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For International Women's Day, Issa Rae Talks Intentionally Using 'Black' And Riding For Us In The Boardroom

Insecure star Issa Rae dropped jewels for LinkedIn's Conversations for Change.

Issa Rae

We all know Issa Rae has been the queen of Black girl magic, making "awkward" sexy and bankable in Hollywood and changing the narrative of what Black women look, sound, and act like in mainstream media. (We'll never forget that infamous red-carpet moment when "rooting for everybody Black" became the wave.) So it's no surprise that she lent her voice to a much-needed International Women's Day conversation about Black women in the workplace on one of the most pivotal social media platforms for professionals and entrepreneurs: LinkedIn.

It's also no surprise that Black women face added pressures and challenges in corporate America that have only worsened with COVID-19. New LinkedIn research has found that 1 in 4 Black women (26 percent) feel they may face retaliation for speaking up about racial justice issues or topics around diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, and 37 percent feel their workplace "talks a lot about creating a more diverse workplace, but doesn't make any material changes to policies or culture to make it happen."

Image via Giphy

Issa joined an in-depth conversation with Betty Liu, executive vice chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, and LinkedIn news editor-at-large Caroline Fairchild as part of the platform's Conversations for Change series, and y'all know she dropped some keep-it-real jewels that are super-relevant today more than ever.

Check out what Issa had to say about how white allies should really go about putting action behind words, being the only Black woman in the room, and handling issues of race and inclusivity with her own team:

On leading conversations with her team about racial injustice:

"I had team members that came up to me and wanted us as a company to do something, and they inspired me like, yes we are in the spotlight, we should be facilitating conversations and facilitating action. For me it came down to that. We had had so many conversations, and so many conversations were happening just even within the media, and the frustration and despair that I felt was like, is anything going to change this time? And so to know that we were in a position to at least direct and guide people to organizations that were making that change, to actively go out there and make our voices heard just really united us as a company.
"And you know, not everybody in our company is Black, so to educate some people and to again facilitate these conversations so that no one was judged for their ignorance was really important to us. So, that really united us in a way that I'll carry with me for a long time, and will continue to be active about those conversations and the intentions behind some of our projects and initiatives."

Image via Giphy

Issa on finding community as the only Black professional in the room:

"You can't always wait to be approached. Because that was my issue, of just like, 'Well nobody even tried so why should I try?' And now I've made assumptions about you, based off of what you haven't done. So, I think what I've learned is I have to at least extend myself in a way before I make a judgement. And then, if I extend myself and then recognize that there's no one there to receive me, then I can find a community.
"But for me, it comes down to finding a community of people who understand and relate, and I understand that that can be hard within your work environment, but extending outside of your work environment and finding other people and establishing a community there to bounce thoughts and ideas and solutions off of is so, so important."

On talking to white colleagues about the real meaning of allyship:

"A lot of my white colleagues have come up to me just to discuss what they could do, and, you know, I'm always open - some of us can get frustrated, any minority, when you're just like I feel like I have to learn so much about your culture and you, and I don't necessarily ask you questions, I do the research. And so for me it's like, I hope you do the research before you come to me, because I'm exhausted. I don't want to spend time like going down the line of everything that's wrong, I think you have to do the reading and the research on your own. I'm gonna be an open vessel, I'm gonna be patient, but just know that up front. And so to receive those texts constantly about, 'What can I do? How can I help?' I'm like, 'I hope you research this first.'
"There are so many, so many conversations where you can just find out, but for the most part, I have just been like this is where you can take action, this is where you can donate money, and kind of giving a 'frequently asked questions' checklist to colleagues. I've even found that forums, even with LinkedIn, I'm sure you guys are very much aware of how much of a forum that became post- these protests, and people just want a place to express themselves and to learn, and the more accessible that is, the more progress you'll have."

Image via Giphy

Issa on the importance of the word 'Black': 

"It just reaffirmed what I knew and what I felt personally. Just that we didn't have this representation and we didn't have these stories being told about us, and there's a constant encouragement to kind of erase Blackness in an effort to integrate and fit in, and I think what we felt was just like, 'No, I want to be Black and fit in.'

"I want to acknowledge my Blackness while still being able to be acknowledged in society. So that only affirmed like, I want to continue to create these stories where I'm intentionally highlighting the Black experience, or one of many Black experiences, and that continues to be my priority."

For the full talk with Issa Rae and more on LinkedIn's Conversations for Change, visit their website.

Featured image by DFree / Shutterstock.com

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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