Social media often gets a bad reputation for its effect on mental health and how it silos communities, but there are many educators and influencers who use these platforms to create positive outcomes. They dedicate their channels and content to spreading awareness about important issues and provide their followers with opportunities to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. One of these influencers is Blair Imani, the creator of Smarter in Seconds, a series of bite-size videos that dive into a wide variety of topics from work-life balance to wage-gap disparity.
We chatted with Imani to learn more about her inspiring journey, approach to storytelling and perspective on diversity and inclusion from accessibility.
The following is a condensed transcript; answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Educating through storytelling
Tell us about yourself and your journey to becoming an author and influencer.
I use “she/her” pronouns, and I live at the intersections of Black, bisexual and Muslim identity. My parents, Mama and Papa Imani, are very involved in advocacy, so I was raised that way. Growing up, my father would always tell stories from his personal life to teach us a lesson, and that’s definitely the method I use to teach everything from intersectionality to meritocracy. At my core, I’m a storyteller.
Storytelling is apparent through my work as an author and as a historian, and it’s also very much part of what I do as an influencer. Humans are innately interested in stories. Cliffhangers in stories and ghosting in interpersonal interaction deeply frustrate us because it robs us of the opportunity to hear the end of the story and get closure. Through stories, I believe we can change our own and others’ perspectives. We may not change their minds, but we can definitely add information or context for them to consider.
Reframing conversations on DEI to create better working environments
We talk a lot about building the future of work at Slack. What does that look like to you through a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging lens?
Let’s begin by looking at the past and the current state of work. It was common for workers in the United States to go without paid time off for bereavement leave. While that is hopefully changing, the United States government provided child care in a widespread manner only during the middle of World War II. My point is, it shouldn’t take a war or a pandemic for us to shift how we treat workers. Urgency pushes us to create change, but we need to get to a place as a society where ethics drive us to create change. Whether in the workplace, school or on public transportation, we must treat each other as human beings and stop the learned dehumanization that permits us to be cruel toward each other.
At work, allyship is key to creating a safe space for all. How can knowledge workers be good allies?
I think it’s important to reframe the conversation around allyship from acknowledging that we are all human beings, and that when others are treated fairly, we are not just fighting for them, but we’re also fighting for ourselves as human beings.
Many of us struggle to genuinely fight for other people without considering what’s in it for me? So, instead of considering it as allyship, consider it to be your responsibility as a human to be conscientious about what other people are experiencing. We often think about oppression solely as it relates to people who are negatively impacted, but we have to also consider who benefits from oppression. Unjust policies and work environments harm people. They also benefit people, and allyship is about recognizing the ways you benefit from those harms done to others and taking an active role in making those conditions less terrible. It’s not just about allyship. It’s about accountability.
Creating a more inclusive and accessible working environment
Work has changed forever. As many embrace digital headquarters with distributed teams, what are some of the important inclusion considerations teams should make?
Consider my sister-friend, Imani Barbarin, a disabled Black queer scholar and writer. She and so many people with disabilities have been told time and again that they are not eligible for positions because they had to be present in an office, even though doing so would be a great challenge, inconvenience, cost and sometimes danger to them. Suddenly, overnight, when lockdowns were mandated and schools were shut down, those same institutions greenlit remote working policies.
We must collectively work through all forms of dehumanization, including ableism, that prevent us from innovating and changing our approaches to work. This can happen simultaneously as we work through racism, classism, xenophobia and other harms. For example, workplaces should consciously not limit their hiring to a specific city or require employees to be in a specific location to work for them.mThey should create policies that allow for hybrid workflows instead of working 100% in person, and adhere to this even after lockdowns subside.
How can organizations build for accessibility as they create their digital headquarters?
When it comes to accessibility, I think about class and disability, which I talk about in my new book, Read This to Get Smarter. Organizations can build for accessibility by including and prioritizing people who are affected by a lack of accessibility. It’s not a matter of building for people; it’s building with people, hiring people and investing in people who have been systematically excluded and marginalized by things like white supremacy, ableism and classism. My recommendation is to learn more about this from people such as Dr. Shay-Akil McLean and Imani Barbarin.
Unplugging in the digital age
For some, work and life have blended during the pandemic. Have any tips to maintain that balance?
Many things that I have previously considered hobbies have become sources of revenue, leaving me without genuine leisure time. One thing I refuse to monetize is my painting, which I keep very private and offline. For me, maintaining a work-life balance means having activities that are not work-related and are just for me and my family to enjoy.
As far as days when I’m not doing any work or taking an actual vacation, I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s because sometimes my schedule doesn’t permit me to fully unplug, but I definitely have a plan to get there!
OK. We have to ask! What’s your favorite Slack emoji or feature?
I love the status updates! It reminds me so much of AIM chat in the early 2000s. Plus, it’s a noninvasive way to learn what my team is feeling on any given day, and I’m able to express myself, as well.
Follow Imani on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook for educational content on intersectionality, gender studies, race and racism, and more. And learn how to change the way you work by learning how to build your digital headquarters in Slack here!