As an African American and business coach, I am often asked how one can become more sensitive, reflective and cooperative with the black experience. It’s a learning curve: many people have been unaware of diversity, equity and inclusion and, just as suddenly, they are expected to be actively allied, even activists. I’ve always been a supporter of feminism and the LGBTQ community, so I can understand – you can ignore the privilege given to you. He is invisible.
The best way to support is to share your privileges (network access, pay gaps, larger platforms) with others. The second best way is to better understand their journey. And the easiest way to do that is to read.
These three books are an excellent starting point.
Black Software: Internet and racial justice, from AfroNet to Black Lives Matter
by Charlton D. McIlwain (Oxford University Press, 2021)
When I founded my first startup about a decade ago, I was surprised by how many other African Americans had done the same. It wasn’t that I wasn’t looking. We just didn’t talk about it. Today’s relatively rich tapestry of cover stories, venture capital investments and massive exits makes the successful black entrepreneur seem novel.
New York University Professor Charlton D. McIlwain’s new book, black software, covers the leadership history of modern black startups, which is useful for those who are really interested in this topic. The real gem here, however, is the cultural context around how startup data, access, and power have been used and, often, abused against communities of color. It’s a fascinating view of how startup leadership can actually create community empowerment.
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story
by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times Magazine (One World, 2021)
I think the most confusing part of the DEI conversation is the uneven awareness of cultural history. Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ bestseller focuses on black history, which, in turn, helps us understand American history.
The importance for corporate leadership is twofold. First, it gives rich cultural context to pain points unique to the African-American experience. Founders like me understand these challenges and have had success building startups, organizations, and other groups that serve our communities. Second, it creates a level of empathy – not sympathy, but empathy – for the unequal distribution of privilege to date.
Black Food: stories, art and recipes from across the African Diaspora [A Cookbook]
by Bryant Terry (4 color books, 2021)
I believe food is the key to understanding culture. Chef Bryant Terry’s Coffee Table Book, black foodis a bit of a misnomer, as the mix of family recipes, personal trials and astute observations uses the culinary discussion as a doorway to seeing the diversity.
The power here is the sheer breadth of content: from the challenges of being an ambitious African American and being a perceived threat to the complexities of black expression – to how our perspectives can be more scrutinized on the workplace and beyond. (I also have a small essay on the vulnerability of black men.) My favorite essay at the moment is Tricia Hersey, Founder of Nap Ministry on how care and rest go hand in hand with equality at work – a discussion we can use in our debates about the four-day work week and our insufficient holiday habits.