State of Design: Black Lives Matter Address

This past month our nation has been rocked by civil unrest — protests and, in some cases, riots — triggered by the May 25th death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a White police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. But this event was only one of many recent events that continued to chip away at an already fractured society, something that many of us may isolate ourselves from because it’s not necessarily at our threshold. This week, the racial tensions spilled onto all of our thresholds and forced so many of us to have to confront our own silence in the world around us. 

As a White woman living in America, this forced me into a state of self-reflection…

Was I complicit in the racism/white privilege that plagues our country?

If so, how could I be better? 

How could I contribute to the conversation in a way that was meaningful and sincere? 

If you follow us over on Instagram, then you know in addition to muting our “social” voices to help amplify Black voices on the platform, we decided to share Black talent and resources…because how could we be silent when everything going on felt like something to shout about?

We discovered and shared local and national Black businesses, which, admittedly, took us down a rabbit-hole of discovering even more Black creatives and businesses. As a self-professed design bibliophile, I discovered phenomenal authors and books worth reading and collecting. As a vehement architect lover, I was exposed to exceptional architects — past and present — that have helped shape this great industry. Where have I been? Why didn’t I know about these amazing individuals before? Educating myself of these members of our community has been truly transformative for me, so I’d live to share that experience with — sharing them with you in hopes that you diversify your spending power, your social feeds, and your overall thinking. 

ARCHITECTURE

According to the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), of all the licensed architects in the country, only about 2 percent are Black. Seems pretty low right? While a small percentage, that number isn’t indicative of the immense contributions these architects have made to the industry and to society at large.

Shoppe Black, a resource dedicated to curating all things Black-owned, compiled an amazing list of Black architects who helped shape America. The article notes that “many of their buildings have since been lost or radically changed”, however it is still hard to neglect the profound impact these architects made on American society – from municipal buildings to civic structures to historic landmarks. Some of my (and probably yours too!) favorite architectural moments are credited to African American architects.

INTERIOR DESIGN

I’m not immune to the immense amount of Black interior designers across the country, across the globe. While I can easily say “I don’t see color”, that sentiment may be part of why so many of my peers continue to go unseen. 

I recently immersed myself in the work of renowned interior designer, Sheila Bridges, whose book is one of many that I recommended over on our Instagram stories. Her skill and expert eye have shown her to be a paragon of our design industry, along with countless others who still fell short in the eyes of society. 

“I think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars I’ve spent in the D&D Building over the last almost three decades — and I’ve been included in, maybe, one or two panels there. The only panels I’m usually asked to participate in are panels about race and diversity. For most of us, it is a conversation we have to have. But some of us get tired of always having to talk about our race instead of our work. And always putting the responsibility on our shoulders, to do the heavy lifting.”
— Sheila Bridges of Sheila Bridges Design

Imagine being able to contribute to an establishment’s bottom line but not being “seen” in other aspects of their business.

Scrolling Pinterest, our Instagram timelines, industry magazines, it is admittedly very white-washed; yet in the past week or so when designers and other creators decided to amplify Black voices, we uncovered how many other amazing talents were being hidden behind algorithms and outdated thinking.

“I’m not looking for the special treatment because I’m a black designer. I’m looking for equal treatment because I’m good at what I do.”
— Kesha Franklin of Halden Interiors

Not too long ago artist and designer Malene Barnett took to her Instagram account to call out the interior design industry on the lack of Black representation in everything from expert panels to magazine spreads.

She lit a spark and it is up to us to continue to fan the flame.

CONSTRUCTION

Admittedly, having worked on dozens of projects, I can’t think of any where Black builders or contractors were at the helm. In 2007, Felicia Oliver of Probuilder wrote, “While no reliable statistics could be found on the exact number of minority owners in the home building industry, it is clear to see at housing industry gatherings that there are few minority faces in the crowd.” Her article, written over a decade ago was illuminating and is still relevant. 

“The industry is not particularly minority sensitive,” says Allen Warren, president of New Faze Development in Sacramento, Calif., and one of the black builders with whom I spoke. “Throughout the construction industry as a whole, the percentage of minorities is pretty low. As you move up into management, and then into ownership, it’s much lower.”

In reading through her piece it was evident to me that there are a number of issues that contribute to the lack of diversity, mirroring the world outside of the industry.

Being a regional designer here in the PNW region of the country, we’ve had build teams that were comprised of employees of color, but again, none specifically owned and/or run by a person of color. The National Black Contractors Association has 8 charted chapters, however, none are in this region — the closest is San Diego, CA. This isn’t to say in other parts of the country, the construction industry is more diverse and expanding:

“According to Forbes, the construction industry is showing continued strong growth across the country. In fact, as of 2016, construction is the fastest-growing small-business sector, generating double-digit growth (10.6 percent) among those analyzed in one study. Contrary to popular belief, many of these successful construction firms are Black-owned!” source

All over the country, Black-owned construction companies are growin and thriving, with many landing multi-million dollar contract deals for municipal projects.

WHAT’S NEXT?

I won’t lie… the home industry has a long way to go. From architecture to interior design to construction and all the parts in between (we could probably dedicate an entire post to Black makers of home furnishings, decor, and textiles) there is so much untapped and [most importantly] unseen talent within our industry. How do we move the needle? How do we start to be part of the change? If you’re an Instagram follower than you have a very clear idea of where we stand. We shared, not only our views but some of our plans on an earlier post

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🌎 May the future be as clear as this view from a new #Suncadia custom home site. 🖤 Been a bit distant here, socially distracted but for the better. It’s clear that as a white person, the world I thought we were living in doesn’t actually exist and well, if you’re Black then you already knew that. There is shame in that realization for me and for that I’m sorry. I have only fight for this cause when prompted by the media but I know now this is not a sprint, this is a race around the world.🖤 First of all: if you are a Black small business owner in Seattle/King Country and you are in need of Interior Design services, White Label Interiors would like to offer you 10 hours of pro-bono work. Please DM me here to discuss – share this with someone who might need this service. 🖤 I haven’t known how to address things entirely but this is a new week so here’s what’s happening at White Label: ☮️ 1: We will continue to expand and utilize our industry resources to include Black and other minority-owned business. That’s already in the works.🖤 2: We will support local Black businesses on a weekly basis. That will include restaurants, books, services, and shopping. Our lives will be more rich because of the vast cultures that surround us. That is already in progress.🖤 3: We will remind ourselves daily that Community is the backbone of the Interior Design industry; that an all-white community lacks perspective, craft, & inclusivity. We will remind you of that as well.🖤 4: White Label will move forward doing business as usual but with more open eyes than ever before. I recognize that our white privilege has enabled us to be successful and with success comes more responsibility.🖤 5: We will not support those white-run businesses that do not share our mission to stand in solidarity with the Black community. That will mean a reduction in work for us and I don’t give a rip. We are not worried about our Bottom Line when it involves #blacklivesmatter because a human life cannot hold a dollar amount. Bye, Felicia.🖤

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We hope that if you are an industry peer or industry leader, a potential client or former client, that you are interested in doing. the work that we’ve committed to doing as well.

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