Members of the Business Fights Poverty network share their reflections on Black Lives Matter in this series. In this article we hear from South African born Sizakele Marutlulle.
BFP: Please introduce yourself?
SM: My name is Sizakele Marutlulle. A human cis-woman, who lives a life tainted by historical impediments on account of my skin colour. A sociologist by training and strategist by occupation. I founded and lead Marutlulle + C/o - a Pan-African strategy and ideas lab that unlocks growth so pro-Africa individuals and companies can launch, compete, win and prosper.
BFP: What is your personal take on the actions surrounding Black Lives Matter triggered by the death of George Floyd?
SM: This is a culmination of everyday erasure that happens to Black men in particular but for the Black race in general in America and other parts of the world.
The rage, on social and other platforms, from political leaders, social agents, brands, celebrities is welcome but not enough to truly dismantle the everyday enactments of exclusion, discrimination and negative stereotyping.
The biased reporting which entrenches Black as diseased, dispensable, criminally inclined, ungovernable, deceitful is only part of the problem. The biggest challenges are the tainted dinner table conversations that happen away from the limelight and microphones - the microaggressions visited upon black folk everyday and everywhere. These are the nodes that need untangling.
No, it is not the job of the victimised to educate the privileged nor assuage their guilt. If people truly want to learn, they do. They make time to learn new skills, diving, driving, programming, new ways of being in the world and new ways of presenting themselves in a 'positive light' in polite company.
All of this is to say - if the privileged and racially elevated folks want to change, the decision is theirs to make - it just has not mattered enough for them to care and then flow in the direction of self-correction and the dis-robing of socially ingrained habits and beliefs.
BFP: What do you think business decision makers should do in light of this?
SM: Leaders should lead from the place of their personal values. It is a huge lie to have a different set of values as a person - separate from the organisation you lead. Honour, respect, integrity - all these - are values that should be at the forefront, not to be turned off when we get to work and picked up when we head home. It is time to listen, to challenge ourselves as leaders - to truly listen (beyond the point of discomfort), to willingly seek out places to learn (from all and sundry), rather than defend we must reflect, rather than be dismissive is to listen out for the hissing pain that may be carried in the voices of those whose dignity and sense of belonging is questioned everywhere and everyday.
Brands must not fake care whilst extracting commercial return from each ad (placed with a pseudo-caring message). Don't profess your disgust. Do more than speak - change your ways and this starts with how you treat everyone in your supply chain. Humanise everyone.
BFP: What does this mean with a backdrop of COVID-19?
SM: COVID-19 has been a sobering moment - because for once, our collective humanity is exposed. This virus is a welcome (albeit painful) leveller. Yes, it has the capacity to affect us all but we all know that it is those who were disadvantaged going-in who will suffer the brunt of it all. So yes, we are a single race, but not all of us get to roast equally in the fires of epidemics. I am encouraged by folks (old, young and in-between) who are using this time to ask uncomfortable questions of themselves and those they love - because unless we call our demons by name, they will plague us until the end of time
However, COVID and Black Lives Matter are not the same - a vaccine will be found for COVID but there is no inoculation against racism and discrimination.
We must accept that not all folks want to live in a world where black people are shown due respect - and these folks will always have reason to 'support their biases'. Those who want change must work with the willing - and not be distracted by nay-sayers
BFP: What change would you like to see?
SM: Less noise and more substance
Less celebritising of these struggles and a focus on the psychological wounds left unhealed that play out in the everyday lives of black folks everywhere.
This is important, because if we claim that all lives matter then we will start with acknowledging that #blacklivesmatter.