In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, countless individuals, politicians, companies, and nonprofits have taken to social media—many for the first time—to express solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and protestors fighting structural racism, racial inequity, and police brutality.
These are important actions, but let’s acknowledge them for what they are: the first steps in what should become long-term commitments to create a racially just society. We need to ensure our solidarity isn’t merely reactive to public pressure but proactive and embedded in the fabric of our lives and our movement for animal rights.
As animal advocates, supporting racial equity is not just the right thing to do; it’s also the effective thing to do. The staff make-up of most animal protection organizations—and especially leadership roles—is predominantly white. However, to become a true mass movement for animals, the environment, and public health, we must devise new ways to fight animal exploitation by embracing and shifting power to Black, Indigenous, and people of color, so our cause can appeal to a larger audience.
It’s painfully obvious that the meat, dairy, and egg industries thrive on the exploitation of primarily Black, brown, and lower-income communities in order to keep animal products cheap and plentiful. To end factory farming, we need to amplify and center people directly harmed by these systems of institutional racism and engage in meaningful and mutually beneficial campaigns to end the exploitation of both human and nonhuman animals in our food system.
1. Commit to a Personal, Introspective Process
We often think of racism in its extreme forms—for example, the shooting of unarmed Black people. But racism is often subtle and frequent. It’s asking a Black person why they are “so angry,” or asking someone who isn’t white “where are you really from?” It may feel good to pretend that we don’t see color or race, but research shows this backfires. We all hold biases because we absorb them through our culture and upbringing, and it’s up to us to be honest with ourselves and reflect on our prejudices. (Test yourself for hidden biases here.)
2. Encourage Diverse Workspaces
An organization’s most important policies and communications don’t come out of thin air; they’re created by executives and sometimes the board. If people of color aren’t at the table, these teams are significantly more likely to make ineffective or insensitive decisions based on the group’s limited viewpoints.
3. Encourage Your Workplace to Take Accountability
4. Place Equity Strategies Into Business Plans
5. Hire a DEI Expert to Create Long-Term Change
Most companies need help integrating DEI into their organizational culture. Hire a DEI consulting partner to start the journey, and prioritize finding one led by Black women. While they will help you get started, committing to racial equity means integrating these concepts at every level of a company for as long as the company exists. This is not an exercise that can be done once and checked off a list.
You’ve done the right thing by taking a stance against racism. But remember: this is just the beginning. You have a long road ahead to truly integrate racial equity and inclusion into your company’s culture, but there are countless resources and experts to help you bring your statement to life and extend your work beyond social media statements. Let’s use this moment to make long-term personal and professional commitments so that everyone’s needs are met.
Aryenish Birdie is the founder and executive director of Encompass, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultancy nonprofit.