13 Black Women Leaders On How to Fight Racism
While this week has been a powerful, heated week of peaceful protests throughout the globe, it’s only getting started. And this is a good thing. Amassing crowds in the triple-digits to open a thought-provoking dialogue and send a poignant message won’t change systemic racism that’s been born and bred in America. Instead, as women, leaders, partners, mothers, sisters, friends, and above all, humans, we should consider ourselves at the starting line, with a long, slow walk ahead of us.
Becoming an ally in the Black Lives Movement isn’t just about posting a black square or sharing articles (like this one) to your Facebook. Rather, Black women leaders believe it starts with self-awareness, education, and a lifelong commitment to be better—and raise better—generations to come. We spoke with 13 inspiring women to better understand what we can do to become more actively antiracist.
Support Black-Owned Businesses
Entrepreneur and author, Courtney McKenzie Newell, is among the 2,681,200 Black business owners in America. Purchasing goods or utilizing the services of Black-owned businesses is an integral part of activism. How so? “Black-owned businesses are important to the world economy for several reasons, but the number one reason is that Black businesses are more likely than non-Black owned businesses to hire other black people,” Newell continues. “If there were no Black-owned businesses, many very capable, talented Black people may have a harder time using their skill sets.” You can search #BlackOwned on Instagram or Facebook to get started.
You should also educate yourself on Black innovation, Newell shares. This includes the successes of Black professionals in the past, as well as those who are creating incredible things for the future. Some hashtags that celebrate achievements include #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy.
“Once all people see Black people for who we are—innovators, scientists, inventors, doctors, lawyers, educators, business owners, and community leaders—they will see what we see when we look in the mirror,” she adds.
Fill your bookshelves with these books
There are many, many books and pieces of content on the topics of racism, diversity, Black leadership and oppression, and so on. From inspiring non-fiction and autobiographies to feats in investigative journalism and more, dedicating time each day to read about these struggles will expand your mind—and heart. Shellye Archambeau, the first Black female CEO in Silicon Valley, recommends these:
- “America’s Racial Contract Is Killing Us” by Adam Serwer | Atlantic (May 8, 2020)
- Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement (Mentoring a New Generation of Activists
- ”My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” by Jose Antonio Vargas | NYT Mag (June 22, 2011)
- The 1619 Project (all the articles) | The New York Times Magazine
- The Combahee River Collective Statement
- “The Intersectionality Wars” by Jane Coaston | Vox (May 28, 2019)
- Tips for Creating Effective White Caucus Groups developed by Craig Elliott PhD
- “Where do I donate? Why is the uprising violent? Should I go protest?” by Courtney Martin (June 1, 2020)
- ”White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Knapsack Peggy McIntosh
- “Who Gets to Be Afraid in America?” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi | Atlantic (May 12, 2020)
- Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins
- Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Dr. Brittney Cooper
- Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
- How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- Wilmington’s Lie and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
- Raising Our Hands by Jenna Arnold
- Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
- Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
- This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherríe Moraga
- When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America by Ira Katznelson
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, PhD
Commit yourself to personal development
Most of us already understand the impact the words we use to speak to ourselves have on our sense of self. This is true for anyone, but typically, when people don’t have confidence in who they are, they will lash out at others. This can result in preconceived notions about other people, which is why the first thing everyone needs to do to fight racism, according to entrepreneur and founder of Outtasight Hair, B. Fae Harris, is to commit themselves to personal development. She believes racism is a human condition resulting from dysfunction of our inherent need for love and belonging.
“It is the result of a shaky foundation of self-esteem,” she continues. “If everyone focused on building their own self-esteem, I believe we would see tremendous strides in racial harmony.”
Interrupt your implicit bias
Without realizing it, many people have implicit biases toward the Black community. These may be communicated subconsciously in the ways we choose our friends, hire members for our team, and the brands we buy from. It’s important to uncover, explore, and understand why these biases exist in order to fight racism, according to Dr. Valaida L. Wise, Ed.D, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant.
“The bad news about implicit bias is that it is pervasive and often does not align with our expressed beliefs, but it can predict our behavior. Much of contemporary racism occurs without intention or malice,” she shares. “But, there is some good news about implicit biases. We can interrupt them. We might need help, so enroll in anti-bias training and take a friend. Realize that it may be uncomfortable, even painful. Lean into the discomfort.”
Spend more time listening—without shutting down
Before you can help to spearhead fundamental change, you have to understand the plight of the Black community. And that requires active, conscious listening, according to Nikki Fowler, the founder of Glitter magazine and the Soeurs Media Group. And it means accepting that you will likely ‘get it wrong’ a few times and be corrected. That’s part of the process—and it’s a welcome learning lesson.
“As we have seen from many online conversations: non-black people are at the time, ill-informed, assume they know best about what’s happening, and when they are corrected, they shut down. Don’t shut down,” she continues. “If someone is taking the time to talk, listen. Take some time to process it, put yourself in their shoes, and go back with questions. It doesn’t always have to sound like butterflies and daisies. Realize that people of color are exhausted from oppression, and explaining that oppression is even more exhausting.”
Be afraid of what is actually scary
Whether because their parents taught them to be or they were programmed from biased news or scripted TV and movies, some white people will admit they are afraid of Black people for no good reason. If you are among this crowd, the co-founder of Ureeka, Melissa Bradley, encourages you to switch your fear to what’s a threat to our country: bigotry. “You should not be afraid of Black people, but be afraid of the danger to this country when we are targeted and tormented, and any fraction of its citizenry is denied what’s rightfully theirs,” she explains.
Reshift your thinking to facts, not assumptions
Nerissa Zhang, the CEO of the fitness management app The Bright App, says when most white people see a successful Black person, they assume it’s because they’re somehow lucky or exceptional or that they gained success because of help from white people. This—of course—isn’t true, but it’s an idea that continues to spread, sending the message that Black professionals require help from white people to build their careers.
Partly, this is due to the misrepresentation by some media outlets, which sometimes sends the message that Black people are mostly living in poverty or are uneducated. In actuality, Zhang says more than 75 percent of all Black people do not live in poverty. Black women are the most highly-educated people in this country. They represent 42 percent of net new female-owned businesses, which is three times their share in the United States (14 percent).
“We need to put an end to the lie that Black people are still in need of white folks’ help,” she continues. “What we need is the freedom to live, work, and act without white people and white institutions disproportionately targeting us and stopping us from building the success we are already capable of building on our own.”
Create a plan of activism
If the term ‘white privilege’ feels offensive or as if it doesn’t relate to you, artist and entrepreneur K’era Morgan encourages you to sit with that notion. Then, take a deep mental dive and be honest about why you feel uncomfortable when forced to look at your privilege, and how it’s damaged other races throughout history. Once you can acknowledge and pin-point the roots of these ideas, you can start to change them. Morgan encourages the white community to take thoughtful action and create a plan of activism that extends beyond one day or one week of the year. This can take many forms: buying from Black-owned businesses, hosting conversations with your friend groups, volunteering with Black-led organizations, and much more.
Ensure your hiring practices are diverse
Another step to fight racism is to take a long, hard look at your company’s leadership positions. In most cases, you will likely find that executives, boards, and advisory teams are predominately white. When this happens, racism is allowed to leak into businesses—whether intentional or not—creating a ripple effect throughout every level, according to founder and chair of Hope for Harvest and the vice president of R&B and hip-hop at BMI, Catherine Brewton.
“Hiring practices must be governed by men and women of all races and sexual orientation. These same individuals in leadership roles who are making decisions are most likely not taking accountability for negative effects of racism that trickle down throughout an organization from corporate to government and everything in between,” she explains.
Expand your circle
Take a look around your group of friends: do you have any close companions who are Black? What about the mentors you seek for advice and career progression? Or, what about the artwork you have hanging in your home: Is it created by Black artists? What about the songs you play? The dolls you give your children? Registered dietitian Maya Feller encourages white people to think critically about their circles: socially, professionally, and throughout every aspect of their homes and lives.
Educate yourself on systemic racism in America
Co-founder of From Privilege To Progress Michelle Saahene says most of us were likely never taught what ‘systematic racism’ was in high school or college. And probably hadn’t heard of the term until recently either. “It lives in all of our systems—education, housing, banking, healthcare, even the environment,” she shares. It’s crucial to fully grasp how this works, why it’s a debilitating practice, and how we can start to shift the tide. Saahene suggests watching documentaries like 13th on Netflix, read books like Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi, and listen to Scene on Radio—Seeing White podcast series to catch up on the history you never knew. “Then, you can learn about ways to help in the areas and systems that mean most to you,” she adds.
Remember, it’s never too early or late to educate your children about race
Repeat after Chieastre Chigoretti, President of ProtectAllkids: no one is born a racist. That’s why it’s important to start early and stay consistent as parents by teaching children the language to recognize and understand race and bias as an integral part of dismantling racism through education.
“Some people may think elementary-aged children are too young to broach such complex subjects. However, we can’t assume that children will figure it out later by themselves,” she continues. “We can start the learning process early so our kids can understand the benefits of loving one another regardless of their race, religion, or cultural differences. As mothers, we should advocate for more school courses that focus on educating our children about diversity and inclusivity—courses that discourage prejudice and encourage equality, love, and acceptance.”
If you’re looking for resources for children, Archambeau recommends these:
- Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners: books for children and young adults
- 31 Children’s books to support conversations on race, racism, and resistance
- Parenting Forward podcast episode ‘Five Pandemic Parenting Lessons with Cindy Wang Brandt’
- Fare of the Free Child podcast
- Integrated Schools podcast episode “Raising White Kids with Jennifer Harvey.”
- PBS’s Teaching Your Child About Black History Month
- Your Kids Aren’t Too Young to Talk About Race: Resource Roundup from Pretty Good
Believe—and really, truly listen.
There’s a difference between ‘listening’ and ‘active listening.’ Just think about the last time you had a conversation with a friend, who was detailing an experience they recently had. Did you cut him or her off so you could throw in your thoughts or present your own version of a similar situation? The CEO of EnrichHER, Roshawnna Novellus, says one of the most valuable actions someone can take to counteract racism is to first center on the Black voices, and second, believe them when they describe their realities.
“If you are listening only long enough to wait for your turn to talk, then you’re not really listening. If your first response is to tell someone that the oppression they are discussing is ‘not that bad,’ then you are minimizing their lived experiences,” she explains.
Author, speaker, and lifestyle expert Jasmine Brett Stringer says it’s time to have sincere conversations beyond the ‘I’m here for you. I love you. I see you’ text messages and social media comments.
“I would love for one of my ally friends to ask me about my experience with racism personally, how it makes me feel, and how I continuously find a way to continue to fulfill my mission of inspiring and motivating others daily,” she explains. After all, you do not have to feel or understand someone’s pain to express empathy. You don’t have to compare it either, but you have to acknowledge it exists.
Nouvellus recommended reading Freedom is a Constant Struggle, a series of essays from a Black feminist, Angela Davis. One line that should sit and stay with you is: “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist; we must be anti-racist.”
Author Bio Lindsay Tigar is a travel and lifestyle journalist. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Vogue, USA Today and countless other publications. When she isn't collecting another passport stamp, she can be found scouring a city for the best coffee, going to a boxing class or falling in love with each stray dog she meets. A collection of her work can be found at LindsayTigar.com.