Lots of white-owned companies are evaluating their activities and being more proactive in dismantling racism. For some white small business owners, however, speaking up and taking action may feel inconsequential or even scary. To help these enterprises, I’ll periodically showcase white small business owners who are being more accountable, inclusive and supportive. My goal is to ease white people's concerns about corporate social justice.
First up, Lizzie Chadbourne, founder and owner of Lo & Behold, a natural beauty products maker in Durham, N.C. Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of their concoctions!*
“We are just a small company doing what we can, we want to learn more and do more and we always want customers to give us their feedback,” Lizzie says. “We are thankful that we have gotten the support to be in a position to do more with our business than just make products and sell them.”
Lizzie and I talked about her decision to participate in the #AmplifyMelanatedVoices campaign in June and take a look at her business and pledge to do more.
Being an anti-racist business: An interview with Lizzie Chadbourne of Lo & Behold
Margot: What prompted you be a part of #AmplifyMelanatedVoices and suspend your social marketing for a week?
Lizzie: As a business we have always felt a responsibility to stand up for what is right, but we haven’t done enough for the Black Lives Matter movement. We were saddened and outraged by the events that sparked and deepened the movement and welcomed the opportunity to learn more, take action and stand in solidarity. At that time, joining other companies and individuals in changing up our social media activity rather than continuing “with business as usual” felt like the right and reasonable thing to do.
I was more drawn to the #AmplifyMelanatedVoices than other calls to action on social media. On June 2nd, a fellow small business owner and friend, Lysandra Weber of Geek Chic Fashion, wrote a post that went viral and really inspired me. She urged folks to amplify Black voices and fill their feeds with content from Black creators, rather than just post black squares. I have always respected her opinion and her words resonated with me as I scrolled through endless black squares on my feed. I do recognize why so many people chose to post black squares, especially if that's how they best knew how to show up in that moment.
It worked, by the way. I discovered Lysandra on your feed and have since ordered three masks from her! So thanks for that. You didn’t just highlight Black-owned businesses in general, you promoted enterprises that make products like yours.
I don’t consider showcasing other high-quality beauty brands and products as competition at all. Rather, it raises the bar for all skincare products. I am genuinely happy that customers have different options for what products they can find locally and nationally to fill their showers, medicine cabinets and nightstands. I've always tried to have this mindset when it comes to business: community over competition. Does anyone really only use one brand of product? I certainly don’t! I love beauty and skincare and I was thrilled to discover some Black-owned brands and to share their information with the community I have built online. I actually deepened my relationship with two local Black-owned skincare brands. I look forward to the opportunities to continue to support each other more moving forward.
Many business owners worry about offending customers and prospects with advocacy. How did you weigh that risk?
Offending customers with advocacy used to feel like a risk. When I first started Lo & Behold I didn’t even consider expressing my progressive views. It seemed like a threat to having a profitable business and creating an “inclusive” audience, especially in the South. However, over the years I have experienced a handful of racist and sexist comments from customers and other vendors, and realized that not responding and advocating for other women and minorities is a much greater concern. I've learned that choosing whether or not to speak up is another way that I am privileged as a white business owner. A minority business owner or employee doesn’t have that choice, they are automatically at risk of racism and hate just by being themselves. I have realized that staying silent doesn’t create the kind of inclusivity that I actually want for my company. I no longer consider advocacy a risk, but rather a way to fight for human rights, use my platform for a greater good, and to appeal to the kinds of people that I actually want supporting my business and in my community.
Did you get any comments on your posts?
For the most part, we only experienced positive feedback. We have been showing our values for years, so I don’t think our #AmplifyMelanatedVoices content came as a surprise, but silence would have devastated our community. I did have a few friends tell me that the length of our lists of Black-owned businesses felt performative. I saw where they were coming from and tried to learn from that feedback. On the other hand, my employees loved the posts and expressed that the lists felt inclusive and educational.
A lovely customer of ours shared some negative feelings towards some of the content we shared. I was really thankful that she contacted me. Her feedback helped me realize that I needed to be very thoughtful about what content I share. I want to be informative, but also gentle.
You took other concrete steps for ongoing impact, like signing the Hello Seven Anti-Racist Business Pledge, which we have also signed. Why was it important for you to make a public commitment?
It’s important to make public commitments and to continue to do so for long-term accountability. That’s why I loved The Hello Seven Pledge. I believed in everything they outlined and am using the five-step plans for long-term changes for our company. The pledge helped me go from feeling confused about what to do as a small company to learning and planning actions. It moved away from “What are you posting now?’ to questions like, “How will you invest in Black businesses, employees, and truly become an anti-racist organization in the long run?”
You also launched the Choose Your Impact initiative.
My boyfriend first came up with the concept earlier this Spring. We've been experiencing a lot of mixed feelings about continuing with marketing our products when so many people are in pain and suffering financially. We're very concerned about our current President and what might happen this Fall during the election. Choose Your Impact was a team idea with a collaborative vision for our community of customers. Our entire team contributed to what the program would be, how it would work, and who it would support. To us the program is just one of the steps we want to take, both to support the Black Lives Matter Movement and to encourage continual progressive actions for a more just world.
We asked what can we do to bring more people together to make a bigger impact? We wanted to do something that could empower and reward customers to take actions in a multitude of ways, and felt like in the long run it would make a bigger difference than just us donating a percentage of sales, which we also did but we wanted to do more. We have customers who can and will donate more to a just cause than we can. We also wanted to equally reward folks who might not be in a position to donate money, not just because of the recession but because we believe that every action combined -- not just financial contributions -- can create a better world. We liked that the program would inspire a collective effort with the community we have built for years to volunteer, protest, or whatever steps spark long-term participation and continued, determined action. This program isn’t going to make sense to everyone, but it made sense to us.
What would you say to other white business owners who are reticent to be active -- not because they disagree, but because they're worried about business impact?
Speaking up is the bare minimum and if you think you have done “enough” then it's time to dig deeper, learn more and do more. I don’t consider myself that active; I need and want to do more. Companies that are already mission-based like mine have to do more for Black lives, I know we do. I am lucky to have a small team and loyal community to navigate both words and actions -- and I understand that not everyone is in that position.
Beyond human rights and social responsibility, just from a business perspective, speaking out and taking action is an opportunity. You need to get on the right side of history. People want to support strong values and they vote with their dollars. Be loud so people will want to keep supporting you. Especially right now. We’re in a recession and customers are going to be careful where they spend their money. I know I am.
It isn’t going to look the same for every business, so I would say learn more and take action however you can. Ask yourself what can you do that you can stand behind? How can you keep doing more for Black lives? Do not let fear get in the way of doing what is right. You might get criticism, but if you keep trying to make everyone happy you're never going to make anyone happy -- and you're never going to do more with the awesome responsibility of owning a company.
More content on corporate social responsibility and anti-racism
- First steps to being an anti-racist person, employee or business owner
- Our statement on and goals for social justice
- Our Flipboard magazine of anti-racist resources (updated regularly)
- Expand your employee or contractor pool with talent source from DiverseCreatives.com [external link]