Box, checked!: Why performative allyship isn’t sustainable

why performative allyship isn't enough“Hey, would you mind getting off the line so the VP can speak freely…He likes to speak without being censored.” These were the words from a White colleague to my Black friend, on a conference call last week. Instead of dealing with the organizational backlash for the racially insensitive comments he knew would ensue from the VP, this manager chose to engage in the microaggression of simply dismissing his Black employee from the line. Problem solved.

Post the pivotal 8 minutes and 46 seconds that we all witnessed on camera in the streets of Minnesota, some executives are satisfied with their ‘attempts’ at diversity, equity, and inclusion, and have returned to their deeply ingrained practices. But at least they can say that they did something, right?! Whether they went the route of the Black square, form letters with famous Black person quotes, or hashtags, it’s back to business as usual. And for them, business as usual means doing everything that they can to dance around their employees and the issues that continue to plague us as a nation.

While some may have been sincere in letting their actions speak louder than the empty rhetoric disseminated by others, there are countless organizations whose less than valiant efforts at solidarity have failed. But do they know it? Do they care?

Issues of racial justice aside, it’s glaringly obvious when companies actually exist to be transformative vs. being transactional. When leadership is willing to address the root of an organization’s issues, then the people within the system are encouraged to examine the culture and make a collective decision about changes that need to occur. But if leaders just want the  thorn in their side to go away, they will engage in silencing and surface level exchanges, packaged as politically correctly as possible, in hopes that the stakeholders and employees will passively accept the status quo.

But this is a different moment. We’ve come to a crossroads where people are fearlessly unwilling to settle for the way things have been. The symbolic gestures are not enough. The band aids aren’t effective. And the boxes are laughable that companies are scrambling to check. The transparency of these banal actions is obvious. The gaslighting is insulting. The apologies are (after the fact) and opportunistic at best. Those who see clearly, depending on their relationship, are starting to reconsider how their resources, support, or involvement could be more meaningfully allocated.

Whenever we have a medical problem, we see a physician in hopes that we’ll receive a diagnosis. It’s not normal to be given a prescription before the doctor examines us and understands our symptoms. Each company that engages in the laziness of performance allyship is doing just that – offering a diagnosis without a thorough examination of the systemic issues. And their fraudulent practices are being highlighted and exposed.

Black lives matter is more than a trendy hashtag in the news cycle. It’s the overarching movement to address the ‘box checking’, which has existed for centuries in the places that we call work. Those who have been re-traumatized by the lies touted from the ‘higher ups’, of a ‘more equitable vision’, can clearly see all of the players, their roles, their moves. If leaders think for a moment that the silence of their subordinates confirms the successful implementation of their ‘behind closed doors’ strategy sessions, they’ll soon find a checkmate on the horizon waiting to trump their unsustainable checked-box. Truth and sincerity are always more sustainable, require less energy, and conserve more resources, which we know is the bottom line anyway. Here’s to not being complicit in box-checking, sitting in discomfort, and digging deeper to examine the holes, in hopes that what is broken can be repaired. Because we will keep repeating what we don’t repair until it’s fixed.

Read more from Dr. Barbara Ford Shabazz at

About the Author

Dr. Barbara Ford Shabazz Dr. Barbara Ford Shabazz is currently the Psychology Program Director at South University, author of Intentional Balance, and the owner of Intentional Activities. For over 20 years, she has served students, clients, and the larger community as an instructor, advisor, speaker, consultant, therapist, and coach. Her clinical training commenced during an undergraduate practicum, where she initiated a collaborative partnership among the community elementary school teachers, parents, students, and university practicum enrollees. She has worked primarily in the Hampton Roads Virginia area with the community services board, various high schools, therapeutic foster care agencies, a pediatric medical practice, and a non-profit organization. Dr. Shabazz had the opportunity to hone her expertise in the mental health field through participating in her doctoral internship with Kern County Mental Health and practicing as a Resident in Psychology with a local psychotherapy practice, which provides services to a broad spectrum of clients. Close relationships with community organizations have helped to inform this educator's roles and responsibilities in academia. Dr. Shabazz not only facilitated a myriad of psychology courses for her alma mater's undergraduate and graduate programs, participated in student advising, and created a student-led colloquium series for the senior citizen neighbors, but she also had the honor of being recognized as favorite faculty. Additional classroom experience has offered invaluable lessons for practical application. Her position as an online professor helped to ensure competence with current trends and best practices in the field. More recently, Dr. Barbara has been drawn to the study of positive psychology, which was the impetus for seeking certification with the Coaching and Positive Psychology Institute. As a practicing certified personal and executive coach, her goal with Intentional Activities is to tap into the inherent strengths of each client, equipping them with the tools necessary to live a more action-oriented and authentic life. Dr. Shabazz earned her B.A. in psychology from Norfolk State University. She subsequently attended Regent University where she completed the requirements for her M.A. in Community and School Counseling , and Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She is in a unique position to effect change from the classroom to the community, as she adeptly bridges theory and practice in her work with diverse populations. BARBARA FORD SHABAZZ PSY.D. , CPEC CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST, CERTIFIED PERSONAL AND EXECUTIVE COACH 757.305.7656 [email protected]

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“Hey, would you mind getting off the line so the VP can speak freely…He likes to speak without being censored.” These were the words from a White colleague to my Black friend, on a conference call last week. “

wait, why was one of your friends on a work call with your colleagues? perhaps THAT is why your friend was asked to jump off? also, i believe you are conveying said “blackness” was a discerning factor in why the request was posed to a group that incliuded your friend or your friend, solely. But would you not also be included in this group, if the group was in fact comprised of individuals that identify their race as “black”, or if the request was made only to your friend, and your summartion that your friend being “black” was reason for the request was directed there to, why would the white colleague not make the same request of you? admittedly, i can only make an “educated” assumption , based upon the picture accompanying the “author details” section provided and attached to your article contribution and your/profile card, and to a much lesser extent, some of the wording and pronouns used in your writing, so please accept my apologies if my assumption and interpretaions are inaccurate, but please also accept that their inaccuracies do not stem from a lack of good faith.

are you “paraphrasing” or adding interpretation or transaltion or dramatization etc? if so, i must again apologize, as i did not note this disclosure.

William Kreiger

to follow up, i DID miss that you later referred to the black friend as the white colleague’s “black employee” so now im even more confused as to the meaning behind the use of “colleague” and “friend”?? Further, my point that considerable confusion could (and has) arise from the request supposedly being directed only at an individual and not other colleagues/groups that would be under the sane umbrella of “black”, such as yourself.

and most importantly, what HAPPENED? did the colleague/friend (see, confusing) end up leaving? come back? or not leave at all? and what did you do or say to the colleague making the request? the colleague making the request probably wasnt ready for the mic you would be momentarily levied on that poor soul??

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