The Model Black: A must read for white leaders

Animo Leadership’s co-founder and director Kate Chester shares her experience of reading The Model Black by Barbara Banda.

As part of my own journey in recognising my white fragility and developing allyship, I have been reading The Model Black by Barbara Banda. 

As a white, cis-gender, able-bodied, heterosexual woman brought up in Britain, I see the world through my own lens. I have experienced and continue to experience sexism. I work in a patriarchal society where the gender gap is still 100 years from closing. But that’s the only system of oppression that I personally experience.

I often think of the many other systems of oppression that exist. How do they impact people everyday? How can one person experience multiple systems of oppression at once?

Sometimes friends and colleagues share how intersectionality impacts them, but it’s not a conversation that I initiate. These conversations can be emotional. I’m not sure it’s my place to ask about lived experience when it’s also my responsibility to educate myself through other means.

As a leadership facilitator and coach, The Model Black has given me valuable insight into leadership experiences through the lens of Black leaders and the systemic racism that they navigate on a daily basis in the white workplace. 

Banda’s book interviews 30 senior Black leaders who have shared (some anonymously) difficult and traumatic experiences and ‘jolts’ of racism throughout their careers. It describes nine characteristics that Black leaders have nurtured and adopted in order to succeed at work despite the odds. 

It gave me a greater appreciation of how much more work – practically and emotionally – Black leaders do in order to be noticed (for the right reasons) and succeed.

I hadn’t appreciated the balancing act that Black leaders face between reacting to racist remarks (and suffering the consequences) in the workplace and ‘sucking it up’. I didn’t appreciate how much of a Black leader’s cultural identity is left at home for fear of not fitting into the white workplace. Banda notes this as part of the ‘Squaring’ process.

Banda also reflects on whether the Model Black she has identified is the Model Black that will emerge in the future. In an interview with her brother Robert Banda (professor, author, speaker) they describe the potential of the Middle Black, who is able to speak truth to power and bring everyone along the equity journey.

This book is written for leaders who want to be more inclusive. Banda leaves many questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. They are thought-provoking for white leaders who are questioning what else they could do to create a more inclusive workplace. She also offers a useful framework for organisations to apply when they are implementing more inclusive strategies.

As I seek to strengthen my allyship I will keep challenging myself to notice when I become complicit in racism. I will use my courage to call out microaggressions. If I haven’t called them out publicly I will ‘call them in’ privately.  I also want to be mindful of not dominating my white culture in work conversations. I will stay curious to learn about the cultural events and practices of others. We should all be able to bring our whole selves to work.  

I can’t recommend this book enough for white leaders who are educating themselves on how to be stronger allies and wanting to create inclusive spaces at work.

Barbara Banda is a leadership facilitator with over 20 years of experience in management education. Find out more about Banda’s work here.

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