This is a repost of what I wrote for SMARTMD in June 2020.
What we’ve seen, we’ve been seeing for centuries. With technology evolving over the past decade, we’ve seen it with devastating clarity, but the story is the same.
A person is killed because of the color of their skin. They are targeted because they are black. They are treated harshly because they are black. And, ultimately, they are killed because they are black.
We say “Black Lives Matter”, and we think “of course Black Lives Matter.” But, it’s not that simple.
The foundation of our county was laid and nurtured for centuries at a time when Black Lives were not a consideration aside from their value as chattel. If this makes you uncomfortable, good. It should. It’s your humanity showing.
The issues of race in our country are deep and difficult. With many not even being aware, we have operated within a racist system. One where individuals of good conscience unwittingly perpetuate racist constructs. Think about things like standardized testing, financial redlining, policing techniques, or school financing to name a few. These things can’t be changed overnight. But, they must be changed.
The question many ask: “What can I do?”
The first thing we need to do is get comfortable being uncomfortable. The conversations we need to have are not easy. The realities we need to face can be gut-wrenching. For decades, people have avoided dealing with the issue of race because it is difficult. But, if we care as much as we profess, then the clarity of the story brought to our conscience by modern technology means we can no longer justify our inaction with falsely comforting thoughts like “it’s not that bad,” “it doesn’t happen that often,” or whatever other narratives we’ve clung to. It is that bad. It does happen often. It does happen in my town.
The next step, keep (or start) talking. Getting to know people and their experiences is an important step. Empathy is a powerful motivator. But, you have to be exposed to the realities of others. Conversations are the gateway to understanding and empathy.
By engaging people regularly, each conversation becomes less difficult. Not because the topics get easier, or we become numb. It gets easier because we get to know people better, more deeply, and our motivation, our empathy gets stronger.
These hard conversations, the ones that make you uncomfortable, also make you stronger. They make your connections stronger. They give you the strength and motivation to do what’s next.
When you see something, say something. Inertia is tricky. Little things can lead to big things and this goes in both directions.
Letting things go, whether off-handed comments or plainly racist comments, gives tacit permission to the speaker to continue to speak (and think) in racist terms. It gives others who hear permission as well. It gives other listeners (and yourself) permission to accept the unacceptable.
Addressing things as they happen drives the wave in the other direction. Perhaps the speaker will check not only their words but their thoughts going forward. For those who hear and say nothing out of discomfort or fear, they will see that they are not alone. They will see that we can challenge the thoughtless or outright racist comments.
In numbers, there is comfort and courage. But, someone has to initiate the wave.
This often trips people up. We get tied up because we don’t think there is much we can do. We think the problem is so big, no actions we take will affect anything.
The problem is big. It is ingrained. It is going to require us to overcome inertia to make things happen. So, don’t start trying to move the whole mountain. Use what you have, and start there.
We all have the power of the vote. Use it. Be aware of candidates’ positions on policies and institutions and vote for those who align with your beliefs. Policymakers have to be on notice that racial injustice is not an issue that you will let get brushed under the rug.
Once you’ve voted, follow policies locally, state-wide, and nationally. Write letters, send emails, and make calls to encourage representatives to follow up on promises made. Don’t stop with the vote. Hold them to task.
There is no single answer to the workplace.
Some organizations do really well in promoting diversity. If you are fortunate to be employed in such a place, be vocal about it. Share your experience to encourage other companies to follow suit. Spreading the word about your company will show support for the policies and be an example for others.
If your company is lacking, bring up the topic. It doesn’t have to be contentious. Racial diversity, opportunity, and proactive policies are good for companies. Broach the topic with management or human resources. Have specific items that can be addressed, and be prepared to participate in creating the solutions. Don’t just complain, help with positive actions.
There are organizations in almost every community that you can join to help publicly promote policies, address social issues, or help disadvantaged groups. The extent of your activity will be based on the organization’s mission and your role. Look for those whose focus aligns with your passion.
Want more ideas? Here are some real-world examples from around the country…
From every level, people are taking action. From pointing out issues to creating programs to directing investments, we are seeing actions all around. These aren’t all monumental steps. But, they are all important steps.
- Point out areas that need to be addressed
Medical Students Highlight lack of diversity and mistreatment.
LaShyra Nolen, a first-year student at Harvard Medical School, works to bring mistreatment to the forefront of the administration’s priorities.
White Coats for Black Lives.
In Indianapolis, and elsewhere, White Coats for Black Lives, brings the message to the street. Working against police brutality, and the healthcare disparity to which minority communities are subjected.
2. Create programs for the disadvantaged
Leading the way to bring healthcare, and health education to Houston’s poor communities, Ashley Howard works to end the health outcome disparities in minority communities.
Standardized testing has a bias against poor & minority communities, making entry into the healthcare profession difficult. Monash University has developed a program to address this by relying more on interviews and personal traits to determine entrance to the program.
3. Directing investments & marketing
We see some civic and company leaders taking a stand. Some are driven by their conscience. Others, by the market (why #1, pointing out issues, is so important). Here are some examples of money talking and leaders directing.
Major companies that have long supported racist brands are finally coming to terms with overdue change. And so is the public that has long accepted them. Though too long in the making, the tide is turning and companies not willing to face the uncomfortable truth will find themselves on the wrong side of history.
Access to capital is a challenge for any business. But, Black-owned businesses have an exceptionally hard time getting loans, and the loans are at a higher interest rate than their white male-owned business counterparts. Civic leaders and local business communities are taking steps to rectify this issue.
4. Being a thought leader/voice
There are people who have only their voices, but they are powerful voices. You don’t have to be a celebrity or national figure. Local voices initiate change that can become national. Little things lead to big things.
Dan Dunlop speaks up on the health outcomes disparity that is based on race and calls on us to change. His white paper is an example of the growing chorus calling for change.
Marcus Whitney, a Nashville based healthcare entrepreneur, calls on other healthcare leaders to lift up Blacks among the ranks of senior executives and investors. As a leading Black investor, his voice is sought out and heard.
Racism has lived long in our country. It has done so because too many people have been too afraid to speak out, to have conversations, and to speak their hearts. We can be better than we are. We can be what our hearts and souls know we should be.
Perhaps the past month has been eye-opening in some way. We have seen more courage from quarters that would have been silent just a decade ago. We have seen a force that challenges the inertia of systemic racism in new, and profound ways.
Our streets are filled with people of color and white people in the same group, not on opposing sides. Though not enough, we did see areas where law enforcement put down the shields and weapons and joined demonstrators in the streets. We are seeing companies take a stand with the people. We are having large, public conversations, and small intimate conversations about race and our responsibilities in correcting the wrongs.
The tide of racism is still on the move. But, many have joined the opposing movement. Though small at the moment, we have glimpsed it’s power to make change. We have seen that we can stand against the racism ingrained in our systems, and even instilled in our own thoughts.
As we continue the conversations, the small steps, and perhaps even some big steps, we will see the number of people joining the movement against racism grow. It will lend courage for others to follow. Solutions will not come swiftly, but they will come.