In a Tweet, John Legend Gave All Business Owners a Critical Gut Check

Photo by Flo Dahm

When the Houston Association of Realtors announced that it was planning to swap the term “master bedroom” with “primary bedroom,” artist John Legend had a crucial piece of advice for realtors–any professionals, really–about making impactful change without striking the wrong chord.

To be sure, making sweeping changes is a lot harder than finding and replacing offensive speech or fixtures. As Legend pointed out, the Houston association’s quick change is just the start of what diversity and inclusion look like. The real estate industry can and should do more–and that’s likely true for your own company, too.

How do you handle racism in your company? By pretending it doesn’t exist? By trying to hide your past? By proclaiming Black Lives Matter on your webpage?

Or do you create real change within your company?

Do you

Making changes to outward-facing communications is fine and may make people feel like they’re doing something quickly, but real change takes effort and time. If you’re not simultaneously looking inward to address issues within your business or staffing strategy, marketing gestures aren’t just hollow, they’re irresponsibly misleading. Make sure your business doesn’t just make changes that appear good to others. For every outward-facing gesture, your company makes, ensure that you’re also looking inward.  

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11 thoughts on “In a Tweet, John Legend Gave All Business Owners a Critical Gut Check

  1. John Legend is right to call them out on trumpeting this ridiculous change. Unless the term “master bedroom” is some type of holdover from slavery days — which I don’t believe it is — swapping it out appears to be a solution in search of a problem. There is a lot of systemic racism in the real estate industry, but calling the main bedroom the master bedroom is the least of their problems.

    1. It is ultimately more important to address the underlying issues of systemic racism, but right now we’re learning a new language that includes actively anti-racist terminology. As we come across these potentially problematic words and phrases, if there’s an innocuous and precise substitute (like primary bedroom), promoting its use is a simple way of showing that we’re listening to people with sensibilities other than our own. If it’s an empty gesture there’s nothing harmful in it, UNLESS it’s not followed up by real change.

      1. That’s just it, though – they aren’t talking about more meaningful change, or even encouraging an actual conversation about the language and why it might be problematic. They’re just dropping this one phrase and patting themselves on the back for it.

  2. Do HR organizations realize how transparent they are when they put diversity words on a web page and don’t change the way they do business? They’d do better to stay quiet than to publish a stance on diversity that they don’t really uphold.

    1. The common term is “virtual signaling,” and it’s a sure sign that nothing is going to change.

  3. The discontinuation of the term “master bedroom” can’t even be considered a “first step” toward anti-racism. The term refers to the bedroom kept by the master of the house. Given that “master” is a male owner, the term implies that the master of the house is a man. It goes back to the days when couples, although married, slept in separate bedrooms. Removal of the term does more for gender equality than racial equality. So as far as the realty industry goes, FAIL all around.

    1. THANKS for this! I thought my generation had gone a long way toward conquering gender inequality but, no, my daughter is still fighting this battle and the way it looks, my granddaughter will also be fighting it. WHY CAN’T WE GET THIS RIGHT???

      1. Apparently, Camellia, a lot of battles cannot be won once and for all, but remain continuing struggles. We thought — decades ago — that men’s right to wear their hair as long as they wanted had been won, but, even today, some schools still insist on ridiculous dress codes requiring short hair for men. African Americans have even more difficulty with natural hair styles, etc. We thought that women’s right to choose whether or not to procreate was already legally settled, but see that right being wrested away. We thought that voting rights were, finally, guaranteed for all, but now face massive voter suppression efforts. There are many other relevant issues and examples. All we can do is to continue to fight on, and to encourage our daughters, granddaughters and — in my case — great-granddaughters to carry on in our stead. Hopefully, Dr. King was right, and “[t]he moral arc of the Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

    2. Is that really the origin of the term “master bedroom”? I don’t think the usage goes back that far, nor — historically — have most families had a large enough home for spouses to have separate bedrooms anyway. “Master” is not always a gendered word. All of us can “master” something or be masters of our domains. The US Postal Service just had its first female Postmaster General, and no one considered that title inapt. I’m female, too, and, appropriately, occupy the master bedroom — and suite — in my home, as the head of my household. I’m also a feminist and — frankly — see nothing in the use of “master bedroom” as, somehow, connoting gender inequality. But, if — in fact — you are correct about the origin of the term, I’m perfectly willing to be further enlightened to the contrary.

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