What Comes After the Protests?

By : Alex Collmer


Every Monday morning at VidMob, the entire company gets together for our weekly all-hands. It’s an opportunity for anyone in the business to sign-up and present anything that they deem to be important enough that everyone should know about it. Over the years, we’ve learned about countless feature launches, reviewed initiatives that could have gone better, discussed what went wrong, and debated needed adjustments in order to live up to our core mission of Evolving Creativity for the Better. We grow as individuals and as a company through this process of transparent reassessment.

While people certainly talk about politics and current events around the office (at least back in the day when people used to go to the office), that has never been a topic of discussion in the all-hands. Why? Put most simply, it has never been appropriate. But there are certain things that rise above politics and that cannot be ignored.

It is not a political statement to say that all people should be able to walk outdoors –or go for a run—without fear of being arrested for no reason. Or beaten. Or killed. It is not a political statement to say that everyone should have a fair shake at life, including but not limited to; access to a good education, access to jobs that, if you do great work, you can advance in your career, access to the same mortgage terms, access to the same appreciating real estate, and on an everyday basis, access to the same first impressions that govern the trajectory of every relationship we have.

On every single one of these fronts, we are not succeeding as a country.

So two weeks ago our entire company confronted these issues head on—transparently and honestly—in our all-hands with an eye towards individual reassessment, and the type of permanent commitment that is required to bring about lasting change.

The key word here is permanent. Because it’s too easy to respond on social media, make a donation, attend a protest…and then move on. In a world where attention spans have been shortened to mere seconds, and crises are catapulted at us in a seemingly never-ending barrage, too many of us will eventually slip into thinking that this is someone else’s problem.

It is not. It is all of our problem. And it always has been.

There have been so many images and videos over the past few weeks that moved me. But the most heartbreaking image of it all was the one conjured by Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s brilliant essay where he described racism in America like dust in the air:

“Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere.”

It’s so tempting to think we live in a post-racial society. Many of us (White Americans especially) are predisposed to believe it because we want it to be true. And so we swallow hard and look the other way as the Supreme Court strikes down important components of the Voter Rights Act. We look the other way because, when there is no sunlight, you cannot see the dust hanging everywhere around us.

I was in this state of mind as the recent protests erupted after yet another murder of an innocent black citizen when I came across this image. And it crushed me.

It crushed me because there is no reasonable way for me to argue that I have done enough. And my too-frequent silence has provided tacit approval for a system from which I have benefited. But the point is bigger than silence. Because speaking out is not enough. Posting on social media and then hoping things go back to normal is a cop out.

This is what VidMob has been discussing as a company. Permanent impact.

If we want real change, we have to permanently attack the root level and permanently focus on aiding in the development of core, foundational empathy. We have to recognize privilege and the role it plays in our lives and make that understanding an everyday part of our being. When that piece of empathy exists, it puts a new lens over all of our lives and changes the way we see everything. And everyone. It makes it unacceptable to stay silent. As with the building of the software powering our platform, we can start with ourselves, and then push outwards.

As a white male, I have benefitted from a million privileges over the course of a lifetime. They stack on top of each other like an infinite pile of bricks.

This video does a great job of putting privilege in context.

    • Parents who were only working one job, so they had time to help you with your homework, when you would have preferred to be playing video games.
    • Not having to worry about food.
    • Growing up in a safe neighborhood.
    • Having mentors to talk you through tough situations.
    • Getting “just a warning” when being pulled over for speeding.
    • Being tall, not being born with a debilitating disease, etc., etc., etc.

What people constantly get wrong is that they think hard work and privilege are mutually exclusive. You hear this all of the time, “Well I worked my tail off. I studied harder than anyone I know. I worked twice as hard as all of my peers. I earned everything that came my way. Privilege had nothing to do with it.”

The key is that they are not exclusive. You can both work your ass off AND have benefited from enormous privilege.

We are a good company, filled with good people who are incredibly dedicated to their jobs and work around the clock. But we are also privileged.

We have to recognize that. We have to see the dust in the air. We have to understand that one-time initiatives are designed to make us feel good within the current system. We have to commit to permanent efforts, and only then, can we help to change a system that has been in place for hundreds of years.

Over the past two weeks, our company has discussed many ideas on the ways in which we can do more. And we have tried to remain focused on using the tools that we uniquely possess. After all, we are not Facebook and do not have the attention of 2 billion people. We are not Amazon and cannot impact a significant portion of global commerce. We are not Blackrock with over $7 trillion in assets. But there are two important things that we do really well. We create a lot of quality jobs for creative individuals. And we’re great at storytelling at scale.

So after careful thought and discussion among the entire company, we came up with the following permanent initiatives. I’m sure that this will evolve over time, but here is what we’re starting with today:

    1. Creator Community Jobs and Advanced Training
      • We have very carefully built a system to create high-quality creative jobs for the VidMob creator community. Diversity has been a priority for our creator community team, and this will continue. But to ensure that this is fully representative, we need to double down on this effort. We will benchmark our creator community against the population and put systems in place to spread work accordingly. We will publish both our goals and how we are doing on each of these metrics.
      • We are going to invest in creative skills development programs and educational partnerships to prioritize growing the number of black creators in the VidMob creator community. The success of this program will become one of the things in the company that we are most proud of.
    2. VidMob Gives
      • We believe strongly that in order to address the real problem, we need to address the root cultural issues that allow racial injustice to persist. Storytelling is an important tool in the movement of culture, and this is what VidMob Gives was created for.
      • BlackStoriesMatter – As long as VidMob exists, we will take a significant portion of the funds allocated to VidMob Gives and use that funding to help charities focusing on Black causes to tell their stories more broadly. Additionally, we will double down on UNSDG (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) Goal #16 by creating videos for non-profits that stand up for human rights and work for Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.
    3. VidMob Corporate
      • Between VidMob and VidMob Gives, out of nine total Board members, we have two women and one black man. This is not good enough. We will prioritize getting to representation levels that better reflect the overall makeup of the communities we serve.
      • On most metrics, VidMob’s employee base is already very diverse. But we are not doing good enough with the amount of black talent in the company, at all levels of the organization. This is unacceptable and it will change. As with the creator community, we will benchmark ourselves against the population and publish our goals and progress against these metrics.

I know that this will not be enough. We know that America’s problems will not be solved this year. There is so much dust in the air. But we have to start somewhere and if enough companies are willing to use the things that they do best to create permanent initiatives that address the root causes of today’s problems, only then can we build a better future for us all. I am always optimistic at the beginning of every big project. And even in the midst of so much sadness and pain, I am optimistic today.

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.
The second best time is today.