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April Johnson: Tech companies, it’s not enough to ‘not be a racist’

The Happied founder offers recommendations on being actively anti-racist.

The Happied app. (Courtesy photo)

This guest post is a part of Racial Equity Month of Technical.ly's editorial calendar.

Editor’s note: This guest post is adapted from an email Happied founder April Johnson sent to Technical.ly responding to a request for comment. It is reprinted here with permission and appears as part of a series of short guest posts from local leaders on how they are addressing the issue of systemic racism with their organizations. 

As a black founder deeply rooted in the community, these issues are not new to me.

I grew up in Los Angeles and, while I was a child at the time, vividly remember the Latasha Harlins shooting and the Rodney King riots. The recent high-profile incidents are yet another reminder that we live in a country that does not see black people as equal, does not value black lives, and that expects black people to act like it’s business as usual when we see fellow black Americans killed on the streets at the hands of the state.

Systemic racism has always been a topic of discussion at Happied and we’ve worked hard to ensure that black people are represented and uplifted on our platform and in all of our programming. Happied was founded on a mission of bringing people together through food and drink and we’ve consistently and consciously highlighted black bar owners and bartenders in an attempt to shift the narrative to ensure black people are seen as equals in this space.

Our advice to other tech companies is that it’s not enough to “not be a racist.” Allies (whether other POC or white people) have to be actively anti-racist, have the uncomfortable conversations amongst themselves and with others, and actively work to dismantle the system that was designed to imprison, disenfranchise, economically depress, and outright kill black people.

My specific recommendations on being actively anti-racist are as follows:

1. Host your corporate events, happy hours and holiday parties (virtually or in person, when safe) at a black-owned restaurant.

In working with restaurants and bars, I’ve learned that many black restaurant and bar owners don’t want people to know that their establishments are black owned for fear that people will not support them, due to an assumption that it is a “black spot.” This is a shame. Black-owned restaurants and bars are as diverse as any other group, with an array of amazing cuisines, cocktail programs, and dining experiences. Don’t avoid black-owned spaces and don’t go in with low expectations (see number 2 re: stereotypes). Patronize them, and patronize them often.

2. Check microaggressions and stereotypes about black people at the door.

Recognize and respond to the assumption in the back of your head that the black person in front of you is violent, a criminal, less educated, unintelligent, loud and/or aggressive. Don’t think of your black employees or friends as exceptions to the rule. Don’t tell your black colleagues they are “well spoken.” Resist the notion that you somehow need to monitor the behavior and movements of black people.

3. Finally, in every interaction, honestly ask yourself if you are treating this person as you would like to be treated.

Whether it’s the call to the police for a non-emergency, invading another person’s privacy for your own comfort or passing someone over for an opportunity they may legitimately have earned a shot at, the simplicity of this “Golden Rule” is profoundly powerful.

Series: Racial Equity Month 2020

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