Recent events and protests in the US and the UK have thrown into ugly relief the level of ingrained racism that people of colour face in our world.
No white-dominated country can ignore this. And nor can any white individual.
Whether it be unconscious bias, thoughtless exclusion, or downright prejudice, all white people carry a level of responsibility for the systemic advantages they’ve bestowed upon themselves. Even if they didn’t intend to.
I don’t think of myself as a racist person. But how often have I glossed over the contributions that BAME people have made, or not thought to welcome a more diverse group of friends into my life?
This needs to change.
So, and I’m talking here on a professional level as a writer, what can I do? I’ve been thinking about this, and it turns out there are some concrete steps I can take.
What’s more, they’re actions that, if you’re writing a book for your business yourself, you can carry out as well.
Ways we can make a difference with our business books
Books have power – that’s why we write them. They’re respected, they travel around the world, and they endure for years.
However, the problem with some business books is that, through their content, they exist in a mythical world in which only white people exist. It’s easy for white authors to ‘whitewash’ their books, often without realising it.
Here are some ways I’ve thought of for putting this right. Please let me know if you can think of more.
Be wide-ranging in our business case studies and examples
Including stories and examples in our books is a great way of making our concepts real and memorable for our readers. But it’s worth taking a look at the ones we’re choosing.
Are we automatically, without thinking about it, picking those that centre on white people? If we’re white ourselves we may move in mainly white circles, both personally and professionally, so it would be no surprise if this was the case.
We need to make the effort to talk to a more diverse group of people to provide us with inspiration for our content. If nothing else, just looking at the situation from this perspective will open our eyes to the homogeneity of our professional acquaintances and clients.
Widen our beta reading circles
All books benefit from having a friendly but critical set of beta readers to cast a fresh, unbiased eye over them before they go to publication. If you want to understand more about this, see my post here.
However, why not also make an effort to ask the opinions of readers outside of our normal cultural circles? I’m sure they will pick up on perspectives we didn’t know we’d missed.
I’ve done this before from a woman’s perspective when I’ve had an input into books that were under development, and was able to make a difference to how the books turned out. It makes sense to do the same with racial inclusivity.
Widen our non-fiction reading lists
When I cast my eye over my bookshelf, I’m appalled by how few authors of colour are there. The business book world is heavily dominated by white, male authors, and while I’ve made an effort to include more women in my reading, I’ve not done the same with BAME writers.
How can I gain an understanding of what it’s like not to be white, when I don’t read about more diverse experiences than my own?
To remedy this, I’ve been excited to see many recommendations* of excellent non-fiction books by ethnically diverse authors. Here are a couple of the ones I’ve read:
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge. I read this a year ago and it made a significant impression on me, helping me to understand the world from a black woman’s perspective.
Me and White Supremacy: How to recognise your privilege, combat racism, and change the world, by Layla F Saad. This is one I see recommended over and over again. I’m working my way through it as we speak, and while it’s emotionally gruelling at times it’s making a concrete difference to the way I think.
And here are ones I’ve not read yet but have been recommended:
The Master Plan: My journey from life in prison to a life of purpose, by Chris Wilson (winner of the International category at the Business Book Awards 2020).
The Corner Shop: Shopkeepers, the Sharmas, and the making of modern Britain, by Babita Sharma (BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week and winner of the Exceptional Book that Promotes Diversity category at the Business Book Awards 2020).
The Unfair Advantage: How you already have what it takes to succeed, by Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba. This is not a book about race, but it’s great to read business books written by authors who don’t fit the usual white mold.
Building an Inclusive Organisation: Leveraging the power of a diverse workforce, by Stephen Frost and Raafi-Karim Alidina.
*Thank you to Alison Jones of The Extraordinary Business Book club for making me aware of some of these.
Support, support, support
And finally, the next time we come across a business author of colour, how about we make a point of asking them about their book and what we can do to help them promote it? Or maybe decide to read their book in preference to a white author’s?
We’ll be helping to redress an imbalance that’s existed for decades and more.
We can also look out for opportunities to support events and institutions that support BAME authors. This year’s Business Book Awards, for instance, offered a prize for an exceptional book that promotes diversity, and 3 of the 21 winning books were written by authors of colour.
It’s a start.
And finally, we can all accept that we’re on a journey of learning. It’s humility and patience that will drive us forward, not defensiveness and reactionism.
Nobody is perfect, but by trying to be better we can slowly make the world a better place.
One book at a time.