I once had a client tell me they couldn’t cast a Black woman because their target was an “all-American girl.”
I had a client refuse to cast a Black family because they didn’t want to “overcorrect.”
I had a client tell me to turn an integrated campaign to help Black business owners into “a coloring book for underprivileged kids.”
If the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are racism’s tentpole moments, then feedback on casting, tissue sessions and use of the word “urban” in briefs are its always on strategy.
As a result, I’ve got a hundred stories like these.
So does every Black person with a career in this industry.
But these are not stories we tell.
They are secrets we keep to keep the peace.
Because what is the alternative for us?
Call it out? Now you’re the angry Black person.
Refuse to work on the account? Enjoy making the company Christmas card.
No, we bottle it up and keep it moving. We take on the discomfort so our co-workers, our bosses and our clients don’t have to. After all, we’re still trying to find our place in corporate America like everyone else. But for us, this kind of evergreen racism is the price of admission.
But it’s time we all got a lot more uncomfortable.
And I don’t mean uncomfortable like your internal discussions about posting that black square were uncomfortable. You thought the square was the fight? That was just the Ts and Cs box.
This is the only way this changes. The. Only. Way. If white corporate America starts sharing the discomfort that Black employees have been feeling for years.
That means calling out racism in real time.
It means being willing to have really awkward conversations with your biggest client or your CEO.
It means being the first to be outraged, not waiting to see if your Black employees are.
Because, to be honest, sometimes we don’t have the energy to go full Black Panther.
I know it can be done because I’ve seen it happen.
I’ve been in the room when the white director threatened to walk off the job and the white CCO threatened to fire the client if they didn’t put the Black women back in the cast.
And let me tell you, all that private tutoring and speak-to-the-manager energy can be weapons of mass reconstruction in the right hands. Because it worked. We put Black women back in the cast.
And while that seems like a small victory, imagine it repeated day after day in companies all over the country. Imagine if evergreen racism was replaced by always on antiracism.
So, if you’re committed to this fight and you really want to show solidarity with the Black community, commit to speaking up when racism happens, not just when it’s trending.