The Think Blog

Racism & the Current State of Our Society: What I’ve Been Thinking About & Saying Internally

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Russ Starke Chief Executive Officer June 11, 2020

I’m sure many can relate to the fact that we’ve had a lot of discussion internally lately about what we can and should be saying publicly as an organization, and to what degree the organization as an entity should be saying anything at all right now. Part of this is trying to ensure we’re not doing or saying things that could be interpreted as performative allyship or virtue signaling. But there are themes that have emerged from much of the reading and watching I’ve done lately. One is most definitely that, to paraphrase, “everyone who receives your message will be at a different place, and you will receive questions and criticism. Get over it, show up anyway, and lend your voice—because it’s needed. If you can’t handle that, you might want to question your motives in the first place. Nobody has all of the answers and if we wait around for them, it’ll be too late. In fact, it’s already long past time. Let’s go.”

The Think Blog has had something to say about many historic moments of the past 13 years during which our company has existed. Although we have been trying to preserve space, having something to say at this moment is important and necessary. We must not be silent. I also believe that for our diverse crew of Thinkers, our family and friends, our communities, our great city of Philadelphia, and the country that we serve, it’s important to be explicit about where Think Company stands. Furthermore, it’s important to me that you know where I stand. So here’s what I said to the company last Monday, June 1.

The Think Company Response to Recent Events

You may have seen the official statement we shared as Think Company, and I wanted to provide some context around when and why we do things like that. If you didn’t see it, it was a simple but unambiguous statement that we shared over all of our channels:

We lend our voices to the chorus of those demanding acknowledgement of, and action to confront systemic racism. We affirm that to be silent is to be complicit. We must be better than this.

Over the years we’ve had many conversations around what kind of messages are appropriate to be issued from Think Company as an organization. Think Company is, of course, the sum of a collection of autonomous individuals with their own opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints that we are all absolutely allowed to share in our various channels. But there’s always a question about what, aside from messages very relevant to our industry and business, the organization or umbrella under which we all collectively sit professionally should weigh in on. Traditionally, this has often come up in matters of politics, religion, and things that have been politicized, among other topics.

There are times that it doesn’t make sense for our company to wade into those discussions and instead the organization as an entity remains silent. This is not one of them. Who we are, who we aspire to be, and our core values dictate that even though others may be choosing not to enter this fray, we must be clear about where we stand, and silence is simply not an option.

Words are of course only the first step, but they’re an important one. We’ll continue to look for ways to live out this conviction and—to paraphrase others—not just be “not racist” but be actively anti-racist at both the individual and systemic level. And importantly, to confirm that racism is very real, very present, and has always been.

My Personal Position

I am not Think Company and Think Company is not me. But as CEO, a big part of my job is representing all of us publicly on a number of stages. I take that seriously and put a lot of thought into what that means. As such I think it’s important both internally and externally for me also to be unambiguous about what I’m feeling right now and where I stand.

Like many, if not all of us, I spent this weekend heartbroken about everything that is going on right now. I listened and read a lot, and had some very sobering conversations with my family. And I want to speak the names of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery (edited as of 6/8: Breonna Taylor. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Oscar Grant. Sandra Bland. Walter Scott. Philando Castile. Eric Garner), just the latest in a long, heavy line going directly back to Emmett Till and literally centuries prior.

I don’t want to personally go on too long about this because nobody has asked me to, and there are many other people whose voices we should be listening to right now. But one thing I know I can do is to use whatever platform I have as a CEO, and as someone who looks like me and has benefitted from privilege in many of its forms—of course the most powerful being white and male—to be visible in the chorus saying “this must end.” Then, I can defer to voices that are much more eloquent on the subject, much closer to the lived experience, and that need to be amplified.

There should never be, and should never have been, any doubt or question about it: Black Lives Matter.

I’d like to provide just a few links that have moved me in the last few days, and in particular I think that Trevor Noah’s piece is worth watching all the way through because it is very consistent with how we as a company try to truly define the problem as objectively as possible before we start solutioning. Trevor provides great insight into what is happening right now and why. I think it’s required viewing.

 

Cortney Ahn created this fantastic, powerful, and devastating set of infographics: A Guide to White Privilege

Michelle Obama delivered a succinct gut punch in a recent IG post:

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Like so many of you, I’m pained by these recent tragedies. And I’m exhausted by a heartbreak that never seems to stop. Right now it’s George, Breonna, and Ahmaud. Before that it was Eric, Sandra, and Michael. It just goes on, and on, and on. Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us—Black, white, everyone—no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets. I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us. Artwork: @nikkolas_smith

A post shared by Michelle Obama (@michelleobama) on

Barack Obama wrote this moving letter, as well:

There are so many more, but these resonated with me deeply and I’m sharing them again to make it clear, for any who may wish to know, where I am right now.

Love to you all. In the coming week and beyond. And love especially to our Thinkers that have to live with additional consideration, and yes, fear, because of the color of your skin. For what it’s worth I want to be your champion, friend, and ally.

* * *

If you’ve read this far, I thank you for that. If your organizations haven’t done something similar, I’d encourage you, depending on your role, to either 1) do so yourself or 2) find out why it didn’t happen. I am very happy to be a resource for you and happy to have a conversation with anyone you point my way (or vice-versa) if it’ll help—so please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Also, again I say that we need to now follow up on this with action. We’ve got several new initiatives happening that build on what I’m proud to report has been underway for longer than just the last few weeks. For accountability, we set up a perpetual page that has our company statement on it (expanded from the small social media statement I shared above) along with the steps we’re taking now. We plan to revisit and update this page on a regular basis to make sure that what’s there is still relevant, impactful, and that there’s enough there to adequately (and then some) stand behind our words. We’ve all got work to do. Yes, it’s already long past time. We’ll be forgiven if we get on the right side of history. Let’s go.