As a representative of white, middle class Liberalism in the United States, I have to come to terms with the fact that I have been raised in a certain way which affects my behavior. More specifically, I am a WASP, White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. I am not from Connecticut. I was born and raised in Virginia up to age 21 and then chose to live in the northern reaches of our country; for the last 20 years in Connecticut. Having lived on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line, I feel that I am constantly balancing the viewpoints of a southerner and a New Englander on a false assumption.
The assumption is that white, middle class, well educated folks know what’s best for our fellow citizens who happen to be brown or black. I maintain that the attitudes and thoughts which engendered the white colonialism that founded our country, that subjugated and enslaved humans from indigenous societies here and on the African continent, still exist, 200 years later, in the heads of well meaning, white, liberal, middle class business owners in our country today.
Coming to terms with my heritage and upbringing has caused me to examine my thought processes, conclusions and behaviors, as well as those of the people around me, in great detail, especially since President Obama was elected in 2008. (I hope that many of you are also engaging in the same examinations.) Since his election, many facets of race relations in our Country have become the point of much thought and action by white folks who want to make a difference. To take the best course of action to grow my social enterprise, I am thinking about the following questions during the process of scaling up.
What are the motivations behind our thoughts and actions? From where do the motivations arise?
Too often, out of a desire to help others, I find myself jumping into the helping process past the point at which I should have asked the individuals I am trying to help about what THEY think they need. Their needs should inform my motivations instead of me substituting what I think is right.
What listening and learning is taking place to develop those motivations?
The choices white folk have made over who to listen to in politics and the media has led to extreme, staunchly entrenched divisions in our society. Are we learning from the right voices? What if we made an effort to listen to the folks we regard as “the other?” Our businesses and the people we employ could only benefit from listening more openly and to a broader range of voices.
What processes and attitudes need to be undone before learning and listening can take place?
Racism in our society is so deeply rooted and ingrained that it can be almost invisible. By invisible, I mean that it is accepted, subconsciously in many instances. I am ashamed to admit that, without even thinking, I used to warily watch a young black man with his hood up cross the street in front of me wondering what no good thing he must be up to. But, of course I used to do that! That’s the way I was trained to think my whole life! My parents, my religious experience, my education, television….Now, I stop and examine what that inner voice is saying and why; how I can switch it off, and what more open, truthful thought I can redirect to.
As business owners, how can white folk; who hold many advantages in the work place simply because of the way they look; engage in creating economic equality among people of all colors?
The answer to this question is not solved simply by layering more affirmative action rules on businesses; although those rules, however imperfect, are necessary. To be open to generating economic equality among people of any color, business owners need to be more flexible with the structure of the jobs they create, the atmosphere in which those jobs are done, and the compensation which comes at the end of a day’s work. These actions are just a start.
As an owner of a social enterprise through which I contract with individuals who have barriers to obtaining and keeping well-paid employment, answering these questions is essential to the process of growing a stable business. However, I believe we could all use an opportunity to pause and reflect on these questions. You might also find this blog post of mine in which I quote Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be a meaningful read.
Note: Holy cow! How has it been almost 10 weeks since I wrote a blog post? Not good. Clearly, my workday balance is out of whack. Can I get one of those charms that Dumbledore gave Hermione so that I can have more than 24 hours in a day? No? Darn…..I see a blog post on time management and priority setting in my future.
Mary Ruth, Owner of United Sewing and Design has over 30 years experience in the manufacturing of products by sewing and is author of “Industry Sewing Construction Methods” http://amzn.to/2yMxMmk. Her focus is on design, entrepreneurship; social enterprise; the connections between the environment, the apparel industry, and manufacturing; and how owners can leverage artistic methods to benefit their business.