Civic Engagement During a Social Crisis

 

By Tina Alberino

With protests continuing across the country, many business owners are wondering if they should clarify their stance as a company or stay silent. For years, I held the opinion that, as business owners, it was our moral and legal responsibility to be welcoming and inclusive, but also to keep personal politics out of our operations.

I was taught to believe speaking of politics at work was distasteful and inappropriate. It wasn't our place.

The entrepreneurs whose salons I managed throughout my career would never have made political statements of any kind as a company, but times have changed quite dramatically and so has my opinion.

First, let me start by saying that we shouldn't be here. None of us asked for this when we decided to become business owners. This conversation about race shouldn't even be necessary in America in 2020, but decades of failing to acknowledge these problems (let alone properly address them) got us here in the first place.

As salon owners, we have two options here: stay silent and allow others to speculate on our positions or be proactive and clarify them up front.

Making a statement in support of racial justice isn't actually political. Affirming one of our nation's core philosophies ("All men are created equal.") also isn't controversial. We hold those truths to be self-evident, am I right?

Racism isn't a subjective issue. All rational Americans agree that race-based discrimination has no place in American society.

It's unlawful, unconstitutional, and a violation of our basic human rights. Racism, quite literally, is a crime against humanity. We've decided that and written laws to affirm it. It's a done deal. Therefore, opposing racism is an objectively good thing to do.

Anything we teach our children from the time they're born—discrimination is wrong, violence isn't the answer, bullying is unacceptable—should not be considered "contentious points of debate" in any society that calls itself "modern" or "civilized."

POC deserve to feel welcomed in your facility. We have an exceptionally diverse industry. As a result, I have very diverse friends and colleagues. One thing I'm struck by is the sense of "otherness" they feel when in white spaces. One of my close friends (a half-Black, half-Caucasian salon owner), told me over coffee, "You never know if you're truly welcome in any business you walk into. When you aren't clearly welcomed there, at best, you might be tolerated. At worst, you'll be actively discouraged from staying or treated like a thief."

If racism and discrimination aren't things that have touched your life in any way, consider yourself blessed. It can be difficult to believe a problem exists when you haven't experienced it yourself, but just because you've never experienced something doesn't mean others do not, nor does it mean you can't or shouldn't do something to prevent it from occurring, especially in spaces you control.

Your salon may end up appealing to a broader market. Making a statement may bring more business your way, as POC and allies prefer to patronize businesses that share their values, specifically those that are committed to providing welcoming public spaces where all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their skin color.

Silence is complicity. As much as I hate this, business owners don't have the luxury of silence or neutrality any longer.

Whereas it used to be considered distasteful for a company to take a stand, it is now expected. You can refuse to play along, but failure to make a statement may be misconstrued as agreement or enablement—an understandable assumption to make, given the uncontroversial, unpolitical nature of the issue.

Remember: You are not truly being asked to make a political statement. You are being asked to denounce behaviors and beliefs that are definitively and unquestionably unamerican.

Nobody is asking for your opinions on taxation, immigration, women's rights, healthcare, or international trade. Those are political issues. Racism is a human rights issue. It's an important distinction to make.

As Americans, we're going through some very necessary growing pains right now, but I'm certain we'll come out of this a much stronger, safer, unified nation if we stop trying to present entire communities and the complex issues they face in binary terms, and learn to see each other as human beings whose perspectives, struggles, and life experiences are valid, even if we can't personally relate to them. If we want to stop repeating history, we have to be willing to experience the discomfort that accompanies personal growth. We have to be willing to listen to others with patience and respect.

View the full article and more at https://www.thisuglybeautybusiness.com/2020/09/civic-engagement-during-a-social-crisis.html