By Lisa Lorimer
Co-founder and CEO, MamaSezz Foods
Co-author Dealing With the Tough Stuff, B-K Publishers
Here at MamaSezz Foods we issued what we thought was a straight-forward statement about our position on race and our support of Black Lives Matter. We publicly answered two questions from people who wrote to us about violence at protests and about the problem with saying All Lives Matter; we made a meme that said MamaSezz Black Lives Matter; and then we included all of this in an email sent to our customers.
When we were writing these pieces, we were mostly worried we would not express our message in a way that people in the Black community would see as being supportive enough during this time. We tried to see our internalized white privilege and structural racism in all of its hidden places — and we knew we still had a lot to learn and a lot more work to do.
But then we just jumped in and wrote what we knew so far and used that as our corporate response, understanding we would get things wrong, and doing it anyway because saying nothing was much more harmful than saying something…even if that something wasn’t anywhere near perfect. We wanted to do the best we knew how to do and were trusting the Maya Angelou adage – when we know better, we will do better. So, we spoke from our hearts and went into listening mode to see what we could do better next time.
The backlash was swift and loud.
We had a large number of people unsubscribe, many left a nasty-gram email or angry social media comment as they slammed the door on their way out. My co-founder and I stepped in to answer these messages so we could spare any team member from having to deal with the vitriol.
When the dust settled from this barrage of messages, we were stunned. Not because of the responses – we have all seen the same type of comments everywhere, out in all kinds of media over the last few weeks.
No, this level of stunned we felt was about something else entirely.
We had to ask ourselves the real questions.
How is it possible that we built this whole food plant-based company -- one that helps people to transform their health every day…and yet we surprised so many customers by our position on race?
How did we not express ourselves, or our brand, in such a way that there would be absolutely no doubt that, of course we support Black Lives Matter?
And how could we be so surprised to see so many people surprised by us?
The answers to those questions bring us smack-dab back to our own white privilege and structural racism.
We have had the white privilege of never having to address race publicly in our work and we have not honestly done so until now.
We have Black people and POC in our workplace, our families, and our friendship circles, but we have never addressed race or racism in any kind of way so that when you think of the MamaSezz brand you know exactly where we stand.
And structurally we don’t mention it when all of our conference panels in our niche have almost all white people in speaker roles; we see the portfolio companies from a number of our investors have over 95% white leadership teams (including ours); most industry events we attend are usually a sea of white faces, as are many of the board rooms we sit in, (including ours).
We didn’t take enough of a stand because up until today we have only been benign non-racists: we do not discriminate in our workplace, we do not allow blatant racist statements, we personally invest in black women-owned companies – and yet we operate in a world that allows us to not actually feel the racism that has been so carefully taught to all of us since birth and which supports the structure that perpetuates that racism that benefits our white skin.
It is no longer okay for us to be non-racists and think these actions are enough. Let’s be completely clear here so there are no more surprises -- these easy actions are not anywhere near enough. Now is the time for us to step up and be staunchly anti-racist.
We don’t know exactly how to do it yet, but we are actively learning and searching for answers. For resources we look to the Dismantle Collective and the books of Robin DiAngelo, PhD and Professor Ibram X. Kendi. We are asking our white friends to join us and share what they are learning, and we are talking about reparations in all of these circles. Although we did not build this structure, we kept it going, we benefited from it, and our white children benefit from it. Now is the time to do everything we can to support the changes that need to happen to bring more equity.
And, in the midst of all of this, just so it is clear where the company MamaSezz stands…we have put a header on the top of all of our website pages that makes it very clear, in all caps. No more surprises: BLACK LIVES MATTER.