Colin Nederkoorn

Thoughts on systemic racism

I shared this in our company meeting on Friday June 5th. It had been an emotional week and late the night before I couldn't sleep without getting these thoughts down.

2020-06-07

Hey everybody,

We've been witnessing a terrible continuation of unrest and violence in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I am optimistic that the world won't just brush this under the rug this time like we have countless times before.

One of the benefits of working at Customer.io is that we all get the privilege of sharing lives with people from other places around the world. That's one of our strengths. One of my weaknesses and failures is that I haven't done enough to create the conditions for success for Black people in our company.

If you're White and terms like anti-racism, or White supremacy, or Black lives matter make you feel uncomfortable: lean in to that discomfort. Ask yourself why those terms are used, and not other softer terms. Ask yourself why you feel uneasy. Shine a light on it by opening your eyes and ears. The lived experiences of Black people in the United states and frankly minority groups everywhere are similar and unacceptable. In majority groups everywhere, our hard-wired tribalism gets weaponized against people who are not like us. That’s something we as humans need to overcome, not feed. The statistics don't lie. The videos don't lie.

We don't live in a just society. We can make it better.

In leaning in to the discomfort there's one realization I keep coming back to. Only the oppressor can fix the wrongs they inflict on the oppressed. In the US in the 1920s, women couldn't vote for the right to vote. Men had to grant it to them. And even then, it was only White women who could vote. Today, only the people who hold the majority of structural power - mostly White and mostly men can fix structural racism against Black people. In my position as CEO of Customer.io, it's not acceptable to me to be a bystander. Either I'm working to dismantle structural racism or I'm upholding it.

It was a hard pill to swallow to go from the confident belief that "I'm not a racist" to learning to see all of the ways I personally am complicit in upholding the structures of racism. I've cried multiple times in that process thinking about the depth of pain inflicted on people and a rejection of this world as the one I want my kids to live in. I believe opening your eyes and your heart will lead you to more compassion and positive change.

We've got a group meeting next week to discuss what specifically our company can do to help. It was important to me that we not be reactionary so that we can create a sustained effort. One thing we will remember is that we're a global company. I've used that as an excuse to not do more specifically focused on people of color in the US. I think we can be mindful of that and globally inclusive in what we do.

I welcome your participation and look forward to brighter days ahead.

Colin