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June 19, 2020

How to Help the Movement for Social Justice

Juneteenth – June 19th

June 19th, also known as Juneteenth, is a day of celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. On this day in 1865, General Gordon Granger and thousands of Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to let people know slaves were free and the Civil War had come to an end. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been official since January 1863, it wasn’t until General Lee’s surrender in April 1865 and the arrival of General Granger’s troops that those on the side of freedom could overcome the resistance.

General Granger read aloud General Order Number 3, which began:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

Slaves who heard the news celebrated their freedom, though for many, freedom did not come immediately. Read more on Juneteeth here.

In the century and a half that followed, the legacy of slavery and its related endemic racism has not been eradicated from American society. These inequities have never been more at the forefront of society’s awareness than they are right now.

Today’s Social Justice Movement

Sustained attention is essential in achieving true, lasting change. Continued marches and protests are keeping Black Lives Matter as a lead story in news cycle after news cycle. Social media feeds remain dominated by voices amplifying and demanding change. Corporations large and small are being challenged to look at and transform the racial makeup of decision makers within their ranks, as well as the diversity of overall staffing. Government officials are feeling persistent pressure to enact legislative change by large numbers of constituents comprised of all races and ages. Their demands are urgent. They are disinclined to wait until the November elections to see progress, and how leaders met these demands will likely inform how voters cast their ballots at the polls.

Many who lived through the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s point out that this time is different because of the diverse demographic support behind the movement. The advent of real-time videos plus the constant mainstream and social media updates have made these issues more immediate than ever.

A moment can spark change. A movement has a greater opportunity of creating broader, significant change. And a sustained movement can affect an overall culture with more lasting change and shift thinking for generations to come.

Change From Within to Changing the Nation

Change happens on many levels – on an individual, personal, internal level to the communities, neighborhoods, cities, states, and our entire nation. The world at large is watching and joining in antiracism efforts, as well. For those who want to learn more about antiracism, the Obama Foundation suggests looking at the information and organizations below that are calling for a range of reforms:

Change Within Industries

Industries and organizations are taking stock and looking at systemic racism from within. One such industry is Design. Black Interior Designers Network (BIDN), led by president, Keia McSwain, is challenging the Design community to stand with Black designers and help create change within the design industry.

BIDN has created ten steps to help individuals and companies become allies. Many of these steps can be applied across industries. Other steps that are more design-specific can be reframed or modulated to apply to other industries. In an interview with Business of Home’s Kaitlin Petersen, McSwain gives perspective (excerpts below):

  • Stop colorblindness.
    “I don’t want you to pretend that you don’t see color, because we all know you do see color,” says McSwain. “I want you to see my color. I want you to respect my color, I want you to honor my color, and I want you to help elevate me to positions that we both know my color in some instances may hold me back from.”
  • Challenge your counterparts to stand up and have the uncomfortable conversation about racism.
    Start by asking yourself tough questions—but also by holding your colleagues accountable. “Think about that low-key racist person you know that’s said some shady stuff, but you let it go because they’re really nice and they don’t lean that far right,” says McSwain. “I [recently] told a friend, ‘If you confront your friends who are liberal but racist anyway, you make them look at themselves.’ [It’s about] holding other people accountable—including in the workplace.”
  • Stop denying your privilege and stating, ‘All lives matter.’
    “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter,” says McSwain. “Saying, ‘All lives matter’ is the ‘but’ followed by an ellipses. It’s like saying, ‘I’m not racist, but …’ Pro-black does not mean anti-white. We just want you to recognize that systemic racism started with slavery and has trickled down, so that when we go out and compete in the world, we’re still 10 steps behind. There’s no real urge or willingness to see us succeed. Now, it happens. We do it because we are resilient and determined—but there are hurdles!”
  • Include black designers as expert voices.
    “The black designer’s voice is never prioritized: There’s a sprinkle here or there, but if you think about it, the real market or conference keynote—I’ve never seen any keynote [by a person of color],” says McSwain. “The Network’s goal is to engage and push you out there—push resources, and push you up to the same table.”
  • She also notes that designers want to have conversations about their work—a privilege far more often afforded to white designers. “Being really great at what we do but still having to deal with things that are built to hold us back—and having to keep talking about it—is hard,” she says. “Talk to us about how to properly hang a panel or the right fabric to use in this room and why we like the colors we do. I don’t want to keep talking about what it’s like to go into a showroom and be ignored or walking up to a chair and the first thing [showroom staff] say is, ‘That chair is $4,500.’”
  • Partner with interior design organizations of color.
  • Stop discriminatory minimum account engagement.
  • Challenge your reps to reach out to more black designers in their region.
  • Donate to interior design organizations of color. 

Joining the Frontlines, Taking Action, and Lending Support

For those compelled to join the frontlines of social justice, below are a few organizations that can be contacted. If you would like to help the families of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, you can donate below.

Resources for Ongoing Learning

Julia Wuench, a contributor to Forbes has put together an extensive list of relevant resources in her article, “First, Listen. Then, Learn: Anti-Racism resources for White People.” It includes books, articles, YouTube videos, movies and documentaries, television, websites and blogs, podcasts, organizations, and even who to follow on social media.

Antiracism is not easily addressed and quickly “checked off the to-do list.” Nor is it an issue American society can neatly and comfortably put behind us as we multi-task our way through a global pandemic and recession. It takes active learning, discussion, and ongoing work by individuals, families, organizations, communities, corporations and governmental agencies to identify, call out, and address endemic racism.

While there have been moments when the evils of racism have taken the national spotlight, what is new in the journey to racial justice is the unparalleled clarity and urgency with which a diverse range of the population view the need to correct systemically destructive racism in our country… NOW.