Walking Our Talk: Beyond Equity Panels

Almost weekly there’s a panel, podcast, or other event where the importance of social equity is emphasized. People from all backgrounds are getting into the conversation. (Please note; people from systematically marginalized communities experience an extra burden when advocating for their own right to equity). Businesses across industries understand that at least acknowledging the importance of racial equity is key to their success these days, even if they do so with surface-level DEI initiatives.. According to Forbes, more than half of Americans think CEOs should be actively anti-racist, but 44% of people don’t think the business community has done enough to address systemic racism. 

While discussing the realities of systemic racism is an essential step, it doesn’t necessarily equate to impact. Cannabis Doing Good’s sister non-profit, Cannabis Impact Fund, released an Anti-Racism Guide for Cannabusinesses in 2021. The guide identifies 3 steps in the “Rinse and Repeat” of racial equity, meaning it’s iterative, and ongoing. It took us a long time to get here. Walking these steps allows us to exit the loop of endless conversation and enter reparative change for the Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people most impacted by oppressive systems, and for white folks who do not benefit from these limited systems either. In cannabis, we can be a part of creating something that has not been created before. It’s good for business and good for people.

Step 1: Commit. Deciding to begin is the first step in any journey. Stepping into commitment requires acknowledging all the ugly truths of systemic racism. Just like the hardest part of a workout can be getting to the gym; looking at the oppressive systems we all grew up with can be overwhelming. I didn’t choose them and neither did you, but we are disruptors, or we wouldn’t be in cannabis. Let’s disrupt. Anti-racism is not for the faint of heart, we will be imperfect. Progress not perfection is what we are looking for. WE will be imperfect in the community so we can walk together in it. Commitment will ask you for a lifetime of dismantling those oppressive systems we all inherited. We recommend beginning longevity practices like shame resilience and nervous system regulation now. In addition, find support amongst other white folks taking this journey. Groups like SURJ are dedicated to white folks working against racial injustice. 

Step 2: Educate & Assess. “All learning happens through culture.”-Zaretta Hammond, consultant at Center for Collaborative Classrooms. We’ve learned through the cultures we grew up in, cultures that were rooted in systemic racism. Naturally, those oppressive systems translate into our workplace. We need to apply a strategic lense towards pinpointing where racism and inequities exist in ourselves and the workplace. I highly suggest consulting with a racial equity expert to help educate, illuminate your blindspots, and co-create effective strategies for building an actively antiracist company culture. A good start is Cannabis Doing Good’s Racial Equity Self Assessment. Doing good isn’t only a moral imperative. Blueboard Inc. recently released a study showing that 60% of employees would leave a workplace where they didn’t feel they belonged. Belonging starts with culture and anti-racism gets to the root of inequity, creating belonging for women, LGBTQIA+, differently-abled people, religious diversity, and folks of all ages. 

Step 3: Implement. Ah implementation. Here’s where we see some break throughs and some break downs.. Lots of companies have taken steps to commit and educate themselves on anti-racism. After all, Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is projected to be an $8.6 billion dollar industry by 2026, but DEI is how you measure whether your efforts are moving toward an antiracist culture. They are not the end game. We haven’t seen the needle move on diversity, equity or inclusion because we aren’t likely measuring the right outcomes. . A cannabis business that knows its history,and recognizes  the racialized harm done to roll out a legal cannabis industry is empowered to make change. We are still subjected to all-of-the-other systems connected to a regulated market–that are built on oppressive policies and inherently antiblack. We can’t focus just on social equity applicants and think that they have the power to change “credit worthiness,” or even investor networks. We have lived in very different worlds with very different access points and privileges.  Businesses, banking, credit, all of these systems have elements of racism inherent to their function, part of their foundation. We, as cannabis folks, get to continue disrupting, and do what we can to shed light on inequitable elements that this cannabis experiment has shown us. It’s our privilege to operate here, in a place that still costs folks their lives. Here’s the sticking point with implementation; power sharing. We live in a culture that has established a system of privilege and scarcity based on race and gender. Meaning if you give up privilege you’re bound to face scarcity. Many white leaders have walked the path to active anti-racism and been met with the fear for their own financial well being if they relinquish some power. We do this together in cannabis. Clear-eyed and in community, we chip away at the parts we can see. 

“When we know better, we do better”–thanks Maya Angelou.

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