders Sabrina Vourvoulias, Julie Zeglen and Stephen Babcock, over that first weekend following the killing of George Floyd, we halted all previous reporting we had scheduled and started over, aiming to contextualize and educate our audience, and further amplify Black voices.
  • How to speak to your team as a white organizational leader: This is likely the best read piece of editorial I’ve ever written. I wrote it the Sunday of the first large George Floyd protests, as our first editorial contribution to this moment. We balanced
  • How to talk about race at work. I rescheduled our This Week in Jobs series to include this detailed conversation with DEI firm Cultured Enuf. Work with them!
  • White business leaders abandoned cities in the 1960s. We can’t now. This piece was less well read but I did get several private messages from CEOs who heeded my historical context. This felt like a targeted contribution. (I also did a small bit of reporting on citywide curfews in Philadelphia)
  • What a police-sanctioned mob says about systemic racism. I wrote a piece about my own neighborhood and neighbors, additionally receiving quite a bit of blowback with very real consequences for speaking out about where I live.
  • What can protests accomplish. I reviewed research and aimed to articulate the importance of this movement at a time when some were pushing against the work.
  • I donated to Black causes, including a campaign for Black artists from the cherished Village of Arts and Humanities, where I spent quite a bit of time as an undergraduate. (I intend to exceed my on-going resolution to always donate two percent of my annual income to nonprofits β€” though perhaps it should be more)
  • I called out failings of other white leaders. Including speaking up quickly about a grossly insensitive headline from a client of ours, taking on real risk (and hearing about it) but demanding more. There were real consequences.
  • I took part in challenging conversations with the two nonprofit boards I am on. We did not let this moment pass, and real action is in place.
  • My company paid for our white staff to attend an Antiracist seminar from the influential Kim Crayton. That also featured excellent required pre-work.
  • My company formalized our protest policy for our newsroom and our celebration of Juneteenth. Delayed, yes.
  • I had a whole lot of conversations with white friends and family. Race is something I already talk about quite a bit, but this has been an important opportunity.

What’s next? There’s always more. We have professional development, mentorship and pay equity efforts at our company already, but they can go farther.

Again, my intention here is to not request a medal, but rather to hold myself accountable and intend to add more to questions of addressing institutionalized white racism.