Walking the walk: what it means to be anti-racist

In American parlance, ’talking the talk and walking the walk’ is a phrase that means a person or group supports what they say, not just with words, but also through action. The New York Branch Diversity and Inclusion group is driving the change they want to see against racism forward, one event at a time.

Getting into Gear – Introducing DRIVE

In 2017, CEO and Regional Board Member North America John Geremia appointed Susan Panzer, Head of Internal Audit North America, to lead a newly created Diversity and Inclusion employee committee. Geremia noted at the time that, “Workplace diversity is an issue beyond any one subgroup; but rather seeks to find and develop all the talents here at Commerzbank, with the aim to create a space where all people feel welcome, supported and are able to do their best work.” The committee was named “DRIVE” by its original members, as its primary mission was to encompass and encourage Diversity, Recognition, Inclusion, Value and Empowerment in the New York Branch. Over the next three years DRIVE successfully hosted a full calendar of events focused on all aspects of diversity; including workplace multigenerationalism, multiculturalism, Muslim heritage, gender issues, the differently abled and of course, a yearly acknowledgement and celebration of Black History Month, which is celebrated in the U.S. in February.

Blindsided

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Floyd’s death sparked a global movement and spawned protests and demonstrations around the world, in several US cities and even directly outside the New York Branch office. Panzer stated, “That moment was a turning point for DRIVE. In the days following, there was a palpable sense of urgency and a call to action. As a Branch we needed to acknowledge and address the issues and silence was not an option. We felt a not only a responsibility but an obligation to further the discussion on race and bias.”

A New Direction

Shortly after the tragedy, DRIVE circulated a survey to all employees requesting their feedback on how they would like to see the Committee address future efforts to end racial inequality and promote racial justice. Staff responded overwhelmingly that they would welcome further initiatives, and the first event offered was a seminar, “Managing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace.” The group examined ‘MicroMessaging,’ best described as the subtle things we say through looks, gestures and tone of voice. It highlighted to all the importance of raising awareness that the unconscious biases we hold allow us to behave differently to some groups of people. That event was followed by the introduction of the DRIVE Book Club, and the first selection was “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram Kendi. The Book Club met several times over the summer months and discussed in detail the meaning behind Kendi’s words, “the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.” This was followed by a month-long Black History Trivia series, where riddles were shared describing Black and African American people who made enormous contributions to the arts, sciences and industry, with prizes donated by local management. These events culminated with a collegial Black History Month Virtual Quiz Night for all employees.

On the Road

Efforts to educate and inspire employees to promote racial equality and social justice are ongoing, and the DRIVE Committee has no intention to put on the brakes. Drive Committee member Rohan Christie said, “It is important to celebrate culture and heritage and discuss the issues of the day but be mindful that standing against racism is not a one month a year affair, nor is it isolated to any one race. The work to be an anti-racist requires ongoing dialogue and courage from everyone. Stand up for your colleagues and friends in the moments that matter. People often look for obvious signs of racism such as deliberately depriving someone or actively persecuting someone, and of course those things do still happen, but sometimes you have to look deeper for those subtle indicators for racism or bias, and take action particularly when it is in your remit to change.”

Black History Month

is an annual observance originating in the United States, where it is also known as African-American History Month. It has received official recognition from governments in the United States and Canada, and more recently has been observed in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It began as a way of remembering people and events in the history of the African diaspora, and is celebrated in February in the United States and Canada.

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