Today my discussion on Juneteenth with Jason Greer continues, as I asked him to share an issue of his own choosing.
Claire Francis – Is there anything that I haven’t brought up thus far related to Juneteenth and its commercialization or portrayal that you think needs to be brought out into the open and discussed further?
Jason Greer – Yes. One thing I will say is that we need to be mindful. And when I say we, I’m saying the general public who will champion Juneteenth needs to be mindful that in the process of wanting more people to celebrate it, we need to be aware of how harshly we condemn people who are trying to celebrate it in the only manner that they know how to. And—
CF – What do you mean by that?
JG – I’ve actually had people come to me—I’ve had organizations come to me and say, “We want to celebrate Juneteenth. But we’ve seen the social media flack that Target has received, we’ve seen the social media flank the Walmart has received, and we’re scared that that’s going to be us because we’re scared to death of saying something wrong or doing something wrong.”
CF – I see. Because, l’ve noticed something. [Given that] we’re in a very tumultuous time, regarding race relations, there’s a lot of pain, and a lot of healing. And a lot of difficult, uncomfortable, unfortunate conversations that need to be had. And, in the positive corner of all this tumultuousness that’s happening, there are people who want to make a difference and people who want to make things better, and contribute to a healing atmosphere to help humanity and help us move forward. And people are putting forth efforts. [But] that’s also where you end up with things like Walmart’s ice cream.
People are trying, and companies are trying, but as you said, they run the risk of making mistakes. And I think there needs to be room for forgiveness, as well as accountability. But at the same time, I hope that companies know that there’s life beyond what is said on social media.
JG – Yeah.
CF – Because it can be a very negative atmosphere.
JG – Agreed. And I love everything you just said. But I think it also gets back to the complicated history that we have with race. And at some point, within white America, it was understood that in order to demonstrate that you’re anti racist, you just don’t talk about race at all. And so, part of the challenge that we find is that—I go back to the George Floyd moment. How many people reached out to myself? They reached out to my wife. And, you know, we both grew up in predominately white areas. And so, these were people, many of whom we went to grade school with. We were the only Black folks in our respective classes.
CF – Yes.
JG – And now, all of a sudden, they’re asking questions about race. And I look to my wife at one point, I said, “Are they just now discovering that racism is still a thing?” Only to find out that many of them really were just now discovering that racism is still a thing. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that their social circles look just like them.
CF – Yes.
JG – Their church circles and their places of worship look just like them. And their only interaction with people that look like you and me are in the workplace, and even that can be sort of a “hi” and “bye” kind of thing. So I think the challenge that we have when we talk about Juneteenth overall, is: There are many of us who are sort of at the PhD level as it relates to race because we have to live it. We live it and deal with it every single day. How many times do you find yourself sitting around watching television talking to a buddy, and all of a sudden you start talking about race? And you talk about it the way you talk about the weather, right? It’s fine, because that’s our experience.
Whereas I think for other folks that I’ve encountered, they’re so far behind, because they can talk to you about sports, they can talk to you about their job, they can talk to you about politics, but as far as race goes, they’ve never really spoken about it.
CF – Very true. And I think when people don’t know how to speak about it, they perceive openness about race in a negative light, and that can be quite frustrating.
JG – Yeah, it can be, especially when you’re trying to share your heart. Because I know for myself, I’ve gone into so many conversations about race, not from an attitude of condemnation, but from an attitude of, “I just want to help you understand.” And sometimes I’m met with that understanding. Other times I’m met with an abrupt, “I’m not racist!” And as soon as they say that, things kind of shut down. So it doesn’t matter what I say as a follow up if they just shut down. But I think that’s the tug and pull of diversity and inclusion.
CF – Very, very true. And that’s something that we’re dealing with. Getting back to Juneteenth and race, diversity, and inclusion: You mentioned the companies that want to try. But they don’t want to be the next Walmart or whomever.
JG – Yeah, but let’s be real. Then you have those companies that don’t just try—they do. I mean, when you look at Ben and Jerry’s ice cream—long before diversity became a cool catch phrase, they were out there actively promoting social causes. They were not afraid when people came at them for their stance on Black Lives, and their stance on the LGBTQ+ community. They came back just as hard as the people who are coming at them, like, “Hey, the fact that you’re upset means the we’re doing something right. In fact, we’re gonna go ahead and promote more ice cream with more social causes!” So again, it’s one of those things that if you’re going to do it, then do it. Right?
CF – Absolutely.
JG – Because you’re going to be tested. And when you get tested, are you going to fold? Or, are you going to keep moving forward?
CF – Exactly. And what you just said to me, I think is very important in this era of all the tension that we have. People need to be willing to persevere in spite of opposition.
JG – Yes. I mean it. I always go back to how on Martin Luther King’s birthday, there are always people who post cherry-picked quotes from Dr. King on social media.
CF – Yes.
JG – And they talk about what a wonderful man he was. And that’s cool. But, talk in context, because Martin Luther King, before he died, was one of the most hated men on the face of the planet. And Martin Luther King marched. If you’re going to celebrate the man, celebrate the struggle that made the man. Martin Luther King marched in the face of crippling racism, people spitting on him. People threatening to kill him. They killed him, but he wanted to be a drum major for peace in a world that did not want him to even breathe or take another breath. And so, if we’re going to honor Martin Luther King and you’re going to say that he’s one of your heroes, then attitude follows leadership.
CF – “Attitude follows leadership…” Yes. That’s true, I think individuals and companies have to stay focused on their goals. And tune out noise.
How can companies avoid making mistakes related to diversity and Juneteenth-related issues? And what should their response be if they actually do make a mistake?
JG – Great question. Fail fast.
Fail fast. Acknowledge the mistake. But understand that there is growth through failure. Because if your central position is that we want to stand for this particular cause, then we take a stand. And we don’t buckle, we acknowledge when we get it wrong. I mean, I’ll use example of Target again. Target acknowledged when they got it wrong, but that didn’t stop them from moving forward with their product line. It didn’t stop them from going out of their way to give Black graphic artists, Black creators, and designers opportunities to put their message out there.
CF – You mention the idea of failing fast as well as the idea of growth through failure. Would you say that companies ought to implement certain safe safeguards or take precautions—in terms of staffing and who they hire, or who they consult?
Let’s look at the example of Walmart and their ice cream. There were probably customers who were thinking something like, “Lord, who thought of that?!” And, sometimes when companies come up with things, I’m thinking, “Didn’t they have any Black people to ask?” But what if they did have Black people to ask about this, you know?
JG – Yeah.
CF – And the Black person said it was okay. Or they thought it was cool…
JG – I was going to actually say we’re thinking alike here, because I was going to say that representation does, indeed matter. Especially when you’re trying to spread a message of inclusivity. But, again, I think this is why it’s so critically important that you have subject matter experts around you.
CF – Yes.
JG – Because, I mean, Twitter was on fire over Juneteenth ice cream. And you just read and comment after comment. You know, “clearly they don’t have any Black folks”, “who approved this or that?” Well, there’s 19 or 20 subcultures within the African American community as a whole. So it’s is very possible that they actually did go to someone Black. And they said, “What do you think?” And they might have said, “I think this is a great idea.” I’m scratching my head hoping that wasn’t the case. But you never know. So I stand by this attitude of fail fast. Acknowledge where you get it wrong.
CF – Yes.
JG – And continue to put yourself out there with the understanding that for everything we get wrong, there are going to be times when we get it right. Now, you might not get any kind of public validation for what you’ve gotten right. Because in today’s society, people are so fast to jump on what they perceive as wrong, but don’t often give kudos to that which is actually right. But if, internally, your organization can legitimately say, “We are moving the needle in terms of not just Juneteenth, we’re moving it in terms of social conscience, because we’re moving people toward this attitude that diversity and inclusion actually matters to us. And if it matters to us, our hope is that it matters to you…” That’s power in itself.
But this is not one of those things where you build a brand-new stadium, and 100,000 people show up, and you know that they love the stadium based on the fact that they’re packing it in. It’s not that kind of game. Right? It’s the validation of knowing that we’re doing the right thing, not just for in terms of our business, but also in terms of the social imprint that we want to leave.
CF – Excellent. Thank you. So before we go, one thing that was brought up is that you mentioned Target and how they consulted and work with Black artists, which is meaningful.
But what happens when Black creators are not in the picture? Do you think that the efforts mean as much as they should, or will be acknowledged as much? Here, I’m thinking of the heart of the people who are promoting the material. And whether it’s genuine or not, based on who they have creating the material. Do you think that’s an important factor to consider?
JG – As far as making sure that they have representation?
CF – Yes! Genuine representation.
JG – I think it does matter. But understand that even in making sure that you have representation, it doesn’t always mean that you have to have 100% Black voices. But if you’re going to have somebody or some bodies who are going to put together something, yes. Make sure they understand the culture.
I mean, to me, you’ve got to understand your audience’s language in order to speak to them. And if you’re guessing at the language, or doing a Google search as to what the language is, then you don’t inherently understand it.
The mark of any good salesperson is their ability to understand and anticipate the needs of their clients, or potential clients. It’s the same thing here. If I’m going to market a service to you, I have to know how to speak to you. And if I don’t know how to speak to you, then I shouldn’t be speaking to you. Or I should sit back and actually try to learn what you need to hear.
Once again, I’ve been interviewing Jason Greer—an internationally recognized Labor Relations and Diversity Management Consultant who is known as the “Employee Whisperer.” He can be found online via the website for his business, Greer Consulting.