Our country is the midst of a reckoning. The legacy of slavery, our original sin, is still with us. The death of George Floyd exposed the systematic racism in our criminal justice system so brutally that we could not look the other way. It’s not the first time we have seen such injustice. It is, however, the first time I have observed so many people expressing a real desire to force change. People, corporations and organizations that generally try to stay away from social issues are finally saying, “Black Lives Do Matter.”
This realization on the part of white Americans is only a first step. We must also recognize and acknowledge our privilege. Then, as a society, we must push for reforms and nothing less than the re-engineering of law enforcement. As I talk with other leaders in our technology community, there is a real and honest recognition of the problem and a desire to change.
I offer these suggestions as a potential starting point for discussions in our companies and among our peers.
Listen to African Americans, and own up to white privilege: African Americans are finally being asked, “How can I help?” The answer I’m reading the most is that people with privilege should listen to their experiences and also strive to understand what privilege really means. We can work to understand the problem and the real damage it causes and admit to ourselves that the situation is something that blacks deal with every single day. Then, we can help find solutions.
Listening to African Americans who we know or who are part of our organization is a good place to start. Then turn to outside experts, as you would with any business problem, to dig deeper into the situation.
Demand reform: The protests are not about your company’s hiring practices. They are about racism in our government. The government needs to change, and the business community needs to demand that change. Unfortunately, a myriad of entrenched special interests will resist reform.
The tech industry is an economic group that every city in this country is trying to attract. We are a special interest – and a powerful one. We must leverage that power and demand intelligent and meaningful changes to how we do policing in our communities. When those economic development people call, ask them what their city is doing about meaningful police reform. Email the mayor and city council. Remind them of the economic importance of the tech sector.
Inclusion is needed, but it’s not the solution to racism: When tech companies talk about what we can do, we usually focus on inclusion in our industry. And that is a necessary effort. It’s a way to address inequality, economic discrimination, and remove barriers based on color, creed or gender. However, inclusion is a different aspect of racism. It does nothing to eliminate systematic racism in the criminal justice system, and it does nothing about blacks suffering at the hands of that system. We need to do more and move beyond what happens inside our own walls.
We have not succeeded in fixing this until every black tech company CEO and all African Americans can drive in their own neighborhood without being pulled over.
Use tech for good: Get involved in the discussions about reform and find ways to use hardware and software to speed change and make reforms more impactful. We have seen the power of small connected cameras and how they unblinkingly showed us what black people have been telling us for decades. Ask yourself how your technology can help training, enforcement, decision making and the appropriate application of force.
We, as a business community, can help remove this stain from our society and make a real difference in people’s lives. What the technology sector is good at is solving hard problems and getting projects done. If we develop empathy for the pain, fear and frustration our black community members are feeling and let it and them guide us, imagine what we could accomplish.
Eric Miller is co-founder and principal of PADT Inc.