With protests continuing across the country, many business owners are wondering if they should clarify their stance as a company or stay silent. For years, I held the opinion that, as business owners, it was our moral and legal responsibility to be welcoming and inclusive, but also to keep personal politics out of our operations.
I was taught to believe speaking of politics at work was distasteful and inappropriate. It wasn’t our place.
The entrepreneurs whose salons I managed throughout my career would never have made political statements of any kind as a company, but times have changed quite dramatically and so has my opinion.
First, let me start by saying that we shouldn’t be here. None of us asked for this when we decided to become business owners. This conversation about race shouldn’t even be necessary in America in 2020, but decades of failing to acknowledge these problems (let alone properly address them) got us here in the first place.
Increasingly, Americans look for business owners to set an example.
As salon owners, we have two options here: stay silent and allow others to speculate on our positions or be proactive and clarify them up front. In this article, we’ll discuss the reasons you might want to make a statement and the issues you may encounter if you do. Then, I’ll show you how to communicate your message to customers.
Taking a Stand
Making a statement in support of racial justice and police reform isn’t actually political. Affirming one of our nation’s core philosophies (“All men are created equal.”) also isn’t controversial. We hold those truths to be self-evident, am I right?
Racism isn’t a subjective issue. All rational Americans agree that race-based discrimination has no place in American society. It’s unlawful, unconstitutional, and a violation of our basic human rights. Racism, quite literally, is a crime against humanity. We’ve decided that and written laws to affirm it. It’s a done deal. Therefore, opposing racism is an objectively good thing to do.
Anything we teach our children from the time they’re born—discrimination is wrong, violence isn’t the answer, bullying is unacceptable—should not be considered “contentious points of debate” in any society that calls itself “modern” or “civilized.”
For the same reasons, it isn’t actually controversial to protest police brutality. We have already agreed that excessive use of force is a crime that deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law. Unfortunately, the systems tasked with enforcing those laws aren’t working the way we’d like them to and are actively subverting the will of the people. If you need confirmation of that, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was shot to death in her bed after police executed an illegal no-knock warrant on the wrong house. Despite their gross incompetence and definitively unlawful actions, her murderers are still walking free. The fact that they were executing this—again—illegal search as part of their job should not entitle them to immunity from the consequences of their careless actions…and yet.
I think we can all agree that a problem exists. We can see it with our eyes. Attempting to deny or justify the abuses of power and authority we can witness for ourselves would be both ridiculous and unconscionable. Officers who violate public trust do not deserve to be protected from prosecution simply by virtue of the uniform they wear. We should all demand better from those who have taken an oath to serve and protect. Our failure to hold law enforcement accountable has empowered bad actors to behave without fear of punishment. Our continued failure to demand better has exacerbated the problem. These are verifiable facts.
Tell me what part of that introduces controversy?
None, right? Both excessive use of force and racial prejudice are unlawful, unconstitutional, and unamerican.
POC deserve to feel welcomed in your facility. We have an exceptionally diverse industry. As a result, I have very diverse friends and colleagues. One thing I’m struck by is the sense of “otherness” they feel when in white spaces. One of my close friends (a half-Black, half-Caucasian salon owner), told me over coffee, “You never know if you’re truly welcome in any business you walk into. When you aren’t clearly welcomed there, at best, you might be tolerated. At worst, you’ll be actively discouraged from staying or treated like a thief.”
If racism and discrimination aren’t things that have touched your life in any way, consider yourself blessed. It can be difficult to believe a problem exists when you haven’t experienced it yourself, but just because you’ve never experienced something doesn’t mean others do not, nor does it mean you can’t or shouldn’t do something to prevent it from occurring, especially in spaces you control.
Your salon may end up appealing to a broader market. Making a statement may bring more business your way, as POC and allies prefer to patronize businesses that share their values, specifically those that are committed to providing welcoming public spaces where all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their skin color.
Silence is complicity. As much as I hate this, business owners don’t have the luxury of silence or neutrality any longer. Whereas it used to be considered distasteful for a company to take a stand, it is now expected. You can refuse to play along, but failure to make a statement may be misconstrued as agreement or enablement—an understandable assumption to make, given the uncontroversial, unpolitical nature of the issue.
Remember: You are not truly being asked to make a political statement. You are being asked to denounce behaviors and beliefs that are definitively and unquestionably unamerican.
Nobody is asking for your opinions on taxation, immigration, women’s rights, healthcare, or international trade. Those are political issues. Racism and brutality are human rights issues. It’s an important distinction to make.
Invalidating Your Excuses
“Nobody asked me.” For decades, this was my position on anything even remotely controversial at work. We never made public declarations about anything.
Why didn’t we make statements? Nobody asked us. Who cares what a bunch of beauticians think, right?
While I understand why it’s important to establish a position on fundamental human rights issues (even though I don’t understand why the hell this is a “debate” in the year 20-F&%#ING-20), I felt this way for so long, I can’t blame others for not wanting to invite potential trouble.
You’re right. Nobody asked you. You’ll still be expected to participate in the conversation in some way, though, whether you like it or not.
Some may misinterpret your denouncement of racism as a denouncement of law enforcement. Apparently, a contingent of people don’t understand that it’s possible to both support law enforcement and demand they be held accountable for their actions. They aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. A good statement will clarify this fact, leaving no room for creative, convenient misinterpretation.
Opposing bad cops and ineffective policing tactics is not the same as opposing police and law enforcement in general. (I’m going to keep saying that until the more stubborn among us get it through their skulls.)
Police shouldn’t be expected to serve as universal first responders, being called upon to manage everything from mental health to homelessness. That’s what social workers and mental health counselors are for.
If anything, demanding police only be responsible for actual police work is supporting a healthier work environment and work culture for officers. How can more training and a return to community-oriented policing be a negative thing for anyone in uniform? How is reducing bloated police budgets and investing those taxpayer funds into programs that are proven to reduce crime be a negative thing? (Our “protectors” have MRAPS, guys. Let’s not pretend we don’t have a budget imbalance and that it isn’t being grotesquely mismanaged.)
You may lose clients. I know this may come as a shock, but just as POC and their allies prefer to support businesses whose values align with their own, racists prefer not to support businesses whose values align with the Bill of Rights, the US Constitution, and a vast array of anti-discrimination laws that cement those values into law in every aspect of our society—from employment to housing to private businesses, and everywhere in between and beyond.
I’ve said it before and I’m going to keep saying it: The year is 2020. Racism is unamerican. Racists are not patriots. If anything, they’re domestic terrorists.
Before anyone objects, tell me: What else do you call a group of Americans who oppose equal treatment for other Americans whose human rights have long been affirmed by law? There are numerous definitions for what constitutes domestic terror, none of which are universally agreed upon, but here’s Wikipedia’s:
Domestic terrorism or homegrown terrorism is a form of terrorism in which victims “within a country are targeted by a perpetrator with the same citizenship” as the victims.
Anyone who denies the humanity or equality of a fellow American fits this description. Ask yourself: Do you really care if you lose racist clients? Is their money worth it to you? Does giving others the impression that you are neutral on issues of race benefit or better your community? Are you okay with being one of the people who stood idly by, or are you brave enough to be a bright spot in a dark time?
Your solidarity matters more than you will probably ever realize.
How often are you calling business owners to tell them you appreciate their support of a cause you value? How often do you think companies are hearing from customers when they do something noteworthy, like donating to charities or voluntarily raising their employees’ wages? Probably never, right? You may or may not ever hear from anyone about your statement either way, but it will, without question, be valued.
How to Make a Statement
Don’t align yourself with a movement you have no control over. Just as we don’t align our companies with brands we don’t own or direct, we don’t align ourselves with protest movements. While I support several movements (primarily those that benefit service workers and promote equality), I don’t publicly endorse any of them for fear of their actions influencing others’ perception of me or my company. Movements, especially decentralized ones, tend to have nebulous objectives and may implement protest tactics that we don’t support.
Don’t support movements; support values.
- You can oppose economic inequality and corruption without supporting Occupy Wall Street.
- You can voice your company’s support for higher minimum wages without endorsing The Fight for $15.
- You can make it clear that Black lives matter to you and your company without ever mentioning BLM.
Values, especially ones that are accepted universally by reasonable people (and double-especially for those entrenched in law), are easier to communicate and don’t come with the liability inherent in protest movements.
It only takes one idiot to undermine a legion of organized, peaceful protestors with valid objections, and those who support them.
Keep it short and clear…and don’t mention the protests. Somehow, people began equating support of lawful protesting with support of rioting. It seems the majority of these people began conflating the two because doing so provides a convenient way of shutting down an uncomfortable conversation we need to be having as a nation.
Nobody is entitled to your opinion on protests, riots, or the individual actions taken by random people you have never met in your life.
“What about those people burning businesses? Do you support them too?”
What an asshole question, right? Sort of makes you want to turn around and ask, “What about those officers who are beating and shooting peaceful protestors for no reason? Do you support them too?”
Both questions are stupid. Stick to the value in your messaging. Nothing else is relevant or necessary. It isn’t your job to defend others.
Your statement should only say what it has to say. Don’t waste words explaining or justifying. You don’t need to give reasons why or write an entire article (with citations) in a fruitless attempt to please everyone. Nothing about your statement has to be complicated.’
When composing your statement, don’t give your racist aunt the ability to twist your message into an anti-cop narrative.
Here are some statements I drafted. Feel free to use them as they are or amend them to suit your own preferences.
At [SALON NAME], we believe in equality, liberty, inclusion, and justice for all. We strive to reinforce these values by providing a welcoming place where everyone can feel safe and accepted.
At [SALON NAME] we believe in equality, liberty, inclusion, and justice for all. As a company, we strive to reinforce these fundamentally American values by providing a welcoming space where everyone can feel safe and accepted. We are an equal-opportunity work environment and have strong anti-discrimination policies. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and xenophobia have absolutely no place in our salon.
Tell me, what about those statements provoke outrage? What about them is “controversial” or “political?”
As Americans, we’re going through some very necessary growing pains right now, but I’m certain we’ll come out of this a much stronger, safer, unified nation if we stop trying to present entire communities and the complex issues they face in binary terms, and learn to see each other as human beings whose perspectives, struggles, and life experiences are valid, even if we can’t personally relate to them. If we want to stop repeating history, we have to be willing to experience the discomfort that accompanies personal growth. We have to be willing to listen to others with patience and respect. Most importantly, some of you desperately need to turn off your televisions and pick up a goddamn book.
We have to stop sheltering ourselves in echo chambers and find the strength to allow others to challenge our opinions.
It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. It takes work.
Get to it.