Ankit Patel, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Atlanta, is the chapter's social impact chair, and president and CEO of Classic Vision Care. EO upholds an unwavering commitment to helping entrepreneurs learn and grow to new levels of leadership, both personally and professionally. In response to increasing calls for racial justice galvanized by protests over police brutality against black people, EO's Atlanta chapter hosted a learning event to foster a dialogue of inclusivity, honesty, and respect about racial injustice. Here's a summary of the event:
EO Atlanta recently hosted a learning event called "An Open Discussion About Why White People Are Afraid to Talk About Race."
The webinar was organized by the chapter's social impact chair, Ankit Patel. He co-created the content with Jackie Parker of JWP Consulting, a firm that helps organizations embed inclusion and diversity at all levels. The webinar, facilitated by Parker, featured:
- An overview of systemic racism and white fragility
- Definitions and conceptual framework behind the term white privilege to provide a common, working understanding
- Dialogue with other participants about their own experiences around race
- A checklist of what constitutes ally behaviors on the part of antiracists
- A list of areas where white individuals often get stuck in navigating race relations
- Concrete steps for entrepreneurs to get involved and move their companies forward
The 60+ participants were supplied with a copy of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. The book featured prominently in the discussion. Participants viewed videos about common myths white people tell about race and explaining systemic racism.
"I found the content eye-opening," Patel said. "EO is good at helping me as an entrepreneur find blind spots in the way I process and think. Systemic racism and how to defeat it is definitely a blind spot for me--and a lot of my colleagues have shared that it's been a blind spot for them."
Engaging in this sensitive, sometimes difficult, conversation helped EO members gain a new perspective on systemic racism and how to be antiracist.
5 Takeaways From an Open Dialogue on Systemic Racism
We asked EO Atlanta members what they learned. Here's what they shared:
"To say 'I don't see color' to someone of color is to deny or shut off relating to their experiences. Everyone must see the harrowing experiences that Black Americans live to understand the change that must be made. The webinar inspired me to take action: I attended a Black Lives Matter protest, and attached my company to a list of advocates for the hate crime bill in Georgia--which became the 47th state to pass such a law. It's a powerful example to show both my teenage daughters and co-workers the rare, dazzling speed with which change can come."
"I learned that inaction is not acceptable: Everyone--you, me, all of us--must take action when we see or hear racism, including during conversations with our own family or in our companies. We must broaden our understanding of how everyone--you, me, all of us--exhibits racist behaviors, even unintentionally. We must listen and also engage with other people on how our actions and words can be seen as racist. The burden is on white people, not people of color, to eliminate racism."
--Ewoud N. Swaak, partner of Westplan Investors
"The word 'privilege' doesn't resonate with people. Therefore, many white people don't think it applies to them. They completely miss the point because of the word itself. I think we can find a better word to help them connect with what Black America is trying to point out. As a Black person, I don't think I truly appreciated the depths of systemic racism. I'm successful--but looking at the big picture now, I see how the problem runs very deep in our political and social DNA. This generation of young people want change now and aren't willing to wait for it. I believe we're at a tipping point."
--Michelle Falconer, founder and CEO, Bailey & Hunter Realty
"The LGBTQ+ community uses the term 'allies' very effectively. We need to do the same and embrace allies. This isn't a fight we can win alone; it's something best achieved together. We have a marketing problem, in that people like to rally around ideas that are easy to get behind and where they feel welcomed. We need everyone to feel welcome in joining this wave of change.
"One of the discussion questions was, 'How have you leveraged your privilege for the benefit of someone whose skin is darker than yours?' While not directed to people of color, it resonated with me. I started in poverty and have become a successful entrepreneur; I now have a certain amount of privilege. That question made me think about what else I can and ought to be doing. In my company, we're already working toward that goal of doing more."
--Raj Shingadia, co-founder and CEO, Southeast Aquariums
"The realization that, as a white man, the people I grew up learning to admire were the same ones that created systemic racism--whether intentionally or unintentionally--has challenged me significantly. I believe more white people now--more than ever before--are ready and open to learning how they can act to break the system of racism. I think we're in the best possible place to actually dismantle the system.
"One thing we enacted in our company is removing implicit bias when hiring. To level the playing field, we ask that each applicant provide a résumé only, with de-identifiable information and a cell-phone number. That way, a name or address can never cause bias against a potential applicant."
--Phillip Naples, co-founder and CEO of Layr Insurance