Every day, one million families watch every move on the College Board website because it controls so much of the college application process. Today it looked like the site was hacked.
There is bold, white copy centered on a black background that is unreadable in a way I haven’t seen since the early Internet. Looking more closely I saw it’s a letter “from the Black employees at College Board.” The College Board has 353 employees. Seven employees signed the letter.
What?? This is an organization that administers 7 million exams a year with the express purpose of making college admissions more fair. And they have seven Black employees. I am appalled. But I also realize this letter is a lesson on how to recognize some of the most unrecognizable racism at work.
Workplace racism is often covert
Here’s the opening of the letter:
We are the Black employees of the College Board. We are hurting both individually and collectively. We have spent this week meeting every day as a community. We have shared our stories with one another: our pain, our rage, and sometimes our hopes.
Okay. So seven Black employees are sequestered in a daily meeting, while the rest of the company continues doing business as usual.
Here’s another line from the letter:
We condemn the killings of Black people that have made the news and witness the daily cruelties that often go unseen.
Of course, they mean to condemn all killings, in the news and not in the news. That’s when I realized that no editor helped with the letter. No designer helped with formatting. The Black 7 were on their own. But a company of 353 employees never publishes something on their home page without the benefit of a copyeditor and designer. There are many corporate letters about Black Lives Matter. None was published like this.
A copyeditor and a web designer are basic, minimum requirements for corporate communications. To provide a huge platform for Black employees to speak from and not provide communication tools for success is to undermine the message itself.
Workplace mentoring is largely reserved for White people
Mentoring makes or breaks a career. White people receive mentoring for their potential whereas Black people receive mentoring only after proving themselves. This letter is a great example. Would the White CEO have let his daughter write a letter to millions of people without offering her the help of an editor? No. Definitely not.
The seven Black employees also made the announcement that the College Board will “make donations of $25,000 to The Jackie Robinson Foundation to propel Black students to college.” My first thought was, propel is the perfect word choice since this is not even enough money to get through one year at college. The part of the letter about how great the College Board is has clearly benefited from copyediting. But I also thought: these people are speaking for the company. With no help.
Mentoring means someone is looking out for roadblocks ahead, and mentors find the right tools at the right time. The authors of this letter needed mentors. To amplify Black voices we must offer Black people the same corporate tools of power that White people get.
No racist moment is too small to point out
Maybe grammar errors and font choices seem petty to you. But organizational racism is lots of seemingly small moments that make work exhausting for Black people. White people have to call out even seemingly small racist behavior every time we see it because we are not the targets, and we still have energy.
This means we have to educate ourselves about what racist behavior looks like at work. Here is a reading list from the Harvard Business Review. I like it because it shows us how to call out racism, and who at work is least likely to be called out.
For example, one article includes a list of ways companies are all talk and no action, as if written specifically for the the CEO of College Board: Do not ask your Black employees to advocate for your justice initiatives.
The College Board propagates racist education in the US
The SAT discriminates against Black kids. When a Black kid and a White kid are equally successful in school, the White kid scores higher. And rich Black kids do not score as high as rich White kids. This is why so many colleges talk about getting rid of standardized testing.
Instead, the College Board makes more money by creating more tests that do not help Black kids. For example, there are now 37 AP tests subjects. Asian students received a passing score 64% of the time whereas Black students received a passing score 24% of the time.
Like all organizations that make money from being racist, The College Board is full of profit-hungry executives skirting the law. In 2017 they reported $140 million in revenue and were sued for violating their non-profit status. In 2019 the College Board was sued for selling student data and lying about scholarships. Presently there is a class-action lawsuit against the College Board for breach of contract, gross negligence, misrepresentation and violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
When you look for racist executives to call out, look for scofflaws. The overlap is stunning.
Be a person who calls out corporate racism
I learned a new phrase today, corporate brutality, Google shows the phase is mostly used outside the US, but this month the phrase appeared in the Harvard Business Review: “The methods of police brutality and corporate brutality are different, but the result is the same: people are abused, damaged or destroyed.”
The seven Black employees at the College Board deserve so much better than what they got. But brutality is humiliating and intimidating, which is why no one told the CEO he was making a mistake.
We can’t let that stop us anymore. Those of us who are not direct victims of racism must look out for corporate racism, and we must feel a personal responsibility for stopping it.
I look forward to reading many letters in the future from those seven Black employees. And I expect the College Board to start giving them great mentors immediately because it’s clear those employees have great potential.