Talk less and interact more with your online talks & events (review of Standout Virtual Events)

I was quick to register for a pair of free online conferences that featured four nights of very impressive people talking about very important issues.

But I never logged on.

Instead, I binge-watched Homeland with my wife and channeled my inner 80-year-old by working on a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

I’m Zoomed out. My attention span is shot. And the novelty of filling my pandemic days and nights with professional development webinars, workshops, talks, courses, summits and conferences is wearing off.

So how can you win over audiences like me when speaking and running virtual events for employees, customers and the general public?

David Meerman Scott and Michelle Manafy have some suggestions.

“The best virtual events reimagine what is possible rather than recreate what is familiar,” say the authors of Standout Virtual Events. You can’t simply move your in-person town hall or conference online. Hanging out in virtual lobbies and sitting through 45-minute keynotes will be a tough sell for Zoom-weary audiences.

“Virtual events are more like television than theatre. In a theatrical performance, the audience is present. Their feedback is immediate and palpable. You know right away whether your performance is resonating. You are on the big stage and have to play big and bold to connect with those in the back row.”

At a virtual event, every attendee has a front row seat. We want intimate conversations rather than performances. So look into the camera so you’re looking into our eyes.

“Speakers who are skilled at in-person events may not be skilled virtual speakers,” say Meerman Scott and Manafy. “If speakers play to an audience as they are used to doing in-person, rather than playing to the camera, they will not be as successful in delivering their messages and the entire event can suffer.”

We’ll also log off if you do nothing but talk at us. Passive experiences don’t work with virtual events. We expect to interact with you and each other.

Meerman Scott and Manafy recommend breaking your talk into a series of five to seven-minute segments interspersed with real-time polls, trivia contests, Q&A sessions, interviews with surprise guests, video clips and small group discussions in breakout rooms.

“If a speaker can do all of those things in 45 minutes, the talk will be quite different from an in-person talk but it is dynamic and engaging in a way that is ideal for a screen.”

If you’re organizing a virtual event, take the money you’ve saved on renting a venue and feeding and watering the audience and invest it in a skilled production team and host. Don’t saddle an intern or overworked executive assistant with the responsibility of running your virtual event.

A skilled host will bring out the best in camera-shy speakers and guide conversations that’ll hold our attention. “Journalists make terrific interviewers and many have experience in front of a camera,” say Meerman Scott and Manafy. “It will be critical to ensure that a panel moderator or interviewer for a fireside chat is highly comfortable with the subject matter, the medium and confident enough to lead the discussion if it lulls or heads off track.”

Meerman Scott and Manafy predict that we’ll be attending hybrid town halls, summits and conferences post-pandemic. Some of us will pay for the in-person experience while many others will opt to save time and money by logging in from work and home. The upside is that you’ll be reaching even bigger audiences.

So don’t keep postponing events until we can meet again in person. Start moving events online now and heed Meerman Scott and Manafy’s expert advice.

“The best virtual events are more than televised keynotes. They must go beyond the charismatic talking head. The best virtual events create a compelling and engaging digital experience. The key is that we need to use the power of the online medium rather than trying to recreate an offline experience.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and never finished the 1,000 piece puzzle.

How to recruit & retain Gen Z as your Baby Boomer workers call it a career (review of Zconomy by Jason Dorsey & Denise Villa)

Want to win the next war for talent?

Fund scholarships, offer paid internships and help pay down the student loans of the freshly minted grads who’ll be replacing your retiring Baby Boomers.

Those moves will warm the hearts and win the loyalty of Generation Z. Born between 1996 and 2012, they’re financially prudent, debt averse and big savers. They watched their Gen X and Millennial parents get hammered by the Great Recession and buried in mortgage and student loan payments, credit card debt and home equity loans.

“The generation read the headlines of people losing jobs and houses, and certainly had a front-row seat to seeing many parents and adults lose their confidence,” say Jason Dorsey and Denise Villa, generational experts and authors of Zconomy.  Their book is based on more than 65 generational studies.

Expect Gen Z to be even more frugal once we get through the pandemic. Twenty-somethings have been among the first to get their hours cut, laid off or let go. The World Bank estimates the pandemic could cost 15-24-year-olds $10 trillion in lost income over their lifetimes.

Nearly 90 per cent of Gen Zers plan to go to college or university. Yet half of them aren’t willing to run up more than $10,000 in student loan debt. Nearly 30 per cent say they won’t want to take on any debt.

More than half say they’ll finance their education with scholarships and nearly 40 per cent say they’ll juggle work and school.

If helping to finance their postsecondary dreams is a recruitment tool, standing for something bigger than your products or services is one way to retain your Generation Z employees. “They want to know that their work is contributing to something bigger than the task at hand,” say Dorsey and Villa.

Equity, diversity and inclusion is table stakes for Gen Z. Declarations and noble intentions won’t impress them. They expect to join a diverse and inclusive workplace.   

If you’re the boss, drop the stiff and formal pontificating and go with candid, authentic and personal communications. Get comfortable talking on camera because 20-somethings would rather watch you on their smartphones then sit and suffer through an all-staff town hall. But know that they want your recognition for a job well done delivered in person.

Genuinely care about your Gen Z employees, mentor them, offer retirement matching (they’re already saving for their golden years) and invest in their professional development from day one.  Do this and Gen Z will be your best recruiters. They’ll go on social media and tell the world that you’re a great place to work. But they’ll also let everyone know if you treat people badly and you’re a lousy employer. Positive online reviews are essential because Generation Z looks for jobs the same way they shop.

Here’s the key takeaway for employers. Gen Z really wants to work and they’ll take whatever job you have if you just give them a chance. “They want to work hard,” say Dorsey and Villa. “Gen Z can make great employees. They want to work for a stable company (it’s true: they’re not all ditching traditional work for the gig economy). They don’t all want to be YouTube stars – many want actual jobs, and they want to grow within their company.”

Employers got caught off guard when Millennials joined the workforce. Dorsey and Villa have the research to help organizations get it right with Generation Z. “This generation is bringing a new worldview, talent and energy that can bring out the best in each of us. Yes, they are different. But in that difference is tremendous possibility if we take the time to understand them.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and is the proud dad to two amazing Gen Zers.

Job one for leaders – find and keep stunning colleagues & part ways with everyone else (review of Reed Hastings No Rules Rules)

Because it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good and very bad year, imagine if your entire team announces they’re jumping ship.

Who do you persuade to stay? And who do you help pack up and send on their way?

At Netflix, managers call this the keeper test.

You’re a keeper if you’re exceptionally creative, do loads of great work, love your job and play well with others. In exchange, you’re well-paid and treated like a grown-up.

If you’re a jerk, slacker or a sweet person who’s a non-stellar employee, you get a generous severance package. Your departure frees up a spot for a new hire who’ll add to Netflix’s talent density. 

“Your number one goal as a leader is to develop a work environment consisting exclusively of stunning colleagues,” says Netflix CEO and No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention co-author Reed Hastings.

“For top performers, a great workplace isn’t about a lavish office, a beautiful gym or a free sushi lunch. It’s about the joy of being surrounded by people who are both talented and collaborative. People who can help you be better. When every member is excellent, performance spirals upward as employees learn from and motivate one another.”

Combining top talent with a commitment to candor and honesty always lets you rip most of the pages out of your creativity-killing and initiative-stifling employee handbook. The thinner the book, the better your chances of unleashing your team’s entrepreneurial spirit and ability to move fast.

“If you build an organization made up of high performers, you can eliminate most controls,” says Hastings. “The denser the talent, the greater the freedom you can offer. At most companies, policies and control processes are put in place to deal with employees who exhibit sloppy, unprofessional or irresponsible behavior. But if you avoid or move out these people, you don’t need the rules.”

It’s been a winning formula for Netflix.

Hastings and his business partner once tried to sell Netflix to Blockbuster for $50 million. At the time, Blockbuster was a $9 billion company.

“Blockbuster held all the aces,” says Hastings. “They had the brand, the power, the resources, and the vision. Blockbuster had us beat hands down. It was not obvious at the time, even to me, but we had one thing that Blockbuster did not: a culture that valued people over process, emphasized innovation over efficiency, and had very few controls. Our culture has allowed us to continually grow and change as the world, and our members’ needs, have likewise morphed around us.”

Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010 and shuttered more than 9,000 stores (the last remaining store is in Bend, Oregon which you can book through Airbnb for all-night, back to the 90s slumber parties). Today, Netflix has just shy of 170 million subscribers in 190 countries. A stock price that started at $1 hit $350 in 2019. The company runs its own studio and streams award-winning original content. Netflix ranks as America’s most highly regarded company and it’s where tech workers say they’d most like a job.

“Netflix is different,” says Hastings. “We have a culture where ‘no rules’ rules. Once you start developing this type of culture, a virtuous cycle kicks in. Removing controls creates a culture of freedom and responsibility which attracts top talent and makes possible even fewer controls. All this takes you to a level of speed and innovation that most companies can’t match.”

Hastings asked Erin Meyer, an INSEAD business school professor and author of The Culture Map, to take an impartial look at Netflix’s culture, interview hundreds of current and former employees and help write No Rules Rules. “In most organizations, people join the dots the same way that everyone else does and always has done,” says Meyer. “This preserves the status quo. But one day someone comes along and connects the dots in a different way, which leads to an entirely different understanding of the world. That’s what happened at Netflix.”

So while binge-watching Netflix over the weekend, think about who on your team you’d fight hard to keep. Assembling a team of stunning colleagues is your first dot.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

27 years in public relations turned into a 30-minute early morning walk & talk

If you’ve reached the end of Netflix, you can watch me talk about public relations while wandering through the woods for 30 minutes.

Prof Wayne Aubert asked if I’d offer up some wisdom for Advertising students in an upcoming class. So I turned 27 years of working in PR into a half-hour stream of consciousness (with just 15 minutes worth of filler & origin story).

Rather than record a lecture from the basement bunker / home office / spare bedroom, I went for an early morning walk & talk.

I made the case for why introverts can excel at PR, what I enjoy most & least about PR, the core foundational skill for PR pros plus some thoughts on crisis comms, media relations, social media, how to land a job, a couple shout-outs for Professor Aubert but no war stories.

Racism reeducation book #9 – Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Caste: The Origins of our Discontents is one in a stack of books I’m reading as part of my overdue reeducation on racism. I’ve reviewed more than 500 business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations for 27 years.

Here are four questions to wrestle with from Isabel Wilkerson’s brilliant and brutal Caste: The Origins of our Discontents.

Question one – If you’re white, how much would you have to be paid to live the next 50 years as a Black person?

Political scientist Andrew Hacker put that question to his white undergraduate students at Queen’s College back in the 1990s.

Most students said they’d need $50 million to “buy protection from the discriminations and dangers white people know they would face once they were perceived to be Black.”

Question two – What would you have done with Hitler if he hadn’t killed himself in a bunker (that’s been paved over and turned into a nondescript and unmarked parking lot)?

In 1944, the public school district in Columbus, Ohio ran an essay contest where they put that question to students.

A 16-year-old Black girl won the contest with a single sentence – “Put him in a black skin and let him live the rest of his life in America.”

The contest ran the same year a Black teenage boy, who sent an innocuous Christmas card to a white girl at work, was bound and thrown into a river while his father was held down on shore to watch his son drown.

Question three – Are you willing to be as courageous as August Landmesser?

There’s a famous photo taken in 1936 at a shipyard in Hamburg, Germany. Hundreds of workers are heiling in unison. August is the only one who refuses to salute.

“Looking back from our vantage point, he is the only person in the entire scene who is on the right side of history,” says Isabel. “Everyone around him is tragically, fatefully, categorically wrong.

“We would like to believe that we would have taken the more difficult path of standing up against injustice in defense of the outcaste. But unless people are willing to transcend their fears, endure discomfort and derision, suffer the scorn of love ones and neighbours and coworkers and friends, fall into disfavor of perhaps everyone they know, face exclusion and even banishment, it would be numerically impossible, humanly impossible, for everyone to be that man. What would it take to be him in any era? What would it take to be him now?”

So if you’re a white person, do you have the courage to dismantle a caste system that’s given you a lifetime of unearned economic, social and political privileges simply because of the colour of your skin?  Are you prepared to direct your anger up, rather than down, the ladder? Are you willing to stop correcting, directing, disciplining and policing the people who are the bottom rung?

“The fact is that the bottom caste, though it bears much of the burden of the hierarchy, did not create the caste system, and the bottom caste alone cannot fix it,” says Isabel. “The challenge has long been that many in the dominant caste, who are in a better position to fix caste inequality, have often been least likely to want to.”

And question four: While debate rages about statues, monuments and memorials for slave owners and segregationists, it’s worth looking at what Germany has done.  “Rather than honor supremacists with statues on pedestals, Germany, after decades of silence and soul-searching, chose to erect memorials to the victims of its aggressions and to the courageous people who resisted the men who inflicted atrocities on human beings,” says Isabel.

Next to the front doors of a subway station in the heart of Berlin is a sign that’s nearly a storey-high and impossible for residents and tourists to miss. The sign reads Places of Horror That We Should Never Forget and then lists a dozen concentration camps where millions of Jews were slaughtered.

So where would you put a storey-high sign in your city that lists all of Canada’s former residential schools?

You’ll be forced to confront many more uncomfortable and unforgettable moral questions in Isabel’s follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Warmth of Other Suns.

“Evil is not one person but can be be easily activated in more people than we would like to believe when the right conditions congeal,” says Isabel.

“It is easy to say ‘if we could just root out the despots before they take power or intercept their rise. If we could just wait until the bigots die away…It is much harder to look into the darkness in the hearts of ordinary people with unquiet minds, needing someone to feel better than, whose cheers and votes allow despots anywhere in the world to rise to power in the first place. It is harder to focus on the danger of common will, the weaknesses of the human immune system, the ease with which the toxins can infect succeeding generations. Because it means the enemy, the threat is not one man, it is us, all of us, lurking in humanity itself.”

Want your organization to thrive? Bureaucracy needs to die (review of Humanocracy)

Days can drag during the pandemic but the future’s arriving way ahead of schedule.

COVID-19 is accelerating changes in how we work, learn, shop and play. Trends that would’ve played out over years are happening within months.

While working from home is a hot topic, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini make a convincing argument for also rethinking how we work.  

The authors of Humanocracy say we need to seriously shrink our organizations’ Bureaucratic Mass Index.  

With a lower BMI, every job has the potential to be a good job.

Much of the work now being done by legions of well-paid administrators and managers could be transferred to frontline employees working in small, multifunctional and self-managing teams.

Turning low-skilled, dead-end jobs into get-ahead, automation-proof jobs would benefit individuals, organizations and our society as a whole.

And instead of wasting time, money and their careers on busywork, bureaucrats could be moved into jobs where they’d provide far greater value to their organization.

“Bureaucratic organizations are inertial, incremental and dispiriting,” say Hamel and Zanini. “In a bureaucracy, the power to initiate change is vested in a few senior leaders. When those at the top fall prey to denial, arrogance and nostalgia, as they often do, the organization falters.

“Worst of all, bureaucracies are soul crushing. Deprived of any real influence, employees disconnect emotionally from work. Initiative, creativity and daring – requisites for success in the creative economy – often get left at home.”

Bureaucratic organizations have timid goals, shun risk-taking, lumber along at a plodding speed, repress creativity, cramp autonomy, punish noncomformity and in return get tepid commitment from disengaged employees.

By comparison, a humanocracy maximizes everyone’s contribution. Organizations become as resilient, creative, innovative, adaptive, entrepreneurial and energetic as the people who work in them.   

“Rather than deskilling work, we need to upskill employees,” say Hamel and Zanini.

They profile humanocracy pioneers like U.S. steelmaker Nucor and Haier, the world’s largest appliance maker. These big companies show that it’s possible to have the benefits of bureaucracy – control, consistently and coordination – without the crippling costs of inflexibility, mediocrity and apathy.

“The experience of the post-bureaucratic rebels testifies to a single luminous truth: an organization has little to fear from the future, or its competitors, when it’s brimming with self-managing ‘micropreneurs’.”

If you work in a large organization, you already know the transition to humanocracy won’t be easy. Bureaucracies are fiercely defended. “People with power are typically reluctant to give it up, and often have the means to defend their prerogative. This is a serious impediment, since there’s no way to build a human-centric organization without flattening the pyramid.”

Hamel and Zanini’s book is a manifesto and manual for overcoming that impediment.

“Bureaucracy must die,” say Hamel and Zanini. “We can no longer afford its pernicious side effects. As humankind’s most deeply entrenched social technology, it will be hard to uproot, but that’s OK. You were put on this earth to do something significant, heroic even, and what could be more heroic than creating, at long last, organizations that are fully human?”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Racism reeducation book #8 – Dolly Chugh’s The Person You Mean to Be

The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias is one in a stack of books I’m reading as part of my overdue reeducation on racism. I’ve reviewed more than 500 business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations for 27 years.

I made the mistake of going into a North Hamilton neighbourhood with good intentions.

I persuaded my employer to get involved in events, projects and partnerships. When I talked about the neighbourhood, I called it one of the city’s poorest, with above average unemployment, below average high school graduation rates and third-world health outcomes. I ignored the neighbourhood’s strengths and assets and instead zeroed in on shortcomings and gaps. If that wasn’t insulting enough, I also pitched a path out of poverty that must’ve seemed impossible and impractical to a whole lot of people.

Dolly Chung's The Person You Mean to Be

I pretty much did everything that social psychologist Dolly Chugh warns against in her book The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias.

“There are four modes of behavior that prevent believers from humanizing others and prevent them from becoming a builder,” says Dolly, who’s an expert in unconscious biases at the NYU Stern School of Business.

“In these four modes – savior, sympathy, tolerance and typecasting – good intentions are counterproductive. By trying to be a hero, by feeling bad, by treating differences as something to be tolerated or ignored or by typecasting someone to be someone they may not be, we operate in modes that do more harm than good.”

I also overlooked the lifetime of headwinds that were battering generations of kids, teens and grown-ups in the neighbourhood. As a white, straight, able-bodied man, I’ve sailed through life with the benefit of a constant tailwind. When you’ve faced few, if any headwinds, it’s easy to believe that everyone can find the will and the way to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make something of their lives.

“Headwinds are the challenges – some big, some small, small visible, some invisible – that make life harder for some people, but not fall all people. When you have a tailwind pushing you, it is a force that propels you forward. It is consequential but easily unnoticed or forgotten. The invisibility of headwinds and tailwinds leads us to vilify people facing headwinds. It is no coincidence that the groups facing great headwinds in our society are also the most negatively stereotyped. Our failure to see systemic headwinds and tailwinds in the world around us leads u to blame the people facing headwinds.”

Dolly offers practical steps we can take to move from being believers in diversity, equity and inclusion to becoming builders of diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces and communities.

She recommends we educate and occasionally confront others by following the 20/60/20 rule.

The easy 20 are believers in diversity, equity and inclusion and ready to become builders.

The stuck 20 are non-believers. They lack the internal and external motivation to control prejudice. “They may be loud and opinionated or quiet or resilient. Either way, they will suck the life and sustainability out of you if you try to educate or confront them.”

Your goal with the stuck 20 isn’t to educate, persuade and change them. Your goal is to neutralize their ability to hurt others. Tell the stuck 20 that you and many others see things differently. Don’t try to convince them that they’re wrong.

The middle 60 is passive, silent and the most susceptible to influence from the stuck 20 or easy 20. They’ll notice what you say to a racist or if you choose to say nothing. Persuade the undecided majority by telling stories. “The middle 60 tends to be less invested. Stories generate quick bursts of emotion and humanity. Facts are obviously important and are useful for rebutting falsehoods, so know and remember as many as you can. When in doubt, however, stories are more likely to persuade the middle 60.

It can also be tricky to know if speaking up means you’re speaking over someone who’s more than capable of standing up to the stuck 20 and defending themselves. Dolly recommends we not be a bystander whenever someone’s being targeted by racists.

“A big part of allyship is speaking up and not leaving people on their own when they are targeted. One approach is to turn to the target and simply ask for their guidance on whether they would like you to intervene. We can say ‘Would it be okay if I jumped in here?’ or ‘I know you can handle this, but I’m here as backup’ or ‘I’m happy to take this one’ or ‘Say the word if I can help.’ When in doubt, say more, not less.”

There’s no right way to become a builder, says Dolly. It’s hard work being a better human being and it’s always a work in progress.

“If there’s no right way, then each of us can find our own way to be builders and support builders,” says Dolly. “The only wrong way is to settle for only being believers. The work of being a builder is exhausting. If you are not exhausted, at least some of the time, chances are you are still a believer only.”

How to find time to reflect during a pandemic (review of Step Back by Joseph Badaracco)

Anyone else finding it impossible to pause and ponder during the pandemic?

It’s tough to step back and reflect when you’re chronically anxious and exhausted.

If you’ve been laid off or let go, you’re scrambling to find work. If you’re still working, you’re bracing for a second surge and more job cuts.

You’re worried about your bored and restless kids who’ve reached the end of Netflix and your at-risk elderly parents and relatives who’ve either disappeared into their bunkers or believe they’re magically immune to COVID-19.

So given everything that’s going on, how can we find time to wrestle with big questions about work and life?

Joseph Badaracco recommends practicing mosaic reflection

“Busy, successful men and women do reflect, but they practice the art of reflection in the cracks and crevices of their daily lives.”

Badaracco, the John Shad Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School and author Step Back: How to Bring the Art of Reflection into Your Busy Life has four guiding principles for practicing short bursts of daily reflection.

Aim for good enough. “Find an approach to reflection that works pretty well, most of the time. This is an approach that meets your needs, fits your situation and you can follow fairly regularly.”

Downshift occasionally. “Shift your mental machinery into a lower gear.” This is tough to do if you spend all your waking hours relying on highly focused analytical or pragmatic thinking where the goal is output at a breakneck pace.

Ponder your hard issues. Use reflection to tackle tough issues at work and in your life. “Step back and make a conscious effort to look at a problem or a situation from several different perspectives.”

Pause and measure up by “stepping back for a few moments, looking at your options and asking yourself what will best meet the standards others expect of you and your own standards for work and life.” Are you making the difference you’re supposed to make and the difference you really want to make?

Practice these four principles and you can make a daily habit out of reflecting for a few moments or minutes between Zoom meetings, dinner prep and FaceTime with friends. “This approach to reflection fits the busy lives so many people lead today. It works especially well for people who find it difficult because of how their minds work to withdraw and reflect for extended periods of time.

“And the mosaic approach lets us reflect on the flow of life and work and respond to what is real and immediate.”

Reflection helps us make better decisions and grapple with big questions like how to live, what to truly care about and what constitutes a good life.

All of us could some serious self-reflection now more than ever. You may be out of work and weighing your options for a career change. You may be an essential worker who’s burned out and tired of putting your life on the line. You may be a non-essential worker who’s tired of waiting to be forgotten. You may be loving your time at home with family and dreading a return to the office with its soul-crushing commute. Or you may be counting the days until you can escape back to the office. Whatever situation you find yourself in, there’s a big question in need of an answer.

“Reflection is stepping back to grasp what really matters – about what you are experiencing, trying to understand or doing. Without reflection, we drift. Others shape and direct us. With reflection, we can understand and even bend the trajectories of our lives.”

Badaracco offers a practical way of bending our trajectory without heading off for week-long solo retreats deep into the woods or to the top of mountains.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Racism reeducation book #7 – Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You is one in a stack of books I’m reading as part of my overdue reeducation on racism. I’ve reviewed more than 500 business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations for 27 years.

Each of us has a choice to make.

We can choose to be a segregationist.

An assimilationist.

Or an antiracist.

“Segregationists are haters,” says Jason Reynolds. “Like, real haters. People who hate you for not being like them.”

“Assimilationists are people who like you, but only with quotation marks. Meaning, they ‘like’ you because you’re like them.

Antiracists “love you because you’re like you.”

Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You

In his remix of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, Jason in his remix shows how these three identities have been adopted over and over again for hundreds of years.

“The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, whether financially or politically. How it has always been used to create dynamics that separate us to keep us quiet. To keep the ball of white and rich privilege rolling. And that it’s not woven into people as much as it’s woven into policy that people adhere to and believe is truth.”

According to Jason, the world’s first racist was Gomes Eanes de Zurara. In 1415, Zurara wrote a book that defended African slave trading. Enslaving people was defended as missionary work. It was a way to save, civilize and Christianize African “savages”.

And so began anti-Black racist ideas that continue to this day, even after scientific evidence proved on June 26, 2000 that the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.

“This is how racism works. All it takes is the right kind of media to spark it. To spin it. At least, that’s why history has shown us. Tell a story a certain way. Make a movie that paints you as the hero. Get enough people on your side ot tell you you’re right and you’re right. Even if you’re wrong. And once you’ve been told you’re right long enough, and once your being right has led you to a profitable and privileged life, you’d do anything to not be proven wrong. Even pretend human beings aren’t human beings.”

History tells us we should expect a backlash to Black Lives Matter and the current moment we’re in. “Whenever people rise up against bad things, bad things tend to get worse,” says Jason. “You know the old saying, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get racist.”

We need to meet that racism head on by getting active. Posting summaries of antiracism books on blogs and social media won’t cut it.

“Scrolling will never be enough,” says Jason.

“Reposting will never be enough.

“Hashtagging will never be enough.

“Because hatred has a way of convincing us that half love is whole. What I mean by that is we – all of us – have to fight against performance and lean into participation. We have to be participants. Active.

“We have to be more than audience members sitting comfortably in the stands of morality, shouting “WRONG!”. That’s too easy. Instead, we must be players on the field, on the court, in our classrooms and communities, trying to do right.

“Because it takes a whole hand – both hands – to grab hold of hatred. Not just a texting thumb and a scrolling index finger.”

Racism reeducation book #6 – Alicia Elliott’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is one in a stack of books I’m reading as part of my overdue reeducation on racism. I’ve reviewed more than 500 business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations for 27 years.

Alicia Elliott says indigenous kids have good reason to fear governmental care more than their parents’ poverty.

The Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River speaks from experience.

“In some sense I intuited this, even as a kid. I knew it was bullshit that social workers and cops had so much control over our family, that they could split us up the moment we didn’t cater to their sensibilities. Knowing this then made me hate social workers and cops. Knowing this now makes me hate the systems that empower them – systems that put families in impossible situations, then punish them for not being able to claw their way out.”

book a mindAlicia grew up in grinding poverty. She routinely went to school without lunch. She lived with head lice for a decade. Her family moved between empty rental houses and shelters. Alicia, her sister, three brothers and parents eventually settled into a two-bedroom trailer that didn’t have running water for five years. They ate a lot of low-grade ground beef, cheap pasta and pancakes for dinner.

And yet…‘My siblings and I were great students,” says Alicia. “We had no problems at school; no mysterious bruises discoloured our skin. We were liked by our teachers, made friends easily. We never lacked for love or encouragement.

“Our parents were far from perfect, but their main barriers to being better parents were poverty, intergenerational trauma and mental illness – things neither social workers nor police offices have ever been equipped to address, yet are both allowed, even encouraged to patrol.”

Alicia’s family lived under the constant fear that they’d be separated at any moment. And they weren’t alone. Depending on the province, Indigenous kids in Canada are anywhere from five to 12 times more likely to be taken into government care than non-Indigenous children.

While the main reason cited for breaking up families is neglect, Elliot says that’s just another word for poverty. “Social services conflates not being able to afford adequate housing, food, clothing and health care with choosing not to have adequate housing, food, clothing and health care. Instead of supporting poor families and helping them become financially secure, social services’ approach is to simply take the kids. It’s as though they believe that removing the added expenses of children is doing poor parents a favour; or taking kids from loving parents and throwing them in impersonal, sometimes dangerous foster homes is doing them a favour.”

These forced separations have been playing out for hundreds of years, says Alicia.

“So many of our nations have been forcefully displaced, so many of our children stolen from our arms and placed in residential schools or, more recently, in the arms of overworked social workers and violent foster parents, as if white abuse could ever be better than Indigenous love.

“It is only recently that Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples has been referred to as genocide, and even then, it’s usually been ‘cultural genocide’ as if that somehow softens its edges and makes it more permissible. More Canadian.”

The 14 essays in Alicia’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground sharpen genocide’s edges and make the case for why Canadian success can’t continue to be dependent upon Indigenous destruction.  Alicia strips away our national fairy tales and shows our country’s hidden, darker side.

“True reconciliation with Native peoples requires Canada to stop its paternalistic, discriminatory policies and, most important, stop interfering with our sovereignty over our identities, communities and land,” says Alicia. “These are by no means easy or comfortable actions for Canadians to undertake, but they must be undertaken regardless.”