Why Does This Moment Feel Different?

There was Eric Garner.

Malice Wayne Green.

Abner Louima.

Amadou Diallo.

Alberta Spruill.

Sean Bell.

Oscar Grant.

Michael Brown.

Eleanor Bumpers.

Walter Scott.

Freddie Gray.

Laquan McDonald.

Philando Castile.

Alton Sterling.

Terence Crutcher.

Antwon Rose II.

Ahmaud Arbery.

Breonna Taylor.

Rayshard Brooks.

And so many more...

And let’s not forget Trayvon Martin. Gunned down by a wannabe vigilante because he was wearing a hoodie and “looked menacing.”

For every name we know or remember, there are thousands more. And this has been going on since black people were enslaved and brought to this country and treated as property.

Yes. In my view, George Floyd died because we are still unwilling to address America’s greatest sin, and in fact have perpetrated a more sinister form of treachery: systemic, racial discrimination that is sanctioned by the masses.

The facts speak for themselves. In the United States, a black life is worth less. This can be measured in a number of ways, such as prison sentences for killing a white person versus a black person. While the criminal code doesn’t mention race, somehow black deaths carry a lighter sentence. Or how black traffic infringements disproportionately result in arrests, heavy fines and even jail time. Oh, and many even result in the killing of the unarmed motorist. By the police.

Sure, I don’t own a confederate flag, or post offensive messages on social media, and yet I am one of the people that has allowed this treachery to go on. I know this now, because it is clear to me that I have not done enough. Or more truthfully, the absence of anything offensive on my part is not the same as taking action. I haven’t done enough to help the black community, as we collectively watch them suffer at the hands of others.

Day in. And day out.

What we have been doing is not enough. It is not enough to have a few black employees at our company. It is not enough to read Baldwin or Coates or Angelou. It is not enough to vote for candidates who express outrage and show up to rallies, or think that Obama’s presidency in the US moved us into a “post-racial” world.

It is certainly not enough to pen this letter to you, or to read what other companies and their leaders have expressed, while wondering if it’s a PR stunt or opportunistic wokeness.

So like many of you, I’ve been angry. But that anger turned to sadness once I spoke to Merrene, one of the first two people hired into our company. And she told me what she needed me to do.

“Get involved.”

What does that look like?

“Have these conversations. Find out what more you can do.”

What does action look like for me? Today. Where can I start?

I can start by posting this message or a version of it on our website, not for marketing purposes, but to inform prospective customers and employees as to where we stand. You are not going to see an “All Lives Matter” message here. This is not about that.

We can do our own diligence. If they are a technology company, how is their technology used? Does it contribute to the militarization of our police force? Does their business model depend on creating or exploiting a socio-economic chasm between the races, the way pay-day loans or rent-to-own or cash bail work?

We can say no.

But there is more work for us.

I asked Merrene about how it feels to work at our company. She paused. Had some nice things to say, but finished with this:

“Sometimes, I feel alone.”

The truth is that we have not attracted enough black candidates to apply and join us. As good as we think we are in diversifying our pipeline and overcoming unconscious hiring biases, we have to do more. I have to do more.

So rather than make this yet another problem that we want the victims to fix for us, I want to figure out where we need to show up and how we need to connect with black applicants, so that they can join us and enrich us. This is not about some diversity checkmark. This is about that feeling we get when we look around and can connect with people who have some shared experiences. This is also about us really surrounding ourselves with people who look different, have different life experiences, and who have suffered in different ways. We need to learn from others, but not by asking them to teach us or make our education their problem. That’s our job, as an employer that believes in diversity. And hopefully this is about doing a tiny bit of good and giving opportunities to a large, marginalized group of people.

And while the context of this letter is about the recent events here in the United States, racial discrimination doesn’t stop at the borders. In every country we do business in, in every country we have traveled to or know of, there is some form or level of oppression that exists today. And for anyone thinking “I can sit this one out”, you are wrong. Being silent is unacceptable. Checking in with your black friends and colleagues isn’t enough. This is about taking concrete actions, each and every day, to help ensure that Mr. Floyd’s life was worth a lot more than being yet another statistic.

To the black community, in the U.S. and elsewhere, hold me accountable for our actions, and how consistent we are with the ethos expressed here. To our associates around the world, keep me accountable for how well our actions align with our core values. And speak up when we run afoul. The time for token messages of solidarity have passed. There is blood on the streets and tears in the eyes of our brothers and sisters. There are children who’ve been left without their fathers or mothers. There are mothers who’ve lost their kids, even after giving them “the talk”. Families and communities robbed of their loved ones, of their hopes and dreams. And this is not the time for some new bracelet or bumper sticker, or any virtue signaling.

Action can take many forms. It’s about writing checks and reaching out. It’s about connecting with black founders and seeing how we can help them. It’s about looking across our organization and seeing a true representation of the ideals we hold so dearly.

So this moment is different because I don’t have a “happy” or “hopeful” message, woven from ambition and wishful thoughts. I have sadness, I have anger, and I have action.

This time is different because I am seeing people all over the world show solidarity with American protestors. I’m seeing people who have been complicit who are regretting the climate they’ve created for all of us, one that allows racists to walk openly and speak freely among us. And to do so while being armed to the nines. And to do so from the Oval Office.

Maybe this time is different. Or maybe another 600 years of injustice needs to be inflicted on millions of innocent people, so we can have a nicely rounded 1,000 years of brutality to etch in history books. They will give it a name that will put things into historical perspective, as the Holocaust did, and then a thousand years later they will ask: how did America stand back and let this happen?

And I urge you to read what Tre Johnson has to say about this matter: "When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs.”

He offers me a North Star.

Tre talks about how this problem is so much bigger than policing. It’s about everything from housing and schools to workplaces. PartnerHero might not make a big impact on policing, housing or school issues, but we can create a better workplace — not just in America, but everywhere we operate.

As recently as last month, we told a prospective partner that PartnerHero is progressive and “diverse by design.” While I stand by those statements, I know that good intentions for black, brown, LGBTQ+, and disabled employees is not enough. So, within the next 12 months, we are committing ourselves to having a formal DE&I strategy with an internal owner who will keep us accountable as a company. This includes sharing our progress with the public.

James Baldwin, in addressing historical oppression, shares in The Fire Next Time:

Time catches up with kingdoms and crushes them, gets its teeth into doctrines and rends them; time reveals the foundations of which any kingdom rests, and eats at those foundations, and it destroys doctrines by proving them to be untrue.

I am not going to be on the wrong side of this, and so this is not a letter that offers a clear roadmap or some vision for peace. This is a call to action.

So that this time will be different.

Shervin Talieh