Taking Stock on MLK Day

Quote on the wall of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s a federal holiday typically spent remembering King’s dream with colorblind nostalgia. We forget how unpopular King was in his day, considered a renegade and targeted by the FBI. A proper reflection on King should include a reckoning with where we’re at with racism today.

And it’s not good.

For my own reckoning with today’s racism, I read When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele. It traces the history of the Black Lives Matter movement, but more than isolated incidents of police violence, it’s a lifetime of experience that underscore how little Black lives are valued.

It’s not the ancient history of the civil rights movement. It’s today.

And it’s daunting.

The Role of Business

These are deep and difficult topics. So why bring them up on what’s basically a business blog?

Because especially on a day like today it should be apparent that we all have a role to play in making King’s vision a reality. Including businesses and organizations. Especially us.

This is a good day to think about what our impact is and what kind of changes we should make. But businesses are also good at making and breaking promises (see the corporate response to George Floyd’s murder). So rather than lofty goals, I just want to challenge you to take stock.

How are you perpetuating (or dismantling) racism?

  • How diverse is your organization? In terms of staff, in terms of customers, in any terms you can quantify.
  • Are you making contributions to the community that actively fight hate and bigotry? It’s easy to think we’re apolitical business entities and should not be involved, but in many ways businesses are passively, if not actively, contributing to the problem. We need to recognize that and search for ways to be part of the solution.
  • What’s happening in your corner of the world? Too often it’s easy to dismiss these issues as something that happens somewhere else. But it’s happening everywhere, and you’re likely not paying attention.

Start by Taking Stock

I took stock myself when it comes to reading. I love to read. But as a white male, I worried I was just reading other white males. When I started tracking those statistics, it became painfully clear that’s exactly what I was doing. Some years more than 90% of my reading was white men. One year I read exactly zero books written by an author of color or featuring a character of color.

In a world that is very much not 90% white men, I was denying myself a wider perspective. I was missing out on wide swaths of humanity and the experiences and insights they have that are very different from my own. It’s hard to understand and appreciate the problems of others when you’re blind to them. It’s hard to be empathetic. Even worse, it’s easy to be dismissive.

So once I took stock, it became clear I needed to make a change. I needed to be more intentional about diversifying my reading choices.

That’s a simple and personal example of taking stock and then taking action. Depending on your issue, taking action may not be so simple. You might need to do some research. You might need to get some direction. But if we really want to lean into Dr. King’s legacy, this is the work we need to do.

Start by taking stock. It might be quick and it might require more work. But figure out where you’re at and the kind of impact you’re having, good or bad. Then take the next step and take action.