June 8, 2020
READ TIME: 5 MINS
The recent act of police brutality against George Floyd has shaken the world. Not only has it led to the tragic and untimely death of an innocent man, but has also sparked massive protests and social campaigns across America, and the rest of the world.
Tuesday June 2nd 2020 marked a day called “Blackout Tuesday.” The world came together on social media to post black squares with impassioned messages of reform and education. The movement effectively created a social “blackout” to shine a singular spotlight on the issues of racism and police brutality while also celebrating the voices and messages from the black community.
There was, however, backlash to this campaign – especially for brands. There was immense pressure to speak out, but those who did would be criticized for jumping on the “activist bandwagon”, while those who did not were denounced for staying silent.
At Nanoleaf we were faced with a mix of emotions. As individuals, we could speak fearlessly about our heartbreak, rage, and passion; but as a brand, we knew it wouldn’t be as straightforward. We wanted to use our voice effectively, to spread our passion and support in a thoughtful and genuine way. What we didn’t want was to add more noise and join the conversation just for the sake of doing so.
During our morning meeting, we discussed what we felt was important to write. The concepts of education and setting an example of equality and acceptance for the next generation came up. We wrote all of these points down in a statement that cautiously acknowledged the problem, while providing insight into what we felt could be a step towards a solution.
The diversity of our team granted us input from many different perspectives. One of our team members shared his personal experience as a black male.
He looked at our statement, and didn’t like it. In truth, no one did. It was generic and safe; two things that Nanoleaf is not.
“What are we actually doing to make a difference?” he would ask. All we could respond was that we wanted to be another voice, to use our platform to help spread the message.
“We can do better than that. We write this safe, generic statement, and then what about tomorrow, when the trend has died down. What then.”
We struggled to find an answer.
“I’ve experienced this; I’ve been discriminated against for being black, I’ve had bad experiences with the police. But it’s like explaining the color red to someone that can’t see the color red.”
We were at an impasse; how could we write a statement about an issue that we could never truly understand?
The conversation continued as he tried to help us learn. At times it felt uncomfortable as we tried and failed to relate. But we continued to ask questions, first about the statement, but then about the situation, how it affected him, and how he felt at a time when just being black put his life at risk. He expressed his issues with “trendy activism,” telling us about his own personal life experiences.
“It’s not just a black issue, or just a white issue.” he said.
It was only then, as we put the pieces of the conversation together in our minds, that we started to understand. He wasn’t asking us to somehow single handedly stop racism. He wanted us to try to help people understand the same way he had helped us; by talking with them, not at them. Not through some statement, but through a conversation that wouldn’t start and end on “Blackout Tuesday” but would continue to be had the next day, and every day after that. And like he had said, it wasn’t a black issue, or a white issue. Everyone needed to be a part of the conversation.
You could hear the smile on his face (via Zoom) as we finally understood what he had been trying to say all along. The conversation continued as we opened up to one another, taking our time to speak, and to listen.
And so we made a post at 5pm. After the business day was over. After all the other posts had stopped. But it didn’t matter, because we finally knew what we wanted to say.
At the end of the day, does this post actually matter? Will one post make a difference?
Maybe yes, maybe no. Realistically, we probably learned more from the process of writing it than anyone will from reading it.
But it’s a start. The start of a conversation that let us understand our coworker better, that made us go home to our families with a new perspective, and speak to our friends in a more open way. And that does make a difference, because — as we finally learned — every real, honest, and sometimes awkward conversation does.
Educational Resources from Black Lives Matter :