Conversations surrounding racism and that trauma that people of color face have become more common – and expected – in the business world. But how do you have a conversation that propels real change, one that is productive rather than defensive, and one that focuses on the concerns of people of color, rather than on the sensitivities of privileged people?
Jeanine Suah, a trained linguist who currently works at San Francisco-based Brex’s Miami office as an “X in Residence,” shared her advice, which stems in part from her training and in part, she said, from her own personal work to set boundaries.
The tech community in Miami has been engaged in conversations this past year about whether Miami will lose some of its diverse edge as big tech companies relocate there. During Times of E’s visit to Miami, Suah mentioned a handful of elements that have made some of those conversations more productive than others.
A key factor, she said, is leadership, along with the participation of a broad group of founders and investors. She particularly cited the leadership of local entrepreneur Michael Hall, founder of Digital Grass and MediumFour, who often speaks of inequities in the Black tech community. For instance, Hall collected some concerns of the community about the tech newcomers in Miami, and published them, in a LinkedIn post:
“Oh my. So much to say, I’ll just simplify it,” he wrote.
1) They never cared and the west coast money came to the east coast with a west coast mindset.
2) We are not a majority minority city.
3) The superiority complex is real. That’s why a mediocre other will get money that a over talented black person will never get.
4) They aren’t mentoring us, they are offering just enough to say they helped. The same as the opportunistic diversity inclusion and we care about black lives that was done during the height of the pandemic. As JayZ said, “Where’s the love?”
5) They don’t want to fund you, they want you to do contest(s) to put your ideas out to the world and to critique you publicly to say they tried to help. It’s a marketing ploy.
6) Most companies really get that lick from some government contract or a procurement. Look at how bad those numbers are in The City of Miami.
7) Most of the forward facing black representatives of black tech Miami aren’t event making money in Miami.
8) If your idea is beyond what they can comprehend, it upsets them or isn’t important. It’s a complex that started all the way back with… you know the rest.
9) The numbers aren’t shocking to us. The shock is they continue to ignore it.
“He took it upon himself to gather points based on what was being discussed, which empowered the group as a whole to have a productive conversation,” Suah said.
She outlined a few other ideas:
Reflect on Your Limits and Privileges
The first step to successful conversations about racism is self-reflection, she said. People need to notice themselves first, which includes being aware of your own privileges and biases. Taking time to understand these will help a conversation be more open and productive.
In her case, she had to learn not to become upset when people didn’t understand or take the time to try to understand her point of view. “It’s not your responsibility to make someone understand,” Suah said.
Hold Respect Foremost in Your Mind
When discussing topics such as those around race, you should hold onto the idea and emotion of respect. This can be expressed by keeping your tone calm, yet firm, she said. This creates a discussion that moves forward.
Consider Who Sets the Tone
Suah also suggests that people of color offer their thoughts first. “People who experience the problem feel differently,” she said.
It’s most important to articulate your experience and knowledge clearly, she said, a realization that was relieving to her. If you can walk away feeling like you’ve made people think of something, you’ve succeeded, she said.