This "Outside Consultant" column by Ernest Owens, an assistant professor of management in the Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on Sept. 13, 2021.
As we go back to our workspaces this fall after celebrating the notion of labor as a virtue, we should also think about ourselves and how we will handle the "isms" around us. It will not be enough to say I am against disrespect for others who are different; rather, we are called by Ibram X. Kendi to show our support for the other. When we see our colleagues who are overweight, of a different nationality, of a different race or ethnicity, of a different age, or possessing an ability issue, we should find ways to include them in our spheres of influence. We should find ways to break bread or have moments of laughter and joy with them.
Being an anti-racist is so much more than saying my one friend from that community makes me diverse. Being anti-racist is boldly going into communities that are not familiar to yours, especially if you are from any dominant community. Do you actively engage with colleagues of different races, different abilities and different skill sets so you know firsthand their norms and worldviews? Knowing something from knowledge versus experience is the difference between seeing a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa versus being on-site and feeling the breeze that engulfs the space while hearing laughter from other travelers. Being anti-racist is letting your perceived supremacy of whatever stripe you feel you possess dissipate into a thirst for experiencing the world around you.
So, as you go back to work in the office, get out on the production floor. Go to the local food joints your colleagues frequent and sit with other people from different functions. Volunteer with organizations that need your corporate or functional skills. Get on community boards that need your capabilities to grow. Do not try to be their "savior," but be an integral part of their success. When you see others being bigoted against any of the "isms," shut it down and express that it's not productive. Share why you see their inclusion as a valued necessity for the organization's vision, mission and success.
Look for ways to heal any fractures in your organization's community by actively working as an anti-racist and know that anti-racism is not just about race but about exclusion in any form.
Ernest Owens is an assistant professor of management at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.