A Black Year's Resolution

A Black Year's Resolution

The year 2018 will mark fifty years of what many consider to be the end of the Civil Rights Movement. Fifty years and a Black president later, one thing is clear: No one is coming to save us. We will have to save ourselves. Saving ourselves starts with how we think and treat one another. A new year can bring an opportunity for Black people to think differently; an opportunity for a "Black Year's resolution."

      Much has been written about Black hair. As of late, the narrative has been complimentary and focused on celebrating those of us who wear so-called “natural hair.” But what hasn’t been said about the topic of Black women’s hair is this: it is really none of anyone else’s business how a Black woman chooses to wear her hair. So to white people and Black men: keep your commentary, assessments, and even your compliments about our hair. You are not here to validate us.  It started this morning. I was minding my business – accompanied by coffee and Facebook. All was right in the world until I saw a post from Channel 4 News (more about them later) that read: “There has been a shift confidence, in awareness, in pride, the confidence that comes from black women embracing themselves. These black women are embracing their natural curls and ditching the chemicals that make their hair straight.” You can see the video  here . As with most things in Facebook-land the real stuff goes down in the comments.  The comments consisted primarily of white people offering their opinions, questions, and compliments. Here are some of the comments:     






    Wow. Perhaps we should feel good now that white folks have had their questions answered and gotten to tell us they approve of our hair choices. Note that it is a hallmark of white privilege that white people assume their opinion on every topic even matters. Of course, in the celebration and validation, there was no discussion of who made Black women’s hair a problem in the first place. This isn’t something that just happened. It was a direct result of racism, white supremacy, and more specifically anti-blackness.  After I got over my incredulousness with the story I then asked, “Who is Channel 4, anyway? Where do they broadcast?” And, “How does an organization that presents as a ‘local, friendly news station’ have 4 million Facebook followers?” I needed to know who Channel 4 was. I channeled my inner Squeak from the “The Color Purple” when she asked, “ Harpo, who dis woman ?” It turns out that Channel 4 is a “publicly owned, commercially funded UK public service broadcaster” that is committed to “diversity.” That’s all fine and good, but when you visit their  website  you can see that they have a news team void of Black women. There is not one. Therefore, I fail to see the commitment to diversity. What’s more? You do not get to talk about Black women if you aren’t willing to hire Black women. We are no longer here for your white gaze, to satisfy your curiosity under the guise of compliments, and provide you with the benefit of views and clicks.  I would not want the reader to think this is the only example in which Black women’s hair is the topic of conversation by white media and society at large. A few days ago it was an “ obsession ” (that was the word used in the title) with Beyoncé wearing her natural hair. There are regular  stories  of Black girls being sent home from school because of administrative disapproval of their hair. And then there is the  11th Circuit court  which effectively ruled a person can be refused employment for wearing their hair in locks.  Before you judge me as someone who just can’t be happy with even a compliment, hear me out. At the end of the day this is a discussion about Black beauty standards. The same people who you give permission to validate you can (at their leisure) choose to invalidate you. The same people who tell you your hair is beautiful today can tell you it is not tomorrow. How this works is if we accept one narrative as true, then we have primed ourselves to accept the other. The best way to get around this truism is to not give power to those who have proven themselves to be fickle and committed to being the arbiters of beauty in the first place. We have seen throughout history that those who decide what is beautiful and what is not act to consistently uphold whiteness as the standard by which all others are measured.  But there is another problem with the incessant discussion of Black hair: this discussion is a continuation of policing Black women’s bodies in unacceptable ways. I searched my brain for an occasion where I have heard of women’s hair of any other race being a topic of public conversation and I found nothing. I have yet to see a news report on what white women are doing with their hair. Why? Because whiteness is normalized. When others appoint themselves as qualified to discuss Black women’s hair it reinforces the notions that Black women are a deviation and there is no choice they can make that must be respected – without question or comment. Whether it is our hair, our bodies (see  Sarah Baartman ), or even how we  dress  (remember when traffic reporter Demetria Obilor was publicly shamed for being…gorgeous?), there is always someone ready, waiting to express themselves about the appearance of Black women.  So, on behalf of my Sistahs and me, I have a request of white people (men and women) and Black men: “Please keep discussions of our hair out of your mouth.” Why white people  and  Black men? Because racism and sexism reinforce one another -- neither is acceptable and Black women are targets of both.  Jyarland Daniels  CEO, Founder – Harriet Speaks   Jyarland Daniels, MBA, JD is CEO & Founder of Harriet Speaks  ℠  , a racial equity and inclusion consultancy, focused on anti-black racism, that offers training, executive coaching, communications, and conflict resolution strategies for non-profits, educational institutions, and corporations. Learn more at harrietspeaks.com.     

Much has been written about Black hair. As of late, the narrative has been complimentary and focused on celebrating those of us who wear so-called “natural hair.” But what hasn’t been said about the topic of Black women’s hair is this: it is really none of anyone else’s business how a Black woman chooses to wear her hair.

  Life is filled with things we try to avoid – traffic, the flu, negative people, the list goes on. The workplace is no different; we try to avoid things there as well. In days past we might have tried to avoid talking about race, but those days are long gone. Efforts such as  The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion  represents the commitment of CEO’s of some largest US companies to increase equity for Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, LGBTQ, disabled, veterans, and women. Office supply giant, Staples, implemented an initiative, “Race Is NOT a Four-Letter Word” as discussed in the  Fortune  article, “ It’s OK to Talk About Race at Work .” ATT CEO Stephan Randall gave a  stirring defense  of Black Lives Matter to the company’s Employee Resource Groups. These examples and numerous others demonstrate talking about race at work is no longer taboo.    
  But for all of the encouragement to talk about race at work, we do not have guidance on how to do it. Talking about race, at work or anywhere else, is not a Nike commercial; “Just Do It” does not apply here.  We cannot “Just Do It” because we are dealing with hundreds of years of racial oppression at individual and systemic levels. Furthermore, we have all learned to be silent about race. This silence was required in order to maintain a system of unearned privilege given to some, while denying privilege to others. Notions of color-blindness and silencing tactics such as being accused of “playing the race card”, or the subtle demand that as a prerequisite to racial dialog those who no longer suffer under Jim Crow conditions must first cede moral ground to the dominant culture and admit that “things are better”, are some of the reasons why conversations about race remain difficult to navigate.  Companies begin the process of talking about race at work, only to quickly abandon it out of frustration or objections from those who felt it was uncomfortable or unproductive. But what companies are not doing is increasing their likelihood of success at the onset. They are jumping into the 12 foot end of the pool without knowing how to swim, or planting seeds without first preparing the soil. In both of these instances, whether the swimmer or the farmer, the results are almost guaranteed to be less than optimal than had proper advance preparation taken place. There are things that companies should do prior to talking about race.  One of the most important prerequisites is the proven ability to engage in conflict and debates in a productive way. A conflict resolution process and rules to discussion are essential. The process and the skills to handle conflict should be demonstrated and exhibited in other topics prior to initiating a conversation about race. If we think about it, this makes sense. If people have not shown they can solve disagreements about something much less fraught with conflict than race, a conversation about race is doomed to fail.  The second requirement before initiating workplace conversations on race is trust. Because this is an area where mistakes will be made (by individuals of all races), trust is essential to creating a climate where such risks can be taken. In addition to the reality of mistakes, these conversations require vulnerability by all involved. There is no substitute to having trust prior to talking about race. The stakes are high for anyone willing to talk about race at work. Concerns that one’s ability to earn a living is at stake as a result of this conversation cannot be ignored. Those concerns can only be mitigated by the presence of trust before embarking on the topic. The importance of trust is also what makes these conversations more productive in small teams than in large gatherings.  Related to trust, but different, is the need for there to be a strong relationship between individuals and between individuals and the organization. Employees must feel respected, valued, and treated fairly both by their peers and the organization at large prior to a conversation on race. Organizations that are serious about the success of their initiatives will assess these factors in advance and where there is a gap work to enhance these feelings prior to talking about race. Having a conversation about race in an environment where employees do not feel respected, valued or have existing concerns about fairness (related to race or not) is applying a spark to a powder keg. When the explosion occurs, after the introduction of race, it will be difficult to recall the issues that were problematic beforehand. The only thing left is debris and the soot of racial dialog.  Companies are to be congratulated for taking this step to talk about race in the workplace. But it is not enough to commit to doing something, we must commit to doing it right and that involves adequate preparation. It is true, “Just Do It” worked for Nike. But when talking about race at work we must “Just Do It…Right.”  Jyarland Daniels  CEO, Founder – Harriet Speaks   Jyarland Daniels, MBA, JD is CEO & Founder of Harriet Speaks  ℠  , a racial equity and inclusion consultancy, focused on anti-black racism, that offers training, executive coaching, communications, and conflict resolution strategies for non-profits, educational institutions, and corporations. Learn more at harrietspeaks.com.     

But for all of the encouragement to talk about race at work, we do not have guidance on how to do it. Companies begin the process of talking about race at work, only to quickly abandon it out of frustration or objections from those who felt it was uncomfortable or unproductive. There are things that companies should do prior to talking about race.

       When Networking Goes Wrong: The Trouble With “Come Meet a Black Person”   I wish we lived in a world where I didn’t have to write this blog post. But, alas, when bad ideas arise, some people need an explanation for why the idea is bad and we should just throw the entire thing away. So, here goes… For 400 years – before and since Emancipation -- among Black people, there have been differing ideas on how to get free; on how to escape the system of racism that exists as a web, touching all aspects of our existence from cradle to grave. There have been those who have advocated patience, hoping that the oppressors would change their ways. There have been those like Harriet Tubman who, while willing to work with white people who supported her cause, did not seek to change the minds of her captors. Tubman, and others like her, simply took their freedom and invited other enslaved persons who understood that their humanity was neither something to be given by another nor had to be earned, to join their efforts. Today, too, those differences remain. The latest example of how to get free can be found in a networking event just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, created by a Black person, inviting white people to, “Come Meet a Black Person.”  If you haven’t cringed at the idea of such an event yet, please keep reading. In case you think this a good idea and before you rush out to plan your very own, “Come Meet a Black Person” event for local white people who do not have any Black friends, you should consider why this is a terrible idea.  Citing a study that says 75% of white people do not have non-white friends, the creator of “Come Meet a Black Person”, Cheryle Moses, told   The Washington Post  , “As a black person I deal with racism every day. … And I don’t think I’m alone. I want to do my part to change things. She goes on to tell  local media , “If we can become friends, it will be easier. ‘Come Meet a Black Person’ is my effort to start a conversation so we can love on each other.” Yes. Really. Check the hyperlinks.  As a racial equity consultant, I travel the country teaching and talking about how to achieve a more just society. Within the diversity and inclusion space I focus on anti-blackness and how it serves as the underpinning of racism against Black people and other people of color. I focus on anti-blackness not because other forms of racism or oppression are less harmful. I do so because racism in this country (and globally) functions as a hierarchy with whiteness at the top and black at bottom, where privileges are given or denied based on one’s proximity to blackness. But, in my work, the primary thing that I stress to clients and groups is the necessity of understanding how racism operates.  We hear the term “racism” so much that we think we know what it means. But do we? Ms. Moses is of the opinion that racism can be solved if white people would just get to know a Black person or have a Black friend. This shows a misunderstanding of what racism is. Racism is not merely prejudice or discrimination shown towards a person because of the color of their skin. Racism is a system of inequities that requires power, and often operates without incidents of racial animus. Even if every white person knew a Black person, even if a racial slur was never uttered again, racism would still persist and exist in our institutions. Allow me to illustrate one way racism works: racism lies in the fact that blacks were denied the opportunity to participate in the primary vehicle of wealth creation – home ownership – by the federal government in the 1930’s – 1950’s. As a result of this and other policies (including Black families being targeted by banks and disproportionately impacted by the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the present day), it will take  228 years  for the average Black family to have the same wealth as a white family. Two hundred and twenty-eight years! There are consequences to having less wealth. Contrary to what Ms. Moses suggests, a white person meeting a Black person does not change that.   The “Come Meet a Black Person” event also ignores the fact that in many cases, especially in the greater Atlanta area where this event is taking place, if a white person does not have a Black friend it is because they have made the deliberate choice not to. What happens when a neighborhood, once predominately white, becomes increasingly less so? White people move. That a place like Lawrenceville, Georgia (where the event is taking place)  exists  is due to white people moving to be further away from Blacks. (There is an entire blog I could write on the psychology of Blacks who come to an area where whites have moved in order to be surrounded with fewer people who look like you and then you host an event that says, "Please come and be our friend." But, I digress.) What happens when a school that was once predominately white becomes less so? White people move. White flight is not a requirement, it is a choice. If white people want to get to know a Black person there is one thing that can do: stop moving. The suburbs are white America’s answer to Fred Rogers’ question of, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” The answer was, “No.”  Before my ancestors were stolen from Africa, chained to the hull of a ship, and transported across the Atlantic Ocean, one thing happened before this could take place; their captors got to know them. Black people have never been unknown to whites. Before you can conquer a people you must understand how they think and then use how they think in a way that works to your advantage. During times of enslavement Blacks and whites lived in close proximity. The one thing that made escape so difficult was the slave owner had to be able to predict what the human in bondage would do – the life of the slave owner depended on it. But yet, the racist system of slavery persisted. If a solution to racism was simply knowing one another, then the history that we all know to be true would be very different.  It is time for us to discard the quick, easy fixes to racism and brace ourselves to do the work in changing policy and advancing solutions that may not be equal, but are equitable. “Come Meet a Black Person” makes us think we are doing something, but it centers whiteness and encourages superficial actions. “Well, something is better than nothing”, some might say. Well, actually no, it’s not.     Jyarland Daniels  CEO, Founder  Harriet Speaks

It is time for us to discard the quick, easy fixes to racism and brace ourselves to do the work in changing policy and advancing solutions that may not be equal, but are equitable. “Come Meet a Black Person” makes us think we are doing something, but it centers whiteness and encourages superficial actions. “Well, something is better than nothing”, some might say. Well, actually no, it’s not.

For Diversity & Inclusion, Start With Your Hiring Practices

For Diversity & Inclusion, Start With Your Hiring Practices

The first and most important step, to truly valuing diversity and inclusion is to rely less on informal processes where people of color are excluded because of the history of your organization or your own relationships.  When you look across your company or organization and see little diversity and less inclusion, before you run that ad, before you staff that department, look at HOW you are hiring people.

Creating Community for Black Children in Schools

Creating Community for Black Children in Schools

Non-teaching and/or support staff in schools are important. They have the ability to make a difference in lives of students. This category includes bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria staff, playground aides, teachers’ aides and more. The people in these roles are overwhelmingly Black. They can be voices of support, love, and encouragement to all children, but particularly to Black children in schools who seldom see adults who look like them. But, we miss this additional resource for Black children because we have rendered this group of people invisible.

Banking on Equity & Inclusion

Note: This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn on April 11, 2017.

One of the biggest challenges in the area of equity and inclusion is language. “What do we say? How do we say it? What if we get it wrong?” These are just a few of the questions that keep diversity folks up at night and many who want to engage in honest conversation on the sidelines. The truth is in today’s environment we get it wrong more than we get it right. Yes, we have been explicit in our diversity related objectives to recruit, retain, and reform cultures; it’s articulated in nearly every mission statement and often discussed. But more than being explicit is required. We must also be specific.

Specificity in diversity means naming the particular group you are talking about and understanding when umbrella and shorthand terms like “minorities” and “people of color” do not suffice. These terms often mask differences in the workforce representation among Asians, Latinos, and Blacks and create blind-spots for diversity teams. They can undermine diversity goals and objectives as the strategies for recruiting, retaining, and creating a culture for each group are not the same. And most damaging is, in the intent to be all-inclusive, such terms can result in erasing a particular group – recreating the very harm that diversity initiatives were designed to fix.


This week in his annual letter to shareholders, JPMorgan Chase Chairman & CEO Jamie Dimon was explicit and specific. He got it right. Mr. Dimon demonstrated something that every organization can learn when talking about equity and inclusion; the importance moving beyond being explicit and using specific with language to achieve results.

In sharing the diversity numbers of the global company, Mr. Dimon was explicit.  Yet, he was also specific when he said:

But there is one area in particular where we simply have not met the standards JPMorgan Chase has set for itself – and that is in increasing African-American talent at the firm. While we think our effort to attract and retain black talent is as good as at most other companies, it simply is not good enough.

The specificity in talking about equity and inclusion is rare in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. However, it is critical to make sure that initiatives are more than nice soundbites and good PR talking points. Peter Drucker said, “What is measured is improved.” But before we can measure anything we have to name it. So a better way to communicate this maxim might be, “What is named can be measured, and what is measured can be improved.” There are reasons why naming doesn’t happen nearly often enough. 


Americans are enamored with the idea of having a “big tent.” The thinking is if the tent is big enough then everyone will fit underneath and all of our problems will disappear. Diversity has become the proverbial “big tent.” No longer is the focus of diversity on providing consideration to those who have been historically underrepresented and systematically deprived of opportunities based on their religion, race, ethnicity, gender, and/or sexual orientation. The diversity “tent” now includes an array of factors such as right /left brain dominance, rural/urban communities, introversion/extroversion tendencies, and the like. One consequence of the tent getting too big when it comes to diversity is an inability and unwillingness to use specific language that drives results; we don’t, we can’t, we won’t get specific.

A big tent does not mean that individual groups do not warrant specific consideration. Let’s think about common examples. Consider a continent; there is a large land mass, yet each country has borders. We might have multiple children and/or family members, yet their membership in the group does not erase their individual differences. An elementary school building houses grades K-5, but we would not always put 1st and 5th graders together or speak of them as “the students.” There are times when that might make sense and there are times when it would not. Because of our cultural discomfort with talking about race and ethnicity we have become too comfortable with umbrella terms and ignoring distinctions and differences. This is why so many diversity efforts fail: you cannot improve what you cannot name.

The lack of specificity can be solved by diversity and inclusion professionals asking the following questions when they find themselves using a terms such as “minorities”, “people of color”, and “women of color”:

1.       Why am I using an umbrella term at this moment? (Note: Efficiency is not an acceptable answer)

2.       Who am I really talking about?

3.       Does this statement/issue/situation apply to each distinct group within our diversity initiatives?

4.       What is the impact of using a common term in this instance? Are there things that I might overlook?

5.       What are the differences within the group of underrepresented individuals that our policies and procedures may not have addressed?

Taking the time to consider these things is an easy step towards having meaningful communications and achieving diversity and inclusion goal and objectives across the board.

This is advice you can take to the bank – compliments of JPMorgan Chase.


Jyarland Daniels, MBA, JD is CEO & Founder of Harriet Speaks, a racial equity and inclusion consultancy that offers training, coaching, and communications strategies for non-profits, educational institutions, and corporations. She is a sought after commentator and writer on topics of equity and inclusion. Jyarland has worked for non-profit organizations and Fortune 100 companies in the areas of Marketing, Strategy, and PR. She holds an MBA in Marketing & Finance from the Stephen Ross School of Business at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a Juris Doctor from Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan.



Pepsi and Corporate Diversity: What You Can Learn

* Note: This blog post was originally published on LinkedIn on April 6, 2017

By now, many of you have seen the Pepsi commercial that featured Kendall Jenner and attempted to show the company as a supporter of activism. The outcry and criticism on social media was immediate. After at first defending the ad, within 24 hours of its release Pepsi decided to pull it, creating what I now call, "PepsiGate." A Google search shows nearly a half million pieces have been written on this story, the overwhelming majority critical of the ad and Kendall Jenner. However, I write this piece from the perspective of a racial equity and inclusion expert to offer thoughts on how diversity staffing in corporations contributed to this problem and how even in missteps there is an opportunity to learn and build your brand.

But before we talk about diversity staffing, let's review (in short) the history of the concept, and what the term means in companies today. The concept of diversity has shifted over time. Executive Order 11246 issued in 1965 required government contractors to take "affirmative action", meaning positive steps, to reverse past patterns of discrimination. Diversity's primary function was to include groups who had previously been excluded. In the decades that followed, affirmative action became the target of public outcry, prior rulings were reversed by courts, and it was deemed insufficient to create inclusiveness in organizations. In response, management teams began to promote a different kind of "diversity" - one that was more acceptable to Whites and that shifted the focus from issues of race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. In today's corporate environment diversity the word "diversity" has no limitations. In a departure from what diversity once meant, today it essentially includes everyone in an attempt not to offend anyone. The lack of specificity and ambiguity of the term is why I refrain from using it in my consulting work, but for this sake of this discussion I will use it. The lack of specificity and ambiguity of the term "diversity" is also a problem for corporations and it is how you get "PepsiGate."

To illustrate the harmfulness of this change, I will use examples of a few companies I have had the pleasure of working for. What if Hallmark Cards created one card that attempted to express the sentiments for all types of individuals? What if Johnson & Johnson patented and sold pharmaceutical drugs that claimed efficacy regardless of disease state? What if Ford Motor Company sold one vehicle to all of its customers? I believe that most of us can see that any of these situations would have catastrophic consequences for the organization.

However, this is exactly what has happened to the concept of diversity and it is a key contributor that led to Pepsi's recent marketing misstep. A diversity that doesn't properly recognize the challenges and struggles of different groups, that insists that all groups are the same, attempts to "plug and play" by using a white woman in the place of a Black woman will have catastrophic consequences for an organization. It isn't diversity at all, but a faux, colorblind diversity that is guaranteed to create the kind of outcry we have seen targeted at Pepsi in the past few days.


By and large, companies staff diversity positions with individuals with human resource backgrounds. Many progressive companies have moved away from this staffing model, however, it remains far too prevalent. The problem with this staffing model is it assumes that diversity and inclusion is best achieved through hiring. This is flawed reasoning. What Pepsi got right is they understood that their best public testament to diversity was what they said publicly through their advertising. So, they did what all major companies do, they turned to their outside agency of record. But statistics tell us the advertising industry is sorely missing the mark when it comes to inclusion. According to a 2015 report from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, African-Americans make up only 5.3% of the workforce (vs 11.7% of the total workforce) in advertising and PR. Madison Avenue agencies lack cultural competency. This fact can be mitigated by companies by having diversity professionals with an advertising, marketing, and or communications background. While I understand that companies have Multicultural advertising teams, departments, and/or initiatives, these teams work with agencies on campaigns targeted at specific groups; Black people work (internally) on advertising to Black consumers, Hispanics work (internally) on advertising targeted at Hispanic consumers, Asians work (internally) on advertising to the Asian community. But what happens when the new and all-inclusive definition of "diversity" suggests that a general market campaign is the way to go? The work is assigned to the general market agency with almost no African-American representation and you get PepsiGate.

Perhaps, then companies would do well to make sure their diversity professionals have strong marketing, advertising and/or communications backgrounds AND their marketing, advertising and communications professionals have experience and exposure to different groups and cultures. This kind of "diversity" goes beyond what someone looks like and reflects what they believe and what they advocate for. However, the conservatism of many corporations results in hiring individuals who are of a different race, ethnicity, religion, and/or gender, but have the same views of many mainstream Whites; views that while not hostile, are harmful due to their absence. Had someone in the room had a true understanding of Black Lives Matter and felt safe sharing that knowledge in their professional environment, this commercial would have never been launched in the form we saw it. The lack of diversity teams that understand marketing, advertising, and communications failed Pepsi and it will fail other companies unless it is intentionally countered.

The other illustrative aspect of this saga can be found in the company's response. As previously stated, Pepsi initially defended the ad. This defense compounded the problem and caused Pepsi to lose an opportunity. The opportunity lost was the opportunity to learn. Pepsi presented itself as an ally in the work of racial and social justice, however the most important thing for an ally to do is to learn from the groups they claim to be in solidarity with. When the first criticisms of the ad began on social media a company with diversity embedded in its communications team would have called for a forum for the people who were most offended to teach them where they went wrong and be involved in the process to do something different - something better. This is the opportunity that was lost.

I applaud companies and individuals who take risks in what should be our shared attempt to eradicate racism. Taking any risk always comes the possibility of getting it wrong. I hope these two suggestions 1) having diversity professionals with marketing, advertising, and communications backgrounds, and 2) looking for the opportunity to learn in the face of a misstep will increase the chances that the risk will be rewarded.