We’re Here for the Movement for Black Lives
Taking stock of our part in dismantling racism as a Madison small business
This summer was a turning point.
When George Floyd was brutally murdered at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department it threw a mirror up to America, to us. As a Madison-based business, we know that our own local community is far from immune to the effects and the problematic history of structural racism, white supremacy, and police violence. The time is long overdue for white members of our community to speak out against the legacy of violence and injustice endured by Black Americans. The time is long overdue for our communities to start taking responsibility and action toward bringing an end to these injustices.
In no uncertain terms, we condemn the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Tony Robinson. We say their names, and the names of Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and we acknowledge the many whose names we do not know of those who have also been murdered by white violence. We condemn these racist killings and police violence against Black people, and we stand together in the fight for justice and the fight to dismantle anti-Black racism in our society.
It should not have taken the death of George Floyd, and the vast uprising across the country that followed, for white Americans to wake up and see that those injustices are our responsibility, too—that they don’t change unless we do. We live in a state that sees one of the highest rates of racial inequality in the country, and the highest race of incarceration of Black men. While it’s been far too easy for white Americans to neglect our part in this or see it as someone else’s problem, this is happening in our community—in the place we call home. We can no longer pretend that it’s not on us. As a marketing, communications, and web design company with deep ties to local businesses, we at Dirigible see it as our responsibility to speak out within our community, to take stock of our own failings, and to enlist our privilege, our skills, and our resources to join in the work of dismantling white supremacy—both locally and nationally. It’s on all of us.
We’re here to listen
In light of this moment of incredible uprising and outrage that we are currently witnessing, our role as a majority white business is to listen to the perspectives and the calls to action by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. Our first job is to decenter our own experiences and ideas about what is to be done in this moment, and to listen to Black leaders who have been doing the hard work from a place of lived experience for years.
There are a few aspects to this work of listening that need emphasizing. First, listening starts with educating ourselves, rather than expecting BIPOC to personally educate us. There are more than ample resources a Google search away that can point us in the right direction; and folks who have been organizing and doing anti-racist work usually have platforms, values, and demands that explain their positions. Wondering where to start? This Google doc is a great place to dive in.
Second, we need to be willing to get uncomfortable. Standing up against racism means having conversations that may generate discomfort with friends and loved ones. We need to develop a higher pain threshold for disagreement and, sometimes, even risk losing friends if that’s what it takes to call out racism and anti-blackness.
Third, we need to keep in mind that we’re going to make mistakes along the way, and we’re going to do or say the wrong thing from time to time. Mistakes are inevitable when we’re facing down hundreds of years of racial oppression and conditioning! But that doesn’t let us off the hook and it doesn’t mean we can’t get better and more skilled at it as we go. Recognizing from the outset that mistakes are a part of the process can help us keep moving—we can’t let the fear of messing up keep us from doing the work. When we make mistakes, we want to reflect on them, own them—and then keep moving forward.
We are still learning. We’re going to make mistakes. When we do, we will reflect on them thoughtfully, take feedback as a sign of generosity and respect, and use that feedback to keep building our commitment to racial justice.
We’re here to amplify
Part of the work of this moment is to amplify Black stories, experiences, and perspectives, in order to center them more in the public space. As a small business, that means amplifying Black-owned businesses in Madison and the surrounding areas; as a creative firm it also means recognizing Black artists, communicators, and developers. In the coming weeks and months, Dirigible Studio will be highlighting Black creatives on social media that have influenced and shaped the work we do. We encourage you to follow these artists, learn about their work, and find ways to amplify them. One starting points is to follow the hashtag #amplifymelanatedvoices on Instagram. Stay tuned for more soon!
We are also here to amplify with our resources and finances, and to that end, Dirigible is matching donations from any of our employees to funds or organizations supporting anti-racist work. It’s how we amplify the work by Black leaders who are leading the charge to uproot white supremacy and create a different future.
Looking for places to get involved or to donate? Here are a few to start with:
- Groundwork, Madison’s local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice
- Take daily action by following the Madison Community Response Team and @exploretheunderbelly’s daily action item posts
- Urban Triage – follow them on Instagram: @urbantriage
- Freedom, Inc. – Follow them on Instagram: @freedominc, and donate to the Free the 350 Bail Fund.
- National organizations like The Movement for Black Lives, Black Lives Matter (@blklivesmatter), and The Okra Project
We also recognize that how we spend our money is also at play in dismantling white supremacy, and that involves thinking intentionally about the businesses we invest in and the creative partners with whom we collaborate.
Here are a few local businesses and organizations to support:
- The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness
- Support Madison’s Black Owned Businesses spreadsheet
- Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership
We’re here for the work ahead
It’s not enough just to listen and to amplify—we also need to get to work, disrupting and dismantling white supremacy wherever we encounter it. That means, in adrienne maree brown‘s wonderful words, it’s time to “stop business as usual”; it’s time to “leave harmful positions in harmful institutions or become a wrench in the gears.”
What does that look like for a company like Dirigible? It starts with the questions we’re asking ourselves, and some areas we’ve identified where we can start doing the work. First, we’re a company made up of predominantly white employees, and we’re working on taking a good look at the more structural reasons that account for that. We want to take steps to ensure that it isn’t the default going forward.
Second, we’re taking stock of our resources and privilege, and we’re asking how we can put those to work in dismantling structural racism and anti-blackness in our culture. We’re conspiring to use our privilege and positions of influence to move wealth and resources in the direction of real change and into the hands of Black Americans.
One of our positions of influence is as a company that works in communications and web development. We are working to understanding the added reach that we can have as a marketing agency aiming to position ourselves as thought leaders. This goes for everything from the words and images we use in our communications, to the companies with which we collaborate, to the clients with whom we work.
At present, our developers are also actively seeking out opportunities to work on open-source coding for projects that are contributing to the current movement for Black lives. (Got an open source project you think might fit the bill? Drop our web developer, Jake Casey, a line.)
Looking forward: leveraging our services for Black-owned businesses in our community
One of the steps we’re currently taking is to launch a project to donate our services in kind to a Black-owned business in our community.
Earlier this month, we received a grant through the Dane County Small Business Pandemic Grant program, which is helping to keep us employed and our doors open for business while we weather the economic changes brought about by the pandemic. We’re grateful for how these funds are supporting us as we adjust to new realities, so we wanted to pay this support forward—as a way to double the impact of the funds we received.
We decided the best way to use this grant would be to facilitate a pro bono project to donate up to $10,000 in services, or the equivalent of one e-commerce website, to a Black-owned business in our community. The details of this opportunity will be announced soon so—please stay tuned!