"This is Where The Work Starts" – A Letter From Donna Carpenter
Today, I want to address the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, and around the world.
It is not a coincidence that the protests are happening now. As with every other social ill in America – from poverty to ecological destruction – this pandemic has disproportionately affected Black Americans, who are three times more likely to die from COVID than white Americans. And, of course, we had the video of the casual, cold-blooded murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer. This video shocked white America into understanding, at a basic human level, that we have always had a collective knee on the necks of our fellow Black citizens. As Will Smith said, “racism in the US is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed."
This is a wake-up call for all white Americans, even those of us who saw ourselves as committed to social justice. What’s clear is that Americans have never come to terms with our original sin: slavery. Ongoing institutional racism, in every corner and at every level of our society, is the legacy of that sin. I am, however, hopeful that we will now – thanks to the extraordinary courage of the protesters - take one step closer to living up to our ideal of justice and equality for all.
So what does this mean for Burton?
Inclusion has always been central to Burton’s purpose and values. It is one of our Trail Map peaks. It’s why my family founded and continues to support Chill. It’s the reason Jake and I started the Women’s Leadership Initiative. It’s the reason Burton became a lead sponsor and supporter of Camber Outdoors. It’s the reason we evolved the Women’s Leadership Initiative committee into a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee. It’s the reason I participate in ESPN’s global sports mentoring program every year. It’s the reason Jake and I spoke out against Trump.
Almost from the beginning, Jake understood, at a gut entrepreneurial level, that Burton and snowboarding would not thrive long-term without gender and racial diversity. Having come of age during the late 1960s, Jake was also committed, on a personal level, to women’s rights and civil rights.
Have we done anywhere near enough around racial diversity? No. No, we haven’t. We are still a predominantly white company in a predominantly white sport, headquartered in one of the whitest states in the country.
Because of this, I struggled with our response to the protests. Words felt, and still feel, entirely inadequate. And, in many ways, any immediate ‘action’ we might take feels completely inadequate as well.
What feels right is to stop, and listen, and take a close look at ourselves, our sport and our industry.
What feels right is to stop, and listen, and take a close look at ourselves, our sport and our industry. What feels right is to double-down on our efforts through the recently formed DEI Committee to recruit, retain and promote more people with marginalized identities, including Black, Queer, Indigenous and People of Color. What feels right is to double-down on our efforts with Chill. What feels right is to invest in developing athletes of color so young Black Americans can see themselves in our world. In short, what feels right is a deep commitment – backed up by tangible resources – to change.
At a couple of key moments in our history, the focus of this company was determined by an “oh shit” moment. A moment where Jake and I could clearly see that we were not living up to our values. A moment when we knew that if we didn’t do something, we would be threatening the long-term health and sustainability of our brand, sport and lifestyle. We had one of those moments in 2003 around the lack of gender diversity in our company and sport. At that moment we committed. What did we commit to? We committed to listening. We committed consistent resources, no matter the condition of the economy. We committed to years and years of hard work.
This is another ‘oh shit’ moment.
The work required for Burton, and the sport of snowboarding, to achieve meaningful racial diversity and equity will be hard and will not happen overnight. It will require as much patience as passion. I am pleased to say, that my son George has stepped up to take the lead on this work. George understands that Burton needs true racial diversity in order to live up to our values and ensure the long-term sustainability of our sport. And as a privately held family company, we can invest in making real change.
This work will be fundamentally more challenging for Burton than women’s leadership. The challenge of hiring more Black, Indigenous and People of Color and getting more BIPOC to participate and feel welcome in our sport, is a symptom of the underlying systemic racism in our educational, health, legal and social safety net systems. It will take time, perseverance and our commitment. It will take an intersectional approach because we can’t successfully eradicate one oppression without recognizing them all. This includes but is not limited to race, class, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation.
This work will be fundamentally more challenging for George to lead than it was for me to lead the Women’s Leadership Initiative. I was, after all, a woman who could relate to the societal obstacles women face. George understands this and over the last week has been encouraging us to all to take a breath and simply start listening to – and really hearing – the voices of our Black brothers and sisters. George will be outlining the work ahead, and I am pleased to say we have retained long-time Burton family member Luis Calderin to help guide us through this important work. In meeting with Luis recently he said his first ‘identity’ was as an Afro-Cuban-American. His second ‘identity’ was as a snowboarder. He is the perfect partner for us as we commit to the work ahead.
We will have to face and admit our own biases and shortcomings. We will have to listen to painful stories. We will have to have difficult conversations. But this is where the work starts.
Again, this work will not be easy. We will have to face and admit our own biases and shortcomings. We will have to listen to painful stories. We will have to have difficult conversations. But this is where the work starts.
You know, I was once asked to give a speech for a Canadian women’s group on the difference between power and privilege. I decided to lean on the researcher and storyteller Brene Brown who has written and spoken thoughtfully about privilege. One thing she wrote that has always stuck with me:
Avoiding difficult conversations is the definition of privilege.
I look forward to having difficult conversations and facing some harsh realities about ourselves and our industry. I also look forward to making real change.