Image Credit: Thibault Penin


Netflix has my attention. It’s true, it’s had my attention for the hours of binging I’ve indulged in during this global pandemic (hello, Ozark). It’s also had my attention for its leadership in funding and cultivating Black content creators. But most recently, the company has made news for its simple but powerful shift towards a more equitable world. Let’s back up.


When I sit down with leaders at large multinational companies to talk about diversity and inclusion, once they’ve rattled off all the changes they’ve made, the D&I officer they hired; the employee resource groups they’ve launched; the focus on recruitment, I ask them “With these changes, what results have you seen?” This question isn’t easy to answer.


Sometimes, when leaders already acknowledge that what they’re doing to create more diverse and inclusive companies isn’t working, they ask me “Can you point to a good example of a D&I policy that is working?” This question often makes me squirm, because there are few and far between. But also, what is a “good” policy? Is it merely one that yields a more visibly diverse organization? Or is it one that considers the unique way a given company can use its resources to positively impact marginalized communities at scale.


This week Netflix announced one such plan that seems to represent their understanding not only of the structural barriers facing Black communities, but how they can use their financial might to remove those barriers. The multi-billion dollar streaming service announced it would move $100 million of its cash to financial institutions serving Black communities. Earlier in June they pledged $120 million in scholarships for Black colleges and universities.


A recognition of the scale of structural barriers affecting Black and ethnic minority communities is what businesses need right now in their D&I plans. In the US, a 2016 report by the Congressional Black Caucus revealed that Black-owned businesses are three times as likely to be denied loans. When these businesses do procure loans, they have higher interest rates than their white counterparts. A 2017 report showed that just 1% of venture capital in the US went to Black founders, just 0.2% went to Black women founders.


So what does this inequality in financial capital have to do with Netflix, or corporate D&I in general? Everything. With companies like Netflix having $5 billion in cash at their disposal, changing internal HR policies is not enough to create sustainable change towards racial equality. If these companies want to demonstrate their commitment to change through diverse leadership and recruitment, they need to invest in large-scale access to capital and education for underserved Black communities.


Right now, the biggest asset multinational companies have in this conversation isn’t necessarily a nuanced understanding of social theory and racial prejudice (although that would be great!), it’s their cash. Other firms of this size should take a page from Netflix’s playbook and take out their checkbooks.


Image Credit: Dezeen


What’s different about the murder of George Floyd from the murder of so many other black Americans by police that have reached global media? Global protests and the recognition that structural racism does not end in the US. 


For years, UK and global audiences watched coverage of police brutality against black Americans with sympathy, but now more and more of those audiences have been looking through a more empathetic lens. An understanding that the structural racism that exists in America, exists in the UK, in Germany, in Australia, and around the globe thanks to colonialism rooted in white supremacy.


What’s different is that protests in the UK saw placards not only with George Floyd’s name, but with the names of Sean Rigg, a British man who died in police custody after being arrested in 2008; Kingsley Burrell, who died in 2011 of cardiac arrest in police custody and Stephen Lawrence, whose 1993 racially-charged murder investigation was mishandled by police. Figures of deaths while in police custody show an overrepresentation of black men, disproportionate to their population in the UK. While a 2017 independent report led by David Lammy MP shows that black and minority individuals were twice as likely to die in police custody than white individuals.


As the US reflects on its own structural racism, intentionally built and maintained over the years, this reflection is happening in the UK. As US protesters toppled statues of confederate leaders, UK protesters toppled statues of slave traders. This literal dismantling of racist figures and historical representations is happening as more developed discussions of racism in our institutions, workplaces and networks begin. And these discussions can be powerful.


Just as we in the UK asked ourselves why we still have statues of slave traders in our public squares, we must ask ourselves why it’s acceptable for white comedians to mock black culture. This has led to the Little Britain series being removed from the BBC and Netflix. This kind of humour that was widely accepted just a week ago, is now being rejected. This is happening because more people are joining the discussions that for too long have been limited to black and other minority communities. We all must do the work to dismantle racism, whether we directly experience it or not. This means understanding how deep it goes in our social consciousness. A stray insensitive comment may not seem like a big deal, but when it is made time and again along with racist humour represented in media, this comment enables structures of racism that have persisted for too long.


We are all learning. We must be patient with each other, particularly with those who are newly committed to being anti-racist. As with any form of personal growth, we can’t dwell on our past mistakes for too long, we must learn from them and move on to be better. For those who will never experience racism, they must do the work to understand why expressions like “You’re so articulate”, “Where are you really from?”, are offensive racial microaggressions. It’s not about defending or justifying these comments, it’s about understanding why they were made in the first place and how hurtful they can be.


The global movement that’s happening gives me hope, because I am seeing swift change happen. But for sustained progress, we must continue to bring more people into this discussion in our workplaces and social circles.


Frank Starling is the Founder and MD of Variety Pack | Diversity and Inclusion Consultants | www.varietypack.co



Image credit: Tucson.com


As Angela Davis put it, “in a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist”. If we are going to dismantle a human history’s worth of the white supremacist, imperialist and colonialist policies, attitudes and institutions that led us to where we are today, we must be anti-racist.


What does it mean to be anti-racist? It means doing the work to educate yourself on the privileges you have and benefit from, while trying to understand the lived experiences of those who do not hold these privileges. It means understanding the levels of individual, interpersonal, institutional and structural racism that exist. It means reflecting our own biases, privileges and platforms to strategise how we can confront racism at each of these levels, from talking with family and colleagues to curating the media and products we consume.


For me and the work I do with Variety Pack, it means starting conversations with private and public sector leaders who want to do better. It means encouraging them to ask questions and take an honest look at the institutional racism present at so many of the UK’s most influential organisations. In this way, being anti-racist can be as simple as challenging a colleague on a racist statement they made or starting a difficult conversation with a family member.



In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in the US, there has been discussion in UK media about differences between racism in the US versus the UK, which misses the point. Racism leads to murder. Failing to recognize the humanity of another individual leads to murder. It takes active anti-racism, particularly among the non-black community to dismantle our racist society that knows no borders.


In the words of James Corden “White people cannot just say any more, I’m not racist and think that’s enough.....how can the Black community dismantle a problem that they did not create?”


Which brings me to #BlackOutTuesday, a social media campaign that has united as much as it has divided. It was criticised as being a superficial means of performative activism at best, and a harmful distraction from and silencing of vital #BlackLivesMatter demonstration updates, at worst. While it’s important that our activism does not end with black squares filling social media, a mass digital demonstration can be a powerful tool to bring in new supporters. Solidarity needs to start somewhere. A call for patience is not what we need right now, but through my work, I have seen the need for meeting people where they are to build the understanding and trust that lead to constructive allyship. Change takes time and collective effort. 


For those who participated in #BlackOutTuesday and are looking for further actions to take, I recommend:



Frank Starling is the Founder and MD of Variety Pack | Diversity and Inclusion Consultants

Contact

Variety Pack will help you make diversity a success.

  • Instagram
  • Twitter

©2020 Variety Pack Ltd, 20-22 Wenlock Road. London. N1 7GU. All rights reserved.

Email Us.Call Us.