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That Other Viral Killer: Systemic, Enduring, Transmissible, Global Racism

by Bryan de Lottinville
June 5, 2020

I don’t profess to be a civil rights activist, nor particularly informed on this issue. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be Black or Brown or otherwise marginalized, or to have to fear for my life in even the most innocuous of interactions.

The worst I’ve ever been is poor. Subsidized education and likely my whiteness helped me evolve to the ‘entitled but empathetic spectator’ status that I hold. 

But on this topic, I’m forlorn. I’m heartbroken. I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed. And I know that I’m not alone in feeling that way. 

After all, as we say at Benevity, We Are We.

Nothing that I have to say on racism hasn’t been said. But I’ve got something of a platform (even if it’s only for a few keen listeners) and I feel compelled to use it. We need a broad-based commitment to anti-racism; and not just now when it is grabbing headlines, but every day and forever.

The “anarchy” has been triggered by the most notorious recent examples of heinous behaviour toward Black people – Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the actions of Amy Cooper in the park in New York, who weaponized her whiteness (Amy is Canadian, by the way).

The extent and pervasiveness of the reaction is obviously reflective of a much slower burn and decades of recent history rife with similar examples. 

That it’s 2020 and it is still happening is profoundly unacceptable. Yet it persists.

So yeah, I would prefer the type of protest I could bring my kids along to attend. But who am I to judge when I cannot offer an alternative for what people should do about generations of unjust disempowerment and baseless inequity?

The emotions that are fuelling these protests are understandable, natural and likely inevitable. So, yes, we have to do something! Likely a myriad of somethings — the sum total of which will create cultural change. And soon.

As an aside, at Benevity we have a bit of a lexicon. The language we use matters and what we’re trying to get at with many of the terms (e.g. team vs. department, Goodness vs. philanthropy) is an ethos of inclusion – a manner of questioning and thinking, rather than a “don’t use this word or that word” directive.

The former creates culture; the latter (at best) compliance. On that preferred lexicon list is a suggestion to use exclusion/inclusion list vs. blacklist/whitelist and greenfield vs. whitespace. We’re trying to help people to think about something in a way they might not otherwise — why do we refer to one colour as being inclusive and positive, and the other not? 

Although admittedly a minor thing in the overall scheme and by no means the most impactful initiative we need to undertake to continue to promote equity in our company and the broader community, it is perhaps still instructive; a subtle and insidious reminder of the systemic racism that persists in our society. 

And whether it is through inadvertence or disinterest or wilful ignorance, if we truly want to say as I do: “I’m not a racist”, we need to do more than just exhibit passive non-racism. We need to take active steps — both large and, as in the case above, small — to do our part to make change. 

I commend Benevity-ite Lauren Scott for swiftly creating a giving opportunity in our employee giving program last Friday for all of our people to take action as the movement was building momentum across the continent.

Over the last week, we have also spent time having raw and emotional discussions at Benevity, including more intimate conversations in small groups facilitated by our Black Employee Network and allies.

As well, we’ve been focused on helping to mobilize our client companies and their people, like Apple and Elastic, with response kits and resources.

The support that we’re seeing from a large majority of our clients today is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in our history. This past week, following George Floyd’s murder, we’ve observed an outpouring of support with more than $50 million being donated with matching dollars from their companies to causes that support civil rights, freedom and racial equity.

And, this is just days into what needs to be a concerted effort at rewiring our society around equity. Combined with the way that companies and their people have stepped up to support COVID-19 relief initiatives, it leads me to believe that we may just see one of the most inspired years of community investment and collective impact of all time, despite the economic circumstances.

And we might just create some lasting change…

But I, and we, can do more. Contrary to Rex and others suffering from tone deafness on this topic, I believe we should get involved with the work happening in Canada as well; we are not superior in this area. For those of you who have recommended organizations from your communities, please feel free to comment on this post so all of us can learn more about how we can engage.

On this issue there is no room for partisanship and political thinking. Trite a statement though it may be, we are all human, first and foremost, and we all have the capacity to do the right thing.

And if nothing else, Benevity is built on the principle of the power of collective action, and the ability to create large impact through grassroots engagement in small actions. We are seeing this displayed vividly, both with our own employees and in our client community.

We feel privileged to be a small part in helping to catalyze what I hope becomes cultural evolution.

Take action through Benevity! Visit our Community Impact Portal to donate securely to trusted organizations who are advancing basic human rights for Black people around the world and helping us all work toward a just society.