No doubt, over the next few days or weeks, we will see several articles about the insurance impacts of widespread protests, riots, and looting around the country. While the financial impact is important and relevant to our employers, there’s another impact we should be considering – employees and colleagues of color, especially black and brown colleagues, may be suffering. After months of self-isolation due to Coronavirus, news reports of multiple black men and women, including George Floyd, being treated as criminals, and killed by police while unarmed, have pushed many Americans to a tipping point.
A riot is the language of the unheard. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
What happens if you, as a manager or peer, keep your head down and do nothing? You miss a chance to build stronger relationships with your employees and among your teams and your company risks losing highly valuable and in-demand talent to companies and mangers that actively support their people. The innovation and agility benefit you may have had from building that diverse team will be lost. Instead, consider this advice:
Do not tell your colleagues they (or those protesting on their behalf) are overreacting.
Educate yourself on systemic and institutional racism in America. Do not ask your colleagues to explain to you what’s going on. Read on for some key historical points that may help you build knowledge and empathy, then seek out books, news, and films to help you dig deeper.
Let colleagues know you are available if they need extra support.
Resist the urge to push or press but do check in and respect each person’s desire to talk to you or not. Keep in mind they may not want to talk today but may need someone to listen tomorrow.
Give your colleagues space and cut them a break.
Likely all your employees are doing less than their best work while sheltering at home, managing families, home-schooling children, and possibly dealing with illness. Your employees of color are dealing with all of that too, as well as watching people like them being openly harmed on a regular basis. Cut people some slack and don’t ask for or expect 100% from them for some time. Even better, provide your employees opportunities for self-care to help boost their physical, mental, and emotional health. This will pay dividends to you and your company in the future.
Black people in the US are getting infected and dying from COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate.
Find ways to effect change.
Instead of being color-blind, (as in, “I don’t see color, or I believe that all lives matter”) be actively Anti-Racist. There are several organizations in the US lobbying for policy changes that would help Black, Brown and Indigenous people live as equal members of our society. Whether your interest is health equity, criminal justice reform, access to affordable housing, ending food insecurity or improving public schools, you can donate, vote, and tell your elected officials what is important to you. Notice how many of these reforms would benefit all Americans, not just people of color.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. – Desmond Tutu
Learn More- Exposing the Iceberg
Many of us have heard of or seen examples of racist acts against black people over the last several years. However, some would suggest that the media makes it seem much more likely than it truly is, and that perhaps protestors are overreacting to rare instances of violence. In truth, these individual and interpersonal acts are just the tip of the iceberg of the racism that black people experience in America. What many of us are missing is what lies beneath. Individual acts of racism are supported by prevalent myths and culture, which is further bolstered by racist institutions and systems.
Take some time to digest the information below and then consider how the cumulative effects of these systemic actions and events may have impacted the lives of people of color in your life.
- Slavery began in the US in 1619 and remained legal domestically until 1860, 241 years total, despite the US ending the African slave trade in 1808. Between 1808 and 1860, the enslaved population “nearly tripled.”
- Historically, some parts of the insurance and financial services industries profited from the institution of slavery. Some insurers covered trans-Atlantic slave trade ships, while others indemnified slave-owners if slaves were hurt or killed. Some banks allowed slaves to be used as collateral for loans. Many of these large firms are still in business today.
- The 13th amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1865 abolished slavery in the US, “except as a punishment for crime” – leaving a loophole for prisoners to work without pay.
- During the Post Civil-War Reconstruction period, blacks and whites remained segregated “by law and by private action in transportation, public accommodations, recreational facilities, prisons, armed forces and schools in both northern and southern states.” These regulations were often known as “Jim Crow” laws and remained in force for nearly 100 years. Read about the destruction of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street”
- During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s violence against Black and White protestors and bystanders, such as the March 7th, 1965 assault and killing of 17 protesters in Selma, MS, was not uncommon. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a figurehead of the movement, was assassinated on April 4th, 1968.
- Owning a home is one of the main methods of accumulating wealth, and red-lining, a system of racial discrimination in federal mortgage lending developed in the early 1930’s, made that more difficult for black people. “White families today have nearly 10 times the net worth of black families and more than eight times that of Hispanic families, according to the federal reserve.”
- The war on drugs and mass incarceration are said to have disproportionately impacted people of color. Black and Hispanic* people make up 37.9% and 31.4% of the prison population as of April 2020, while making up roughly 13% and 18% of the US population, respectively.
- The National Institute of Health published a 2015 study concluding bias among healthcare providers may contribute to poorer outcomes for people of color in areas such as “quality of care received, disease incidence and prevalence, life expectancy, and mortality.”
- Despite the desegregation of public schools after the Civil Rights movement, “two-thirds of minority students still attend schools that are predominantly minority” today, and many of these schools have “significantly fewer resources than schools serving most white students.”
Notes and embedded links:
You can also read a statement from CAS President Steve Armstrong and CAS CEO Victor Carter-Bey here: https://www.casact.org/press/index.cfm?fa=viewArticle&articleID=4722
*(note based on Census data, most people who select “Hispanic” for ethnicity select “White” for race)