New blogger alert: Suzi Shattuck is the Director of Online Communities for Fwd.rEvolution. She owned two Information Technology businesses and then attended UC Davis where she studied Political Science and Human Rights. 

One of the many lessons of business ownership that I’ve learned is that businesses take on the character of their leaders. I once had a business mentor tell me to analyze where the weaknesses in my business were and then to get healing around those weaknesses because they are a part of me. And it’s complicated – because to get a business running, a business owner must be someone who can make something out of nothing. To accomplish that, you must be skillful and possibly a bit delusional; we project a reality as we work to create it, so the reality we project comes from us. Sometimes it can be like jumping off a cliff and knitting a parachute on the way down. Our businesses take on our character, our ideas, and our biases. What do we do when the reality that we have created and nurtured has harmful inequalities? What do we do when we are accused of racism internally or on social media?

When accused of something, we have a choice. We can attempt to shut down the accusation, or we can lean into the discomfort. The knee-jerk reaction of attempting to shut down the accusation is a normal and protective impulse, but I recommend we take some time out and think about why people accuse.  It is easy to see complaints as distractions by people with nothing better to do, but people don’t want to spend their time on things that aren’t important to them. If people are saying that things are unfair, do you explain that they aren’t or do you learn more about what they are saying and why? Business owners can dismiss complaints and accusations as just another challenge of running a business. However, we are in rapidly changing times, and vast inequalities in our culture have become evident. So it makes sense that as creators, we are perpetuating some of those inequalities whether we intend to or not. Everyone has biases and it is our job to learn about them, and then challenge them. Seeking education on the biases we hold, minimizes them and helps us not fall into their traps. 

A concept that has been very important to me over the last few years is intent versus impact. A few years ago, I laughed at the term “white privilege.” I thought it didn’t apply to me. I mean, I left home early and became an emancipated minor. I worked hard and felt that I had earned everything that I had accomplished. I did not understand until later how I had flexed my white privilege. It was not my intention to harm people, I was “just” getting stuff done, so I thought. After the murder of Tamir Rice, I opened my mind to the history of inequality that isn’t taught in our schools. After learning more and then eating some delicious humble pie, it became evident to me that I was complicit in harm and I had to educate myself and do better.  Here are three examples of me not intending to be racist but benefiting from my whiteness and thus perpetuating racist dynamics.

  1. I was pulled over in Oakland, CA, extremely late one night, and I giggled my way out of a ticket. It never once occurred to me that folks have been shot dead for less and I knew that my status as a white woman would get me out of the slight inconvenience.
  2. Before same-sex marriage was legal, my former wife was in the hospital with a brain tumor. I was turned away when I tried to visit her bedside. They did not honor our domestic partnership paperwork. Although I had just told the Black nurse that we were partners, I then looked her in the eye and said, “fine… we’re sisters. Prove me right or wrong either way.” I got into her hospital room because I was obviously about to make a big, white stink, and she let me in to avoid the drama. How many queer women of color were turned away in similar circumstances?
  3. I pushed through a dodgy retail return by menacingly telling the Latina cashier, “You don’t know who my father is.” I thought it was hilarious because my father had no actual power. But it worked anyway, and I told that story at parties for years, thinking it was a story about “my moxie.” I realized later that my “joke” was an unveiled threat to her job. And that I had weaponized my whiteness and threatened her livelihood just because I could.

We are our actions. I am & was those actions, I own them and regret them. My intent was self-serving, though I didn’t think then that it was my intention to be racist. But the impact of my actions showed comfort with and willingness to flex my whiteness in order to gain something for myself at the expense of people of color. I didn’t think I was being racist, but my actions were. I was happy to assert myself as an authority or to align myself with authority. My only claim to that authority was my lack of melanin. We are our actions.

When I came to this realization, I wallowed in guilt and self-loathing. But guilt and self-loathing kept me thinking about myself and not actually helping to ensure that anyone can fearlessly have a safe traffic stop, help anyone to see their partner in the hospital, or help to keep workers free from race and class-based abuse. What does help is sharing my story and hoping that white people will gain awareness of harmful actions they have done with racist impact and hope that they will take actions to make changes for a better future for everyone.

I tell my nephews and nieces that life isn’t fair, but when we can put thought and effort into making it as fair as possible, we should. That’s good work to do. I had to get really real with the fact that I grew up in a society that is racist. And I carry the symptoms of this shared harmful system. White people have advantages that were not earned through any act of goodness. We need to stop being scandalized when someone is caught being racist and hold them accountable and get to work. This is uncomfortable and we need to lean into the discomfort and grow to accept the clumsy process of improving and learning more.

For business owners who have to shellac an image to their employees, customers, and shareholders, this can be really hard. Maybe we’ve bought into our own stories about being ‘self-made’ and can’t see the advantages that we’ve received. What some people in positions of power call ‘cancel culture’ looks like accountability to most people. And in this time of rebuilding, let’s rebuild ourselves so that we are consciously doing good instead of unconsciously doing harm. This is the time for business executives to listen, educate themselves, learn humility, and get to work. And I’ve got some ideas on how to do that.

Acknowledge and own your ignorance. Everyone needs to understand that their experience in life is neither the default nor the norm. Everyone has their own situation, and they are the expert on it. There is strength to be gained from letting go of those assumptions and learning more about your areas of ignorance. This is going to be messy and clumsy and that’s ok because accepting that will help you get into the space of vulnerability to do this work. Individual change must come before corporate culture can shift. So be open about your process and lead from the top-down as you and your executives get to work.

Everyone has implicit biases, regardless of their background. Are you ready to identify yours and do the work of un-learning them? This list of media contains a ton of great resources to get you started on this lifelong journey:


Read, Watch, Listen, and to-do list for Identifying & Un-learning Biases and Knowing Your History

This isn’t about shaming you. This is about having a more complete understanding of American history and society. This about learning the systems of harm, and understanding when and how we have been complicit. This is about learning and listening. This is about moving forward together. 

  •       Always be reading a book that helps you understand racial inequality. I got a lot of benefit from Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. The biggest lesson (among many) that I got was that my privilege is not earned. Through no act of goodness have white people in power. No personal act of goodness has helped me get the advantages of whiteness in this country. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and it’s medicine that I need. 
  •       Take the Implicit Bias tests by Harvard’s Project Implicit. This will help open your eyes to what you are dealing with internally. 
  •       Watch A Class Divided. Yes, it is dated, and so is the problem we are dealing with. This video shows how a teacher changed how she taught after JFK was assassinated. She had to help her third graders understand the world in a different way. 
  •       Watch this informative playlist from Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt on the Psychology of Racial Bias.
  •       Read or listen to The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates. But take a minute first and feel how you react to the title. It was surprising to me how I instantly rejected the idea of reparations. Initially, I thought “wait…let’s not get crazy here…” But, my experience is not the default and I wanted to hear him out. I challenged myself and read it. And then I read it three more times. But Mr. Coates is a masterful storyteller and researcher and this article lays out a history of intentional repression. About 99% of what he said was news to me. 
  •       Read or listen to White Trash by Nancy Isen, which is a documentation of the politics and history between the purposeful pitting of poor white Americans against racial minorities in this country as a divide and conquer strategy. This was hard; even the name of the book is confrontational. But this book is well researched and very enlightening. It lays bare the political machinations that got us to this divided state. 
  •       Listen to Professor Megan Ming Francis’s talk “Let’s get to the root of racial injustice” because we need to shift our perspective. I used to think about this as a “black problem”…it isn’t. 
  •       Start to learn about the peonage system and how this corrupt and racist action both fed into our mass incarceration system and how much of our data on Black crime comes from this system.
  •       Watch The 13th to learn more about criminality and mass incarceration.
  • Read Race After Technology by Dr. Ruha Benjamin to see how biased data and data scientists create more inequality and perpetuate white supremacy.
  •       Learn about colonialism from people who have experienced it and academically. Pro-tip: The U.S.A. was a colonized country and a lot of the racial divide we have is a direct result of that system. Look at any feelings of resistance you have to what I just said and lean into it. Learn the facts and then process your feelings. Don’t let your feelings tell you that they are facts. 
  •       Learn about violently stolen wealth and progress. The Tulsa Massacre turns 100 this month
  •       Last month, Mr. Kenneth Chenault and Mr. Kenneth Frazier led an effort joined by other Black executives to purchase a full-page NY Times ad against Georgia’s restrictive voting laws, and politicians took notice. This is not the first time that Black professionals purchased a full-page NY Times article that pled with white society to act. “Heed Their Rising Voices,” New York Times, March 29, 1960
  •       “Cultural Competence” is a diversity and inclusion podcast from the Gallup Center on Black Voices, hosted by Dr. Ella F. Washington and Camille Lloyd. They talk with employers about their work with inclusion and anti-racism.
  •       It is time to stop just hash-tagging and to take actual action, read this. U.S. Businesses Must Take Meaningful Action Against Racism by Laura Morgan Roberts and Dr. Ella F. Washington
  •       Read about how corporations neglect talent because of race, by Sally Ho Don’t be one of those companies. Investigate how it has happened in your company. Fix it. Make amends. “”It should not take the death of Black people at this magnitude to inspire everyone to be an ally,” [Phil] Terrill is quoted as saying.”
  •       Instead of watching police shootings, I watch people talking about the effects of them. And I find that I watch the first 5-10 seconds of a video easily and then I have to make sure that I watch the whole thing and really stay present with the pain because it’s so easy to click away. It is important for me to witness the grief of the families left behind, not the violence. 

Go beyond anti-blackness and learn the history of other racial minorities in this country.

Asian Americans



Latin Americans




Arab Americans

Love yourself and expand your capacity by seeking out creators who challenge your biases. Where are your boundaries? Do you draw a line in the sand when it comes to understanding certain “types” of people? 

Did one of these give you pause? What does acknowledging the history of abuses bring up for you? Do you know about these histories? Do you read about them from the survivors’ point of view? Although we have biases, we need to weaken them through education, action, humility, and empathy. This helps us learn and acknowledge the humanity of all people and it disempowers stereotypes and biases. This personal journey should help you confidently lead your business into a more stable and equitable future. Diversity and inclusion are important, but the change needs to be real, not a facade.

While on this important path, discuss it with other white folks. Make the discussion of these limitations commonplace, educate your colleagues, friends, and family. Ignoring these inequalities harms all people. Breaking abusive cycles is hard work, but it is always worth it. It is true that no white person alive today set these harmful cycles in motion…and that doesn’t matter. Because we can all work to end them. We can be the ones who say “No More” and we can make powerful changes. We can educate ourselves about the abusive and harmful systems that compose our ecosystem and then advocate to change them. When my eyes became open to the fact that I had leveraged my whiteness against people of color, I was repulsed by my behavior. I dedicated myself to not be a passive participant in white supremacy. I was overwhelmed by the amount of trauma and pain that I saw in our society. Because racism is real. We don’t get to ignore it because we didn’t start it. We occupy our place in its cycle and we can work to break these cycles. We can work to change the legacy of this country by opening our eyes to the past and present and working to create an inclusive future.