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Dear white people: Our nation turns its racist eyes on you

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It feels like a reckoning.

Major companies have been making statements of support for police reform and racial justice and matching those words with monetary support for organizations like Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Color of Change. And for every monumental moment, like this Twitter act of solidarity between Adidas and Nike, or this outstanding statement from Ben & Jerry’s, there are plenty of public statements that are being held to a higher standard by employees, customers, and the public. 

The reckoning has taken some seats of power.

One of them belonged to Andrew Alexander, the CEO of the famed improv theater, Second City. In a statement, he said he “failed to create an anti-racist environment wherein artists of color might thrive. I am so deeply and inexpressibly sorry.” Wait until you see what went down at Crossfit.  Reformation.  Refinery29Bon Appétit! A longtime actor from the CW series The Flash got fired for racist and misogynist tweets. And, in a slightly different turn, the head of the New York Times editorial page has resigned for publishing an editorial by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton calling for federal troops to end the protests in support of police accountability. The uproar was led by employees.

Trouble keeping up? Simply Google “steps down amid.”

These leadership reckonings are the result of long-simmering internal tensions, now illuminated by the bright light between what leaders say publicly and how they behave inside their companies. I expect many more to come.

My takeaway: What happens inside a company now is an important clue to how they will fare going forward.

“Don’t get me wrong: Black Americans are glad that finally after 400 years, there is mass outrage at racial injustice,” says Najoh Tita-Reid, the senior executive of marketing reinvention at Logitech, in this Fortune opinion piece. “But I want to shed light on the fact that while this is indeed a unique moment, the responsibility of dismantling systemic racism must not be placed solely on black employees by asking them to fully lead diversity and antiracism efforts.”

Or, keeping them from their day jobs by asking them to explain it all to you.

White allies need to get up to speed on the reality of this moment, says Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer and advocate and the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. “Only by pausing long enough to study the cycles of oppression and resistance does it become clear that simply being a good person or not wishing black people any harm is not sufficient,” she says in a New York Times opinion column

By now, you’ve been inundated with lists of anti-racist information to read, watch or listen to. (Here’s Fortune’s.) These resources are amazing. And now, they are legion. How to wade in?

I suggest any under-informed potential ally begin with this simple strategy.

  • Choose one book, film, or podcast recommended by a friend you know well.
  • Finish it.
  • Discuss the material with your friend, and get comfortable with the experience of talking about the issue.
  • Choose a second resource, this time recommended by a person who you may not know well (any list works well here) and which has been created by someone as different from you as you can possibly imagine. That’s your opportunity to encounter a truly new point of view.
  • Pay it forward by recommending that resource to your peer-group for later discussion.
  • Do it all again.

By the time you’ve plowed through barely half a semester’s worth of material, you will be more confident, fluent, and prepared to have these important conversations in the wider world. And you’ll be more likely to feel able to understand and support any conversation about race and equity in your workplace.

Trust me on this.

This terrible moment will not be resolved without you—but you must do the work and survive the journey.

We’ll leave a light on for you.

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com

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