Book Discussion: Four perspectives to inform our own

Talking about race is never easy. But, if we’re serious about achieving racial justice and equity, we can’t be afraid to have those uncomfortable conversations anymore. Understanding the history of racism and its impact is an important step in preparing to have a productive dialog on the subject. So, we decided to launch a book discussion to learn and grow together, and most importantly, to start talking.

With more than 50 employees, giving everyone a choice in the book they wanted to read gave us an opportunity to set up small groups and really dig into the books and the discussions.  We selected four books – each with its own unique approach to addressing racial and social justice issues:

With a month to read our books (or listen to the audiobook), everyone showed up to the virtual meetings with open minds, good questions and thoughtful discussion. In fact, the one-hour sessions went by so quickly that several groups decided to schedule more time to discuss their books.

Here are our biggest takeaways from the book discussions:

  • Systemic racism is rampant, but there is hope. The books sparked deep conversations about the ways people of color experience life differently from their white counterparts. There’s extensive data to show that disparities exist along nearly every facet of life, including employment, wealth, education, home ownership, healthcare and incarceration. But we all agree that the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others have forced the United States to confront the systemic racism of its past and present, and with the work being done right now, we are more hopeful than ever that change is here.
  • Microaggressions are hurtful. Our discussions opened our eyes to the fact that most of us believe we’re good people (and largely we are), so the idea that what we’re saying or doing is offensive or doesn’t treat others fairly threatens our sense of self. But microaggressions, which are subtle comments or gestures (whether made intentionally or not) that feed into stereotypes or negative assumptions about marginalized people, can cause others to feel dismissed, alienated, insulted or invalidated. We want to unlearn things that we now understand are harmful to the wellbeing of others.
  • We must speak up. Several groups discussed the importance of using our voices to stop racism in its tracks and stand up for others. We have to speak up – when someone tells a racist joke, when we are confronted with stereotypes in the media or when a child’s teacher makes an insensitive comment. The only way to end racism is by refusing to be silent. It’s not always easy, but it’s the right thing to do.
  • The ad industry can do better. We acknowledge that like many industries, the advertising and public relations world struggles with lack of diversity because of some of the very systems and policies we learned about in our books. As leaders in this space, it is incumbent on us to do the work by exposing more students of color to the profession through internships, partnering with HBCUs and others to identify talent and holding ourselves accountable in reaching diversity goals.

Our book discussions were helpful because they offered people an opportunity to gain knowledge and open up about their own experiences and views – all in a safe space. A theme across our discussion groups was: What is something you will do differently as a result of reading the book? The consensus: If we want to see justice and equity, confronting racism is our daily work– in ourselves, in our families, in our workplaces, in our communities, in our country, and in our world. 

If you are looking for resources to advance your own racial justice and equity efforts, we encourage you to add these four books to your reading list. We would love to hear what you think.