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Do black lives really matter in the workplace? Restorative justice as a means to reclaim humanity

Tina Opie (Management Division, Babson College, Babson Park, Massachusetts, USA)
Laura Morgan Roberts (Department of Psychology, Antioch University, Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 20 November 2017

7085

Abstract

Purpose

Overwhelming evidence suggests that black lives have not and do not matter in the American workplace. In fact, disturbing themes of black labor dehumanization, exploitation and racial discrimination appear throughout history into the present-day workplace. Yet, curiously, organizations and organizational scholars largely ignore how racism and slavery have informed management practice (Cooke, 2003) and contemporary workplace racism. The authors address this gap, using the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement as a platform. BLM is a social justice movement created in response to the pervasive racism experienced by black people. The purpose of this paper is to accomplish five goals, which are summarized in the following sections.

Design/methodology/approach

First, the authors outline historical themes of black labor dehumanization, exploitation and racial discrimination, providing specific examples to illustrate these themes and discussing their contemporary workplace implications. Second, key challenges that may arise as organizations seek to make black lives matter in the workplace are discussed. Third, the authors provide examples of organizations where black lives have mattered as an inspiration for how workplaces can affirm the humanity and self-actualization of black people.

Findings

Fourth, the authors provide organizations with helpful tools to truly make black lives matter in the workplace, using restorative justice as a framework to remedy workplace racism. Finally, while the paper is largely focused on business organizations, as two management scholars, the authors felt compelled to briefly articulate how academic scholarship might be influenced if black lives truly mattered in management scholarship and management education.

Originality/value

This paper begins to articulate how black lives matter in the workplace. The goal is to intervene and upend the exploitation of black workers so that they are finally recognized for their worth and value and treated as such. The authors have provided historical context to illustrate that contemporary workplace racism is rooted in the historical exploitation of black people from enslavement to contemporary instances of labor exploitation. The authors offer a restorative justice framework as a mechanism to redress workplace racism, being careful to outline key challenges with implementing the framework. The authors concluded with steps that organizations may consider as they work to repair the harm of workplace racism and rebuild trust amongst employees. Specifically, the authors discuss the benefits of organizational interventions that provide intergroup contact with an emphasis on perspective taking, and present a case example and suggested key indicators that black lives matter in today’s workplace.

Keywords

Citation

Opie, T. and Roberts, L.M. (2017), "Do black lives really matter in the workplace? Restorative justice as a means to reclaim humanity", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 36 No. 8, pp. 707-719. https://doi.org/10.1108/EDI-07-2017-0149

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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