In my original letter to the fitness industry it was easy to list the instances of racism I’ve experienced. What wasn’t easy was what came after. The emotionally and mentally draining conversations, constantly having to advocate, being gaslit, always having to explain the severity of the issue and then being tokenized and exploited as a person advocating for equality. In some cases, like the white washed pictures, it has been a yearlong process.
I’ve watched as people call out companies and individuals on Instagram. I understand their frustration, pain and anger. My experience with racism in the industry has manifested itself in my many roles: Head of Fitness, Studio Manager & Coordinator, Master Trainer, Brand Ambassador and Group Fitness Instructor. I think the most helpful thing I can do is write from a place of power, not pain and continue to share my experiences, solutions and keep this open dialogue going.
This is a Joint Effort
For #MoveForTheCulture some white instructors shared the mic with black instructors to amplify their voices. Others taught alone and celebrated black cultures and educated their participants. It opened up dialogue and caused people to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Luvvie Ajayi explains why this is important: staying comfortable has maintained the status quo. We all need to speak up, take action and inspire others to do the same.
Some white instructors either didn’t feel comfortable teaching and/or didn’t fully commit and post and pledge. The reasons: their IG pages are their portfolios so they only posted to stories if at all and/or they were unsure of the actions they would take. The point here was lost; it wasn’t about their comfort, it was about doing the work, speaking up and taking action.
- Wellness professionals have you let your clients and communities know where you stand?
- Companies have you exploited your outspoken Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPoC) employees or made your own stance known?
Natalie Morris writes (TRIGGER WARNING: the start of this article discusses George Floyd’s murder) “Using privilege to be vocal about what actions your own colleagues or organisation can take to support racial justice is part of the solution.” I’m not asking for white saviors but it is important that open dialogue happens and we, including me, use our privilege to affect change. This is why I say speak up, talk to your communities and be clear about what you’re doing.
Take Action and Feedback
I’ve received apologies since my original letter. My response: what are you doing to ensure this doesn’t happen again? For me to feel comfortable I need actions, not to know you think you’re a good person.
Glennon Doyle writes in Untamed “we are defensive, hurt, and frustrated – because we have fallen into the trap of believing that becoming racially sober is about saying the right thing instead of becoming the right thing.” If you find your words are met with “that’s not good enough” or “this is performative” instead of taking it as an attack, take it as feedback that your words need to be backed up with actions and there is more to say, do and unpack. Acknowledge when you mess up and let that fuel your fire to do better and keep doing better.
Do Not Burden Your BIPoC Employees
What is often overlooked is that racism leads to trauma for BIPoC people (see Nova Reid Ted Talk and Uncovering the Trauma of Racism). I cannot stress this enough. What may seem like a great conversation and educational moment for you is very triggering, alienating and draining for someone else. With this in mind as Daisy Auger-Dominguez highlights “it is critical that leaders not put this work on employees of color but rather be visible doing this work themselves”. As you are making decisions and discussing with your employees or peers consider this. The article contains great questions and ways to phrase them so that you are not putting the emotional burden on your BIPoC employees but instead putting in the work to support them. I choose to advocate but I am careful about when I have conversations because of the impact on my mental health.
Equity Should be Woven into Everything you do
Black squares were posted. Pledges were made to address systemic racism within companies. Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) committees were formed, for some companies as part of a thought-out strategy, for others as a knee jerk reaction. For others their addressing both the Black Lives Matter Movement and D&I hasn’t gotten enough attention because the majority of their employees were furloughed and the ones that weren’t were focusing on reopening. Black Lives Matter Movement and D&I are very different matters but addressing systemic racism and D&I should not be separated from opening strategy. Research showsthat treating diversity programmes as an add on does not work. If your work as a company or as an individual is not performative then more than just D&I, equity and dismantling systemic racism should be woven into everything you do.
- Is your company/ are you actively anti-racist?
- Have procedures been created that remove unconscious bias?
- Is racism a taboo subject in your company/to you?
- Why do you have a D&I Committee? What is the goal? Why is it not a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee?
- Who is on your D&I Committee and why?
- Are you working to diversify your teams?
- How will you support your new hires and ensure that they aren’t tokenized and exploited?
- What support are you providing to your BIPoC employees?
- How diverse is your audience/followers/community?
- What have you done to address this?
If you don’t have the finances to hire experts to consult and train you there are still multiple ways to make sure equity is part of your brand and company culture. Reopening is a chance for you to get it right.
- What classes culturally appropriate/ are whitewashed? Are they the most popular classes?
- How can you address cultural appropriation within this class and make sure the cultures are honored?
- If that isn’t an option and you take it off your timetable and how will you communicate with your community?
- How will you make this an educational moment?
- Instructors and companies – the language you use in communications, is it offensive?
- Do you use euphemisms or do you address the issues? Do you use phrases like “everything that’s happening” or do you say BLM movement, systemic racism, murder and police brutality?
- Is it inclusive?
- Have your communications culturally appropriated or alienated people in the past?
Solution: Address the above and use this as an opportunity to educate yourselves and your community/followers.
Partnerships and Products
- Who do you partner with? What are their core values?
- What products do you have on offer/do you promote?
- Do photographers, MUA and hair stylists you work with work with BIPoC people the same way they work with their white counterparts?
As David R Williams explains everyone has unconscious bias and so it’s imperative that you find ways to take it out of the equation when creating policies and procedures. Weaving equity into everything you do is the only way to make change. Finances and/or opening strategy is not an excuse. Your company having put out a statement isn’t an excuse. Take the time to do the work. Take away the notion that you have to be a good or a bad person, step away from the guilt and into the uncomfortable and focus on the mission.
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Author: Ianthe Mellors