What we did on Juneteenth

In light of recent events, and as a continued commitment to diversity and equality, dotdigital closed its offices on the day Friday 19 June 2020 - Juneteenth. Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the US and should be celebrated, but dotdigital wanted to give its global employees a chance to educate themselves and reflect on the history of racism and white supremacy.

Here’s what some of them learned, about society, and themselves, and what they would like to share with you:

Vernon Bennett, Account Executive

Vernon Bennett, Account Executive

Juneteenth is more than a date to mark off on a calendar. It’s the start of an ongoing battle for equality. The right to live a life in “The Land of the Free and Home of The Brave,” shouldn’t be based on the hue of your skin. Juneteenth is a day that Black’s like myself celebrate our independence. A day we redefine ourselves and rid our people of the layers of dark, vile, and incredulous labels of our oppressors.

It’s a day that we reclaim our roots that were stripped as we built a new nation for Whites who fled from Europe. Juneteenth is a day we celebrate and educate The World on Black culture as we preserve our heritage.

I celebrated this day with a march throughout Manhattan and ended in Seneca Village – the site of one of the most flourishing communities of African Americans in the country that was sadly destroyed to build Central Park. Blacks were joined by others as we chanted cultural hymns, danced, shared oral history, and enjoyed traditional African American dishes. 

As always, Blacks extend an open invitation to ” the cookout,” where we shared our experiences of racism and roundtabled solutions to end it with non-Blacks in NYC.

Education is wealth. The more we are educated on a broken system, the easier it’ll be to correct it.

While New Yorkers have a reputation of being aggressive and lacking empathy, I was blown back by the amount of support from non-Blacks. This was amazing, the fight to end racism can’t end until society admits it exists and collaborates to end it.

Racism is taught! Prejudice is taught! We must all take a stance for humanity and quit sharing, embracing, and allowing racism to exist.

Racism is multifaceted, it does shapeshift, and we must shut it down any time we encounter it. Have conversations, be receptive to outside opinions, and understand the effects of racism. Racism is founded on beliefs of superiority that have assigned privilege based on skin, acknowledge the privilege, and destroy it!

This means acknowledging systemic oppression in education, healthcare, and in the workforce. No more microaggressions! Diversify management! Black Lives Matter.

Tam Bond, Delivery Operations Manager

Tamara Bond, Delivery Operations Manager

I spent the run-up to Juneteenth and the day itself educating myself about issues of racial inequality. I think one of the things that hit me hardest was the experience of Black women in feminist spaces.


I came to feminism pretty late on in life. I had unrecognized and deeply internalized misogyny until my mid-20s. When I landed with a bang having read Caitlin Moran’s “How to be a Woman”, I discovered an amazing sisterhood of women who shared all these experiences I thought were unique to me. Feelings of being “weird” or an outsider, that had left me open to multiple abusive relationships, dissipated almost overnight. There was suddenly this huge safe space for me to share with others. But this space is not safe for Black women.

In her book, “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”, Reni Eddo-Lodge speaks of the discomfort and racism she encountered on entering white feminist spaces.

She talks about the expectation in those arenas that race is her problem, is Black women’s problem, and not the problem of white women. Her words are full of completely justified disappointment, hurt, and anger. I can’t fully empathize with this experience, because it is not my own, but I feel so sad that Black women do not enjoy that same sense of community and belonging which I found in progressive feminist forums.

We frequently talk about allyship. The LGBTQIA+ community often discusses the importance of straight and cis people being allies. Feminists emphasize the importance of male allies in dismantling the patriarchy. It’s important for people in power to be allies to those who do not share in that power privilege.

White women have privilege, white feminists have privilege, and we are not currently leveraging that privilege to help Black women and women of color. I have not been leveraging my own privilege to help women of color. My goal has previously been to be“not racist”, but I have learned from reading “How to Be an Anti-racist” by Ibram X. Kendi that this is not the opposite of racist. Instead, I must do better and be anti-racist.

I will loudly question why my feminist spaces have no Black women or women of color.

I will call out racist microaggressions for what they are: racist abuse.

I will proactively engage in conversations that are uncomfortable for me because my comfort is not more important than racial equality.

And I will shut the hell up and listen to Black women and women of color, and raise up there voices where I can. 

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, now that I know better, I will do better.

Anna Charmantzi, Digital Marketing Specialist

Anna Charmantzi, Digital Marketing Specialist

Juneteenth is a date to commemorate the struggles of Black people and to educate ourselves on the black history around the world along with the stereotypes and perceptions we all consume every day.

I personally didn’t know about the Juneteenth until it was mentioned by the company. Therefore, I used the day to watch multiple documentaries about the history of the slaves in America, the American Civil War, and about black society today as well as perception.

It was enlightening for me to find out how recent the history is and also understand the racism and prejudices that black people face. I learned more about how Black people are being depicted in America as criminals, the fights that Martin Luther King had with the Civil Right Movement with his non-violent actions, and the bus boycott to fight segregation.

It is disheartening to think that this happened less than 70 years ago, but it is up to us to raise the standards even more and become a better side of ourselves by speaking up to any racist event we are in front of. The future lies in our own hands! It’s up to us on how we will handle it!

Victoria Dovey, Product Marketing Executive

Victoria Dovey, Product Marketing Executive


My first mission of the day on Juneteenth was to examine the UK’s part in the history of slavery and racism. Whilst I knew about it a little from my own reading (including the wonderful ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge), this was something that was, like so many others, never taught to me in school, which is frankly unacceptable.

I am heartened to see calls in articles, petitions, and parliament for a ‘Black Curriculum’, talking about Britain’s true colonial past, but also including more black voices in our history, literature, science, and art classes. It’s long overdue.

I used Reni’s book as a springboard to find out more about matters such as the ways Britain’s slave owners continued to benefit financially from their involvement, long after they cut ties with it, our own history of bus boycotts, and even our history of race-related violence which continues to this day.

Do not let anyone tell you we do not have a problem with racism in this county. It’s so very evident with just a little research.

Quick tip for other white people out there who want to learn more but struggle with non-fiction: reading fiction by Black authors, contemporary or historical, still gives you great insight and understanding of Black experiences. Some of my favorites are James Baldwin, Nella Larsen, Toni Morrison, Roxane Gay, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Ralph Elison, but I’m taking it upon myself to download more audio and ebooks from Black authors this year to read more outside of my comfort zone.

The next thing I wanted to focus on and examine in myself was white feminism. People think intersectional feminism – that is, feminism that is inclusive of all races and gender – is a new thing, addressing a new problem. But in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Black women were very vocal about the fact that they had to choose between the civil rights and the women’s rights movement. They did not have the privilege to champion both.

Civil rights were more pressing because it’s what put their lives more in danger. Black women today tell us the same thing. That feminism, in many forms, is not inclusive. No matter your gender, you can be a feminist, and as feminists, we need to listen to Black experiences, and not react defensively.

Emotion does have a place in the discussion about race. It’s a very emotive subject for anyone with an ounce of empathy, let alone anyone who has experienced racism in an instance or over the course of their life.

But a friend once told me that many white women will appear to be on your side as allies until challenged, where they become defensive and start to attack you. They feel ‘threatened’.

She told me this had been her experience as a Black woman countless times, from even some of our mutual friends. I am an emotional person. But after hearing this, I have found it’s best to keep a cool head when discussing race to minimize this risk of becoming defensive if I am challenged. It’s something I believe I still need to do better on so I can listen more effectively to Black experiences. 

I am very aware of the inherent privilege of the above too. The stereotype of the ‘angry’ Black man or woman frustratingly persists and shuts down productive conversations for so many people. So when I say I am learning to leave emotion out of my discussions, that is not to tell anyone else they should do so too. Just to say that as a white woman, I recognize my emotions are often not helpful in the conversation, even though these issues upset me without bounds.

One of the most immediate things we can do is speak out, and be seen to be speaking out against racism. Because far-right voices are shouting loudest in society right now, and most often. I don’t want children to hear them and think that that’s what represents us as a society. We need to shout louder. We need to shout more often. We need to speak out about what’s right so that our kids don’t grow up without knowing what it means when we say, Black Lives Matter.

Beatrice Ellefsen, Head of Customer Success, APAC

Beatrice Ellefson, Head of Customer Success APAC

I spent my morning listening to a friend over coffee, who has a chat group with her family, one of whom is white, living in South Africa, and who lived there during apartheid. His views have been skewed by the politics of his surrounding demographic, living as he does in a white gated community, where he has been for over 50 years.

As I explained why we were taking a day off work, my friend opened up about some of the things he’s shared (including the “all lives matter” sentiment) and how she’s tried to help gently educate him. I don’t think we changed the world over that chat, but I hope that our discussion has given her the strength and feeling of support to keep on trying to conduct meaningful conversations, rather than giving up on him as being “of his time”.

It’s sometimes easy to ignore, and not challenge racist views, particularly among our friends and family, and you’re not going to change their mind with a meme – we need to start having more open discussions like these, as it takes time to shift someone’s entire world view.

I also watched the film 13th, following a number of internal recommendations for it.

As someone who has neither lived in the States nor understands much of its politics or history, I was shocked to learn how well-ingrained racism is in the police system and prison systems there. That so much private industry benefits from the labor in prisons was horrific to hear and has made me review my frequently shopped brands.

The director used clips of music I’ve known and enjoyed for many years, but I realized I’d not properly listened to the voices. Many artists are vocal critics of the police, and justice system, but in the context of the struggle Black people face living in America I’ve found myself listening to these lyrics as real stories, not “just” as music.

I spoke to my partner over dinner that night, an Aussie, who then helped me understand a bit more about how similar systemic racism is replicated in Australia. In Australia, 2% of the population are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, and they represent 28% of the total Australian prison population and among children, the number incarcerated is closer to 50%.

What I started to learn more about, is that in Australia, this has it’s roots not in slavery, rather in the background of the colonization of the Indigenous nations, and of the systemic abuse of the stolen generations and their families.

Discussing this with other Australians, I learned how many people mourn that this is not taught in schools, that the invasive white history dominates teaching, and yet nothing changes.

Over the following weekend, I re-read “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” written about the experience of the black writer living in the UK. I’d encourage everyone reading this to take a look at her blog from 2014 which inspired the book, which reminded me of the racist bias in my own early schooling in the UK was, and equally full of conquering “white savior” rhetoric. I always knew this, but never really thought about it, until I realized how this must shape my own bias.

I’m still just scratching the surface of what I’ve not acknowledged or challenged before, and it’s made me see that there is so much more learning to do, and beyond the learning, is action. Every country has it’s own issues, but understanding the difference I think will help us understand the voices and the actions that need our support.

Tim Langford, VP Operations, CPaaS

Tim Langford, VP Operations, CPaaS

I’ve become more educated (from watching 13th,  When They See Us, as well as re-watching a Trevor Philips OBE lecture) and aware of how much the horrors of racism can get into the fabric of society due to this bold initiative.

I see racism as one symptom of the common and widespread tendency we all have to judgment. I’m by nature more of a scientist than an artist and my view is that to stop something we need to understand its root cause and work on that, otherwise, there is a tendency, like ‘whack-a-mole’ for it to pop up somewhere else in a different guise.

The root of racism it seems to me is judging someone as different to us, separating from them and sitting in judgment, almost always without knowing the whole situation. I also see it as a horrible dark side of the natural human tendency, desire, and need for community – to associate with people we feel we have something in common with – i.e. to have a meaningful community there must be people who are not in our community.

Discussions need to be kept alive and real since there is the ever-present danger of a new initiative like this descending into virtue signaling and I suggest, in effect the ‘religion’ of anti-racism. By religion I mean where we feel we know more, are more enlightened than those outside our ‘community of anti-racists’ and oops… judge them for being less enlightened while being proud of our views. In this context, I see religion as the cause of many of the world’s conflicts. Fighting judgment with judgment keeps the cycle going.

So, if judgment is the cause, how do we address it?

Privately I suggest, not necessarily through publicized acts, but by looking inside – I suggest possibly through for example meditation, therapy, as much as possible a genuine debate where we are willing to really look into uncomfortable truths about ourselves or views we disagree with, without taking offense but to learn. Above all by being willing to come to friendship with our own dark side – since we all have one. 

A poem that sums up the root of this far more eloquently(and shockingly) than I could is ‘Please call me by my True names’ you can read it here. 

Gavin Laugenie, Head of Strategy and Insight

Gavin Laugenie, Head of Strategy and Insight

To me, June 19th was a day; just one day, not dissimilar to any other. It’s hadn’t been a day that I gave any additional thought to before. So why now, why celebrate the emancipation slaves in the United States?

For me, this year was the straw that broke the camels back. Maybe it’s because I’d been cooped up inside for too long under quarantine, or perhaps I was tired of being tolerant and keeping things cooped up inside me for too long. I’ve realized that I tolerated a lot and tolerance is something that unknowingly becomes part of you.

A show on TV that offends you; being pulled over because you look “suspicious.” Or that joke that a colleague makes that chips away at you slowly, but you never address it; because you might cause a scene and make them feel uncomfortable. So you swallow it and tolerate it.

The rise of the BLM movement gave me precisely what I need to shake off my tolerance and start speaking up and out about how I felt and how things should change. When I found out that dotdigital would be giving us Juneteenth off to reflect I was skeptical. Would people use it in the right way? Would this just be a one-off and not celebrated every year?

But then I was excited because Black or BAME people don’t have a public holiday in the UK. Of course, there are plenty of other public holidays here, but none that mark a date in history that black people can look at, and take a minute to reflect on. 

Fortunately (or unfortunately, however you want to take it) I had already been doing a fair amount of reflection this year. The needless death of George Floyd drove me to read articles and watch videos on slavery, its abolition, and its subtle transition to systematic or institutional racism. It was the starting point, or symbol many of us needed to start understanding why we live in a world where the difference in the color of your skin can spark injustice; hold you back (whether you know it or not) and inflict so much pain and suffering.

Because I had been reflecting leading up to the day watching movies like 13th, reading books like”Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” (some of my colleagues may remember seeing me with the book a little while back), or glued to my Instagram feed. I instead dedicated my day not to read up on the day or research, but to celebrate my culture, this mostly meant listing to A Tribe Called Quest and J Dilla. After all, the day is essentially a day of celebrating being Black, being you, and being free.

If I’m honest, I still wound up reflecting that day; the occasion was too big for me not to. Black people are a long way from being free or equal, either we’re being stopped and searched or stopped, and shot.

Prejudices and racism will remain until we stop saying “I don’t see color” because you have to see it to believe you don’t see it. But you can embrace it, and everything that comes with it. You can’t play our music, laugh at our comedians or jokes, and enjoy our food unless you love us and our blackness.

So yes, Juneteenth is just a day. But what it stands for is so much bigger than the day itself. It’s a reminder that every day we need to continue to think about each other more, feel for one another more and embrace each other’s cultures and I look forward to doing that for many years to come.

Julia Neuhold, Product Marketing Executive

Julia Neuhold, Product Marketing Executive

I spent most of Juneteenth working through Layla F. Saads book “Me & White Supremacy”. I say working through, because it’s not a book you read, it’s a book you do.


She gives journaling prompts and open questions to push the white reader to really think about their place in and their part in upholding a society that treats white people as superior. Layla explains that before we can be truly anti-racist, we have to un-learn what we have learned growing up in a white supremacist country.

I can highly recommend it to anyone, especially those asking “what can I do”?

Spoiler alert: A lot.

I am now learning how to better use my privilege.

1. Speak up.

Silence is complicity in white supremacy. Staying silent is not upholding a “positive atmosphere”, it’s damaging BIPOC around us, everywhere. Instead, I need to challenge, engage, and speak up as often and as loud as I can.

2. Amplify Black voices.

Using my platforms and my voice to elevate the voices of BIPOC inside and outside of my circles.

3. Financially.

Because of white privilege, I am more likely to be accepted to a good school, hired, promoted, and financially successful than my Black peers. I can use this power to support Black businesses, charities, and individuals.  

4. Physically.

I can show up to demonstrate, protest, and physically walk alongside and protect Black protesters.

5. Time.

I can put time toward educating myself and others. Read books, watch movies, sign and share petitions, and talk to the people around me.

On Juneteenth, I also started having conversations with my friends in the UK. I went to school in Austria and have found myself being particularly interested in hearing about how and what my friends were taught in school. The German author and activist Tupoka Ogette says in her book “Exit Racism” that by Whitewashing history, by collectively repressing our racist history, we are allowing racism to prevail today.

By “not knowing”, we also “don’t know” that we’re doing anything wrong. It’s the easy way out. For white people that is.

When I heard that dotdigital was closing all offices to commemorate Juneteenth, I was surprised. Surprised, grateful, and relieved. I hope with this year we have set a precedent for the years to come. I hope we can continue to use this day, alongside every other day, to educate ourselves and each other, actively elevate Black voices, listen, and work together to make crucial changes to a world riddled with racism and inequality.

Emily Stannard, Customer Success Manager

Emily Stannard, Customer Success Manager

Although I’m not American, it was important to me to mark the day out of respect for my American colleagues who have faced systemic discrimination. I also feel that American culture has a large influence on Australian and western culture, so it is of global significance.

I used the day to watch 13th on Netflix and I was shocked and angry. You hear the term “systematic racism” regularly, but I had never seen it broken down so succinctly.

I also spent the day reflecting on who I follow on social media, what I read, and who I read. I made small changes and made a conscious effort to follow more diverse voices on Twitter and Instagram. I also read up on some of the brands I follow and buy from, and will be making an effort to not buy from brands who don’t promote diversity.

Doing this helped me to understand that structural racism is not likely to go away in our lifetime. That racism isn’t just a personal thing – it’s a product of society. Plenty of non-racist people benefit from a system that is inherently racist.

The @pullupforchange account on Instagram is a great place to start if you want to vote with your feet and only buy from brands that are diverse. 

It’s not enough to just not be racist. We have to constantly question and address the systems in our society that mean that BIPOC people have to work twice as hard for the same types of benefits that I have always taken for granted.


Resources and further recommended reading mentioned by dotdigital staff in this blog:

Viewing

Please note, Netflix is currently allowing a number of BLM-related titles to be viewed without a subscription.

Reading (non fiction)

Reading (fiction)

Reading (poetry)

Playlist

Other

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