Chronicles of the Crazy Time (12): Special Boeing Edition

Chronicles of the Crazy Time (12): Special Boeing Edition

Apparently the 737 MAX jet isn’t the only thing crashing and burning at Boeing these days. They’ve taken complete leave of their senses by forcing out its head of corporate communications because he wrote an article critical of women serving in combat . . . 33 years ago! 

Golightly stepped down Thursday as Boeing’s senior vice president of communications following an employee complaint about the 1987 article, which he called “embarrassingly wrong and offensive.”

“At issue is not whether women can fire M-60s, dogfight MiGs, or drive tanks,” Golightly, then a US Navy lieutenant, wrote in a US Naval Institute magazine. “Introducing women into combat would destroy the exclusively male intangibles of war fighting and the feminine images of what men fight for — peace, home, family.”

Hardly an uncommon or outrageous opinion in 1987.

But wait, there’s more! Boeing recently had mandatory race training for executives that included disseminating a “Race Conversation Guide,” and source at Boeing has sent me the following “open letter” being circulated right now inside the company complaining that it is not enough. It is quite long, but isn’t every statement about things these days?

An Open Letter about Leadership & Racial Awareness

Talking about racism is not the same as engaging in anti-racism. Sending an email with the subject of race does not make you an advocate or an ally. Hosting multiple discussions, even if you are an executive, does not incorporate change into the structure of racial justice.

Race is an everlasting problem that requires a deep and purposeful commitment to anti-racism.

My name is Nakisha Renee Jones. I am a scholar, a leader, an activist, a thought provoker, an artist, and an educator on topics of diversity, equity and inclusion. As a black employee, I am disheartened, disappointed and dismayed at Boeing’s response to the national highlight of anti-blackness in the United States. I am taking the time to write the main reproaches in detail as a hope that we will take seriously the voices of people of color, of blackness, and of the need to be seen in a company that does not value your identity.

*** My opinions are my own, without any intention to hurt or tear down people. I hope that you will read this with an open mind and channel this criticism into change. I am directly challenging ideologies because ignorance has no color. We all need a higher social consciousness. ***

My intention is to elevate the conversation that we are having about race and racism, and to challenge the direction of our leadership in order for us as a company to be more successful.

Let me take a pause to state this clearly: racism is not a conversation about white against black. Race is a social construct with real consequences that affects all people of color. I specifically am speaking about the target on anti-blackness and the way racism invades organizations like Boeing.

We are in uncharted waters as a company; we are flooded with challenges and adversity. However, the health of the company depends on its ability to respond well to these challenges. When it comes to addressing race at Boeing, our company is lacking in integrity and quality.

The way Boeing is addressing racism in this company is problematic and inappropriate.

I understand that our leadership is unprecedented in talking openly about race; however, this old adage that “something is better than nothing” simply does not cut it. This holds a connotation that having a poor response is better than no response. When it comes to race we have to be more intentional. Our leadership should reconsider: just okay is not okay when it comes to other people’s lives and wellness. Large corporations must be held to a higher standard.

This following is a compilation of ways that Boeing is currently missing the mark in racial awareness, suggestions for improvement, and a list of Top 10 ways that you can support black lives as a fellow employee.

Issue 1: The Race Conversation Guide resource is lacking, misdirected, and offensive; however, we are plastering this guide across the enterprise to score points on our racism checklist.

Boeing produced a companywide Race Conversation Guide that does not talk about all racial groupings, does not talk about racism, and does not talk about systemic inequities. This guide is problematic in more ways than I can condense, but here are a few bullet points:

  • The material is pinpointed at identifying anti-black behavior but does not substantiate the complexities of race in all racial groups

  • Overlooking other racial groups causes an erasure of their narrative, lives, experiences and struggles – essentially stating: we don’t see or recognize you at this company

  • The resources are only addressing discrimination and prejudice, not racism

  • The guide started the clock on discrimination at the Civil Rights Act, rather than 1600s which is the mark of racism in the United States

  • The videos propagate a demeaning viewpoint of black people as problematic rather than affirming the value or appreciation of blackness

  • We hear the n-word without censoring on one of the videos to further spread black hostility and trauma among our workplace

  • There are no resources given for black and brown people to increase our safety and wellbeing working and navigating through thick racism and subtle microaggressions

  • There are no definitions provided on key terminology in diversity and inclusion work, such as: race, racism, discrimination, privilege, whiteness, microaggressions, etc.

  • There are no connections between the intersectionality of race and other identity markers (i.e. gender, sexual orientation, etc.)

The Race Conversation Guide is wrongful and insulting to reproduce and consume. I emailed Global Diversity & Inclusion, as well as Affirmative Action and have received no response to date. This is a perfect example of the lack of accountability this company has for when employees are actively trying to “seek, speak, and listen.” I am once again silenced, rather than given the room to dialogue and help make improvements.

The acceptableness for entire departments at Boeing to ignore and marginalize people of color is intolerable, yet we praise them for their forward momentum in addressing racial injustice.

This guide is a disaster for all racial groups to be subject to view and internalize. It should have been fully vetted with counsel from leaders in the field of identity research, knowledge and experience. We have standards about rushing to produce airplane products, and we should also have standards about rushing to produce race materials. If Boeing cannot see our own employees with this experience, it should have gone through an external agency of color.

Issue 2: We are trying to have difficult conversations without having the foundation in place for it. Boeing is using a top-down approach to force managers to talk about race with their teams, when these teams are not equipped with the right people or tools (see issue 1) to manage the gravity of the topic.

People of color are the fabric to add to the quilt of conversations around race and diversity. Boeing must strengthen its pipeline for recruiting, hiring and retaining people of color. Having conversations about race in white only spaces is dangerous for the wellness of the organization, as it seeks to confirm an already agreed upon pact of whiteness, and eliminates room for others to point out un/intentional acts of bias and injustice.

Not only do we need more representation in numbers of people of color, but all employees need proper tools to address topics like race, racism and diversity. These topics are advanced, not entry-level. Equity and inclusion and the work of justice is everyone’s business, but it is not everyone’s expertise.

We have executive leadership tiptoeing around a subject in which they do not hold expertise, rather than employing an outside constituent to aid in the growth and development of the organization.

We are pressing management to talk about race when they were never trained or screened or assessed for their racial or cultural competence when they were hired. Each working level team of the company needs to have gone through coaching, facilitation, and corporate education on race in the workplace. This needs to happen as an investment from Boeing over the upcoming months and years. It needs to become mandatory training, done in partnership with actual black and brown companies and communities. We have all-employee meetings about diversity and inclusion led by white leaders that make them feel better, but do not change the lived experiences of black employees at this company.

Boeing has a history of reaching out to white liberals to educate on topics of race and diversity – which squanders the opportunity to allow people of color with expertise AND experience to lead these efforts.

The sad point is there are many highly qualified individuals of color within our own organization who are not given the opportunity to lead these roles, due to the internal discrimination in hiring and promotion processes. We need to be employing the knowledge and wisdom of black, brown and indigenous leadership to activate organizational change.

Issue 3: Our leadership is pretentiously supporting diversity and inclusion without understanding the breadth and depth of the work required. The company is also conflating racism as diversity and inclusion. These are converging but separate work streams with distinct ways to address them.

The reality is that Boeing is structured in racism, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, classism, ageism, etc. When our leadership says they support diversity and inclusion but makes no mention of the spectrum of civil and human rights that are involved in that statement… it is extremely disappointing.

Blackness is easy for people to point out in conversations about race – but to embed diversity, you need to know and recognize intersectionality around identities. To dismantle racism, it requires the working together of all marginalized identities because race impacts all other injustices against civil and human rights.

Racism is a systemic issue that roots from global white supremacy and has morphed into a unique blend of social ills here in North American due to our own slavery and genocide. This country is built on the intentional exploitation, death and oppression of black and brown bodies.

Nothing the company has produced in terms of materials or resources have addressed this piece of history.

Issue 4: Boeing is instigating conversations about race without apologizing for overlooking, minimizing and silencing the voices of those who have been talking about race for decades.

We see the same parallel in the way North America has never apologized for slavery. Whiteness has always been unapologetic. We see this with the lack of indictments with police brutality.

Now this company is willing to talk about race because there is external pressure. The truth is – people of color working here have been talking about race the whole time. This is not a new conversation for marginalized employees, but they were not given the platform to be heard. They were not taken seriously enough for the company to take action.

The conversation should have started with our executives taking the simple step to say something conscientious: “I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to learn about this before. It was self-centered. I’m here now. I’m willing to change.”

Issue 5: Many of these emails coming from white leadership are converting a conversation about racist violence into their feelings about it.

Our company inbox is getting clogged with senior leaderships’ sympathetic responses to George Floyd’s death – very similar to social media’s term of “slack-tivism.” This type of emailing is problematic because it does not address the systems, behaviors or laws that led to the racist violence, does not focus on the people who experienced the racist violence, and silences the narrative of the actual victim and their communities.

How many of these well-intentioned emails have come from a place of scholarly or social research, rather than quick public relations consultations? Why is the bar so low at this company for discussing racism that the smallest mention of race from our white leaders gives them a standing applause of justice and equity?

At best, Boeing’s attempts at being anti-racist are still inherently racist. It’s a practice known as “racist anti-racism” that white people and institutions propagate when they seek to spearhead conversations about inequities that they created without allowing the actual victims’ humanity to be validated. What we see in these leaders’ emails is the need for them to be heard ­– for them to take the space to blast out their feelings. Rather than mass producing the feedback of black/brown employees and compiling a platform for their voices to be heard, instead we are forced to ingest another white person’s sympathy that does not translate into strategy.

If the best that you can do as an ally is feel bad for other marginalized people, please step down from allyship. Your pity is disregarding the humanity of someone else’s lived experiences. Black/brown people are not pitiful. Our experiences are not pitiful. The pitiful part is that non-black people watch in comfort while people of color die. It is pitiful when people with privilege choose not to extend themselves to help end structural inequity, racism and genocide.

Racism is not simply a conglomeration of racist behaviors. Racism is a system intentionally designed to disadvantage, harm and kill non-whites. For further clarification – please research North American history from a book written by a non-white author, then queue up world history of global white supremacy. You cannot speak on racism without understanding what it is, how it was created, and how it manifests in the present day.

Issue 6: Boeing is trying to enact policy change without the right channels for feedback loop, collaboration and consultation from established people of color within the company.

Somehow it has been acceptable practices for our white leadership and executives to spearhead initiatives around race and racism even though there is an obvious and stated lack of experience, knowledge or expertise on the topic. Our leaders have directly stated at times that they do not know the depth of the situation on race because they do not experience racism. They have also stated explicitly that they are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with topics around race. Yet we still position these leaders as the center of change for racism to be addressed in this company. WHY?

For other employees in this company, if you do not have working level knowledge of the topic at hand you are deemed unfit to lead in that category. A person in sales who has never studied engineering, is not going to be asked to lead a design change for an aircraft. But when it comes to race – somehow it is okay for us to have people who are openly unqualified for the role allowed to lead without the consultation of others with expertise.

At Boeing people are so accustomed to faking it until you make it – talking about items in meetings where you have no idea what is actually going on. We have made it acceptable company culture. But when you apply this approach to race and racism – it is undignified.

Here’s the difference – when you fake your understanding of a PowerPoint slide, people are still safe in the room; when you fake your understanding about race and racism, people’s lives are at risk. Black and brown lives are at risk.

The fact that our leadership pays no attention to the subjectivity of their competence on race, and will continue to EXCLUDE the voices, narratives and expertise of people of color to lead in this effort is drastically insulting.

Confronting racism head on requires making space at the table of power for minoritized identity groups to cast their votes of approval on policy and procedural changes, especially companywide initiatives.

We need to cease creating policy changes without garnering the input, approval and vetting from established employees of color. Before Boeing makes a companywide policy change on racist behaviors, the president of BBEA (Boeing Black Employees Association) and other identity resource groups absolutely need to be in the decision making team. Representation needs to be present from the time working committees are formed, to the time policies are enacted. Non-management people of color need to have the same voting power as executives.

Issue 7: Boeing is not putting enough genuine resources behind supporting anti-racist practices within the company and the larger community.

First line and upper level management routinely offer murmurs of support to “go ahead and participate in these national events about race,” but does not back that offer up with tangible acceptance. Such as – when the event calls for people to not work for a day and spend the time strategizing about ways to end structural racism, management does not cancel or reschedule mandatory meetings. There isn’t really an offer of support, is there?

At Boeing, we have company sponsored volunteerism for certain nonprofits – by which we use company time and resources to show up and support. We are encouraged to attend these other functions and get rewarded for it; but when requested to attend peaceful and educational events about race, I’m told to do that on my own time. When it comes to blackness and supporting anti-racism, suddenly the well of resources dries up, there’s no paid time to participate, and you’re expected to still perform your job.

Volunteerism is valued more than humanitarianism. I could simply restate it in a way that others may understand: Boeing does not value black lives.


By forcing the victimized groups to continue the fight for their lives while continuing the fight for their jobs, it creates a double layer of oppression for black/brown people to navigate, in addition to the already murky waters of microaggressions and workplace ignorance.

Our people already have to stomach so many Civil Rights and Title VII complaints in order to save our jobs and livelihoods for our families – meanwhile, we pay for it with higher stress, heart rates, shorter breaths….

George Floyd’s suffocation is a stark metaphor for the mass produced immune deficiencies that black people encounter in white work spaces.

The mental and emotional toll of having to appease whiteness, assimilate or appropriate your culture, silence your right to stand up for yourself, and make others around you comfortable with your blackness on a constant basis – is a heavy toll on our bodies. On our nervous system. On our immune systems. On our heart and souls. On our ability to take deep unapologetic breaths of safety and acceptance and inclusion.

Boeing needs to take more seriously the severity and consequences involved with discussing race in an institution rooted in racism. When it comes to addressing the topic of racism within corporations: we can do better. We should do better. We must become better.

Diversity and inclusion is more than a tagline. It is the basis of creating an environment of belonging and value and recognition. I spend every day supporting the excellence of this company, but this company does not spend every day fighting for my excellence.

To fight for black lives, to show that we matter, here are 10 steps you can take:

1) Acknowledge that the system of racism is structurally embedded into the people, policies, practices, and procedures of The Boeing Company.

2) Push for the immediate revision of the Race Conversation Guide. This guide can and should be rewritten. Demand that leadership produce an array of educational materials that covers race, racism and other structural inequities. New documents must be created in collaboration and approval with experts and experiences from people of color internally.

3) Educate yourself on North American slavery from Black scholars and educators. Take a class on African American Studies/Black Studies. Audit a class from an HBCU.

4) Hold leadership accountable for their words, and responsible for their behaviors.

5) Demand that our company is transparent with statistics and data regarding race and racism, for everyone to see. Race is a public conversation.

6) Promote the good work of people of color in your work group who go unrecognized.

7) Donate to black organizations that support the work of equity and justice in their communities.

8) Take time out of your day to consider how racism impedes on the success of people of color.

9) Do not call out racist behavior and feel satisfied by slapping the racist on the hand. Instead, call in to question the racism underlying the behavior and the ways that racism breeds multiplicities of racist responses.

10) Advocate for a strategic plan for anti-racism, equity and justice work to be implemented in all divisions of the Boeing Company. Invite knowledgeable and experienced colleagues and consultants of color, who are exposed to the systemic racism pervasive in corporations, to create and approve this strategic plan.

Sounds to me like Boeing needs to spend a couple million more (at least) on race consultants like Robin DiAngelo to come straighten them out. Maybe she can fix the MAX MCAS system while she’s at it.