Social Justice Best Practices for Business Owners
Your Responsibility as a Conscious Business Owner
As the owner of a conscious business and someone in a position of power and privilege, you have a duty to your audience and clients to let them know where you stand on social issues that are relevant to your business and which directly affect their well-being. But depending on how close to home the issue hits, or what’s going on in our personal lives, our ability to show up in ways that might be typically expected around social justice may be affected. I think it’s really important to look at social justice through a trauma-informed perspective, so my recommendations in this post are presented through that lens.
High-Ticket Business Models Are Not Compatible With Conscious Business
The vast majority of issues surrounding climate change and social inequality, especially wealth inequality and systemic racism –– as well as trauma –– are directly caused, impacted, and/or perpetuated by capitalism and capitalist practices. Every social justice issue in the list below is touched by capitalism in some form.
In order to be a conscious business, you must learn about and address the ways that traditional business models and especially high-ticket luxury branding directly contributes to wealth inequality and the trauma that has and continues to result from it. Unlearning these values and practices is the foundation of a truly conscious business.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
As far as your responsibility to social justice is concerned, I recommend that you be proactive about social issues rather than reactive. What do I mean when I say reactive? If you’re not educated about an issue and have largely avoided the topic, you’re not going to be well-prepared to handle it when something like the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 or #MeToo occurs, and believe me, these things will continue to occur as the rights of marginalized people continue to be under fire.
It’s important to become aware of these issues and their nuances before they are thrust into the spotlight so that you can be prepared to speak about them intelligently when the time comes instead of scrambling to figure out what’s what. Additionally, if you are working with a compromised nervous system that is sensitive to overwhelm, researching these issues during times when your nervous system isn’t dysregulated can help you better absorb information (it’s difficult for us to learn and communicate when our nervous system is activated), and it can help you feel more prepared when the moment does come, and preparation gives our nervous system a sense of safety.
I do strongly urge all conscious business owners to build social justice into the foundations of your business, whether it’s through activism and education, or direct support (financial or other kinds of donations/volunteering). Choose an avenue that feels good to you and make that a key part of your business model (not just something that’s tacked onto the side).
If you don’t currently feel well-informed, I suggest finding and following activists in various areas which may be connected to your business and learning how the struggles of the marginalized are interrelated. It’s really important to look for intersectional viewpoints in these areas as well. Some areas to look for activists in include:
- Workers rights
- Environmental activists (particularly indigenous voices)
- Intersectional feminists
- Trans rights
- LGBTQIA+ rights
- Neurodivergent voices
- Differently-abled voices
- Immigrant voices
- Indigenous activists
Basically, diversify your feed and follow people who represent and speak on issues related to marginalized identities.
A Social Justice Crisis Hits. What Now?
Step 1: Acknowledge what is happening.
Your followers are watching you and many of them may be looking to you to lead, and as someone in a leadership position, it’s your obligation to do so. What can you do?
If your nervous system is deeply affected by what’s happening and you need time to process, communicate that. Make a post and tell your people that you are aware of what’s happening, that you need some time to collect your thoughts. It took me a full two weeks to process and figure out how I wanted to respond to the death of George Floyd. I think it’s important that we all take a moment to process before we communicate, rather than going social media rage posting, because as I said earlier, when our nervous systems are activated, we’re not thinking clearly and we may react in ways that we later regret.
Step 2: Process what is happening.
Once you’ve acknowledged what’s happening and communicated your needs to your audience, take time to process however that makes sense to you. That might mean spending less time on social media, that might mean connecting with other people to talk about what’s happening, and that might even mean providing a space for your audience to communicate their own emotions and feel heard. It entirely depends on what works best for your nervous system in the moment.
You also have to understand that everyone’s nervous system processes these things differently, and it’s important to support people in however they feel comfortable showing up. You lead by your example, and your example is to take care of yourself in the most mature way you can while also supporting marginalized people.
If you’re someone who needs to take time away, but you feel like retreating is leaving people hanging, you can look to some of those activists I recommended earlier and amplify their voices by sharing their content in lieu of generating your own discussion.
Step 3: Educate about what is happening (only if you’re informed and/or qualified).
When your nervous system has calmed down, you’re thinking clearly, and you’re ready to show up, come back with a prepared statement. Let people know where you stand and why, inform them about how you arrived at this stance, and point them to the experts and resources that you’ve used to educate yourself. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable enough in the subject matter to talk about the hows and whys, and that’s okay because you at least have resources at the ready where people can learn more.
Having the resources is very important. I like to save specific posts that I find to be particularly informative so that I can reference them later.
Note: Keep in mind that if you are educating your audience about issues that don’t directly affect you, that you are centering the experiences of the people that are directly affected and not your own. It’s not about you, so don’t make it about you. I would also recommend that the resources you are sharing be from people who are directly affected rather than people who are not. For example, sharing information from Robin DiAngelo (a white woman) about anti-racism when there are a gazillion other women of color teaching anti-racism benefits a white woman over that of someone is actually affected by racism –– AND it funnels money and power to said white woman instead of people in the community which are directly affected, thereby centering white people yet again.
Silence and Performative Activism Red Flags
Generally speaking, one thing you should never do is pretend that nothing is happening. When you pretend that nothing is wrong, it’s going to trigger the trauma of your followers who are being affected by this issue by reminding them of all the times they were abused and no one in positions of authority protected them. Your inaction alone is retraumatizing.
I also do not recommend only making a single post about said incident and then going about business as usual. That’s performative activism at its finest. I remember one white coach in particular whose contribution to Black Lives Matter, besides the single black square post, was to post a list of her favorite Black hip hop artists to “support Black business.” After that, it was business as fucking usual. She supported Black millionaires who didn’t need the money –– probably because she didn’t actually know any Black business owners. Performative activism fail.
That said, silence does not always equal violence and it does not always help the oppressor. That is only true if no one is speaking up at all.
For example, all of the white people who posted the black square to social media in June 2020 and then went on about their business only did so because it was trendy to do so. You know what else happened because of it? My entire feed was filled with white people posting black squares talking about how they weren’t going to be talking so that Black voices could be amplified, and it drowned out the actual Black voices. And that’s the story of how a bunch of white people trying to prove to the world that they weren’t racist hijacked a good thing and ended up centering themselves instead of the people who needed to be centered.
Additionally, sharing an uninformed opinion about a topic or spreading propaganda is as harmful, if not more so, than not speaking about it at all. This is why it’s important for you to take time to “listen and learn” and center the voices of those directly affected. It’s not humanly possible to be educated about every single thing going on in the world, and it’s okay and even preferable to admit when you don’t know something.
Important: There are additional caveats to this which I encourage you to read in the last section.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have to speak about every issue, every time?
If we made a statement every single time a social justice issue was in the spotlight, we’d be speaking all day every day. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to be informed about every single issue and to speak intelligently about every single issue, and still run a business and live their lives. But if activism is already a regular part of your platform, you don’t have to stop drop and roll every time something happens. You’re already doing your part on a regular basis and people already know where you stand. Just because you aren’t able to comment on every single issue, that does not erase all of the previous, interconnected work you have done.
To make this manageable, I suggest sticking with social issues that are directly related to your business and clients. For example, if you’re a relationship coach for women, you’ll want to be up-to-speed on issues related to women’s rights and domestic violence. If you’re a business coach, you should be aware of the intersection of capitalism and social inequality. If you’re a doula, you should be educated and active around reproductive rights, etc.
I’m afraid I might alienate my audience…
You might alienate some of your audience. And you might educate some of your audience which makes a difference in someone’s life. Again, I will reiterate: people tend to be more receptive to learning when their nervous system isn’t in crisis mode, so if you’re calmly educating people on a daily basis rather than overwhelming them in the middle of political turmoil, they’re less likely to feel threatened by it and they’re more likely to stick around.
As far as the people who sit on the other side of the issue and don’t want to listen to you anyway? Good riddance. You’ll never win those people over. And when they’re gone, you’ll be left with an audience who more closely aligns with you and your values, who look to you a true leader, and you’ll have built trust with people who know where you stand.
I’m afraid of conflict and addressing issues one-to-one…
It’s not your job to change people’s minds, and it’s not your responsibility to educate your individual followers one-to-one. If someone has a problem with your stance, you can point them toward the activists we discussed at the beginning of the post. It’s each person’s responsibility to educate themselves. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.
My personal approach to this has been to attempt to calmly educate an individual. If that doesn’t work, I will refer to other profiles whose sole existence is to educate people on these topics, and if they choose to stay and devolve into immature behavior, I will block them or let them show themselves out because I don’t want assholes trolling my content. You also have the ability to disable comments on any given post if you’re not down for dealing with backlash.
I also want to point out that there is a difference between showing up on your own platform and leading with level-headed discussion points vs. rage posting and getting into childish arguments with your followers, or posting with the intent to shame others for not sharing your views or not acting in a way that you deem righteous.
Some of the biggest problems in the social justice arena are:
- jockeying for moral superiority via virtue signaling and self-righteousness
- black-and-white thinking around complex issues presented in the form of a double-bind
- performative activism
- compassion fatigue
Compassion fatigue in particular is a very dangerous pitfall of activism, because it leads us to lose our empathy and without empathy, we are that much more susceptible to black-and-white thinking, which leads to radicalization (which is one of the big reasons why conspiracy theories and white supremacy are on the rise).
Here’s an excerpt from a post I wrote years ago:
When it comes to social issues, you often see a lot of people wielding their anger in unhealthy ways: anger without compassion. It is an all-or-nothing approach. You’re either with us or you’re against us, and you must be angry, or else you don’t care.
This creates mob mentalities, for example: several years ago in St. Louis, a video got out on Facebook of two 14-year-old boys mistreating a dog. The commentary on that video from animal lovers in the community – people who want to rescue every wayward critter – was appalling. They were calling for the death penalty…for two children.
Rage seeks destruction and punishment, rather that restoration and rehabilitation.
Sometimes things like this happen when you’re in a time of your own personal crisis and you’re having trouble showing up for yourself, much less the collective. You might have to sit this one out, and that’s okay. That’s why we’re a collective. When one of us is too weak to fight, others take up the mantle. But that probably also means you should be taking time away from your business as well.
Back in 2017 during the Charlotte “Unite the Right” rally incident, one of my (white) followers attempted to confront me for not talking about it. During that time period I was going through a very difficult time in my personal life and my mental health was quickly deteriorating. I was experiencing extreme dissociation, brain fog, and anxiety. I was having a lot of cognitive issues including forgetting words, names, and short-term memory loss. I was barely able to stop staring at my ceiling and get out of bed, much less form a coherent thought.
I told her that I didn’t have the mental or emotional capacity to do so, but she (well-meaningly) continued attempting to educate me about my privilege and the need to use it. I reiterated, in the best way that I could with my current incapacity, that I was not able. What she also did not know was that I had just been sexually assaulted. In my current condition, I didn’t owe her, a person I’d never met in real life and didn’t have a close personal relationship with, a disclosure that I’d just been raped.
So in your well-meaning enthusiasm for activism, I urge you to give others the same courtesy you’d give yourself if you were going through a personal crisis and weren’t mentally or emotionally capable of taking action in a given situation. Also remember that people don’t owe you, the general public, or anyone else an explanation of their trauma.
I’ve seen people who claim that they are trauma-informed throw everything they know about it out the window and say things along the lines of, “You just need to get over it,” while actively encouraging people to push themselves beyond their capacity (which is tantamount to self-harm), as though we can simply bypass our nervous system response. Expecting martyrdom and martyring yourself does not help social justice causes. It hinders them.
Again, I will reiterate: this is why we’re a collective. When one of us is too weak to fight, others take up the mantle. We can also take action within our capacity and how that looks is different for everyone.
Roles in the Revolution
Part of maintaining our empathy and compassion, community care, and solidarity is understanding that different people have differing capacities for showing up during crises for a wide variety of reasons, and how someone shows up does not have to look the same way that it does for you. Showing up may look like any combination of the following and more:
- sharing educational content online
- spreading awareness online
- providing a space for your audience to communicate their own emotions and feel heard
- signing petitions
- contacting government representatives
- joining a march, protest or boycott
- donating money
- supporting friends and family who are directly affected
- talking to or educating people in your social circle
Just because someone isn’t blasting their actions all over social media, it doesn’t mean they aren’t acting. It just means they’re not doing it for the ‘Gram and have no interest in virtue signaling.
There are also a variety of reasons why someone may not feel safe or may not be safe to share their opinions or actions publicly, including but not limited to:
- outing their marginalized identity
- backlash from friends, family, community
- backlash from government
- backlash from their place of work
- backlash in their personal lives (such as having child custody revoked)
All of these scenarios place people at varying levels of risk depending on the situation and they should not be expected to do so.
We don’t all have to show up in all the ways, all the time. The responsibility for saving the world does not rest on your individual shoulders. What matters is that as many people as possible show up as best they can, in whatever way they are able, whenever they can. That’s how collective impact is achieved without martyrdom. It’s a collective effort. Remember to manage your expectations both for others, and for yourself.
Remember, if your activism doesn’t leave people room to be human, then you’re not actually engaging in activism, you’re engaging in perfectionism which is is not deconstructing systems of oppression, it’s reinforcing them.
Thanks for being here,
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