This Black History Month, Commit to Change with Liberatory Consciousness

Niomi Sterling |

Black History Month is a time when businesses and individuals take a moment to acknowledge the contributions that Black communities have made to global society. This is often done in the form of lunch & learns, celebratory meals, heritage celebrations, or an organization-wide email on how the company values the historical and contemporary contributions of the Black community. However, these rituals routinely miss the mark: they are often performative and lack the deeper analysis of what it means to not only support Black communities and employees, but to empower and celebrate all marginalized cultures in the workplace. 

Black History Month should serve as a reminder to dig deeper and strengthen awareness and commitments to social justice, the way Black Americans have for centuries. For Black employees, celebrating our history means having their voices heard and seeing their company and colleagues stand behind them in the face of societal and institutional injustices. It also is an opportunity to highlight and recognize the many nuanced cultures and histories of the diaspora.

One of the best ways individuals and organizations can support Black colleagues is by taking concrete steps to advance racial equity. At Paradigm, we use the concept of liberatory consciousness, a framework coined by Dr. Barbara J. Love, to identify and take action in dismantling oppression. “Liberatory consciousness” is a call to action to acknowledge that, while we live in a flawed society, we all have a role to play in creating a different future. Dr. Love’s framework uses the Four As: awareness, analysis, action, and accountability. 

At Paradigm, we also believe that change needs to be driven at both the individual and structural level. As individuals, perceptions of the world around us shape how we show up in our immediate environments like work. Workplaces, however, have an opportunity to drive progress at the systemic level: they can change internal processes and policies to improve their organization, and they have a huge impact on the society around them. 

This Black History Month, we invite you to consider our thought starters for individuals and workplaces using Dr. Love’s framework. 

Awareness

  • Individual: Ask yourself which oppressive narratives have you been exposed to or internalized, and what celebratory narratives have been left out? 
    • Did your education around Black history include ancient African civilizations that existed pre-slavery, or did it start and end with colonialism and slave trade?
  • Workplace: Explore whether your organization has turned words into action around DEI promises. 
    • Notice if your commitment to DEI has waned since the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. What actions have come out of your last initiatives? 
    • Have those commitments made a difference in the experiences or representation of Black professionals (particularly senior representation) on your teams?

Analysis

  • Individual: Ask yourself tough questions. Why have these systems existed? What role have they played in your own behaviors, decisions, and perspectives?
    • Have you chosen to learn about Black history and communities from Black people? Why or why not? 
    • Have you chosen to further your learning outside of cultural heritage celebrations? Why or why not?
  • Workplace: Explore why your company has had to make these commitments and what the impact should be. 
    • What larger systems exist in your industry that have maintained inequitable policies or standards?
    • Is the culture of your company one that celebrates, supports, and develops individuals from different backgrounds, beyond ERG and heritage celebrations? Does your company have values that support this?

Action 

  • Individual: Once you are able to notice and understand how a system has come to exist and the role you play in it, it’s time to decide what action needs to take place. For example:
    • Amplify the voices of Black professionals around you and on your team.
    • Speak up against inequitable policies that favor one group over another.
  • Workplace: Decide what action needs to take place from a space of genuine values alignment. 
    • Invest in underrepresented communities, leaders, and businesses, and track your progress.
    • Audit your hiring, promotion, and sponsorship policies for equity.
    • Ask for feedback from underrepresented employees around your DEI initiatives and their impact.

Accountability

  • Individual: Bring others along! 
    • Encourage others to learn about Black history from the Black perspective.
    • Encourage DEI training on your team or in your business.
  • Workplace: Drive change in your industry by holding your company and others accountable.
    • Honor transparency and accountability: publish not only your areas of improvement, but also your areas where growth is still needed around your DEI commitments.
    • Challenge your partners to have diverse representation on their teams and diverse suppliers in their network.
    • Uncover and abolish policies and practices with current or historical ties to racism and/or prejudice, and expect the same from others as a measure of excellence.

Dr. Barbara Love’s Four As framework is just a starting point in your learning and growth. The next steps are all about making the commitment that is right for you, and taking action to support Black colleagues well beyond Black History Month. 

(Looking for some resources to get started? As part of a free two-week trial, our Paradigm Reach learning platform has a microlearning video exploring how allies can recommit to racial justice; a curated list with recommendations on what to read, watch, and listen to; and a blog outlining how to advance racial equity. Sign up here to access these resources.) 

 

February 18, 2022

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