By Kumea Shorter-Gooden, PhD (Former Chief Diversity Officer, University of Maryland)
I’m hoping we’ve reached an inflection point. I’m hoping the tragedy at Charlottesville has created that – that such a bright light has been shined on White supremacy and racism that it compels us as a nation and as a world to take this problem seriously and to act in a transformative way.
The White supremacist rally which led to the death of one counter-protestor may seem worlds away from the lives we lead in schools, non-profits, government agencies and corporations. Charlottesville represents the most extreme, virulent and lethal form of racism—a form that is repudiated by most everyone. But racism occurs along a continuum. And the far other end is anchored by everyday acts of bias and prejudice. These everyday acts are often not intentional, not deliberate, not directly aimed at advantaging one race and disadvantaging another. They often reflect implicit rather than explicit prejudice and bias. The perpetrators of everyday bias are usually well-meaning people who see themselves as decent, fair and egalitarian, and surely not as racist. People like you and like me.
Everyday bias takes the form of racial micro-aggressions (for example, “He’s really smart for a Black guy”) and manifests in decision-making that can have far-reaching consequences (for example, “I can’t see a Latina woman from her background fitting in here”).
Racism does not persist because of extremists. They add fire and fuel, definitely. But racism persists because of the behaviors of everyday folks who have grown up in a world that’s rife with White supremacist beliefs. And racism persists because it’s been baked into most societal institutions and organizations – into how we admit, hire, evaluate, reward and promote; into the culture of the organization; into how we do business.
Thus, to end racism, each of us needs to do some work, starting with asking ourselves some questions: How do I collude with racism? Have I looked at my own biases and the ways that they manifest at home, in my community and at work? How am I actively addressing my biases? How does my company collude, perhaps unintentionally, with racism? Are there racial disparities in the workforce or in the experiences of employees of different racial groups? How are we actively addressing them?
Beyond these important questions, we need to do three things: First, we need to acknowledge that racism is real and alive – and not just on the streets of Charlottesville. Second, we need to find ways to confront our own racial biases—through looking inside; through listening and hearing from those who’ve been racially marginalized; through honest dialogue; and through learning about issues of race and racial oppression. Third, we need to engage our schools, companies and organizations in assessing their racial diversity and inclusivity—in acknowledging what’s working and in facing what’s not; in realizing that fighting racism is a systemic and ongoing challenge, even in the best institutions.
Let’s not let Charlottesville be for naught. We all have work to do!
Kumea Shorter-Gooden, PhD, a clinical/community psychologist and the principal of Shorter-Gooden Consulting, was the first Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Maryland, College Park. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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