The senseless killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd have shaken my core in ways I’ve not experienced in a long time. And yet, my anger, grief, frustration, and sadness will never be close to what black people must experience every day.
For what it’s worth it, I thought I would share my thoughts with my network. But be aware, you may or may not like what you read, and as leaders, there is homework for you too.
- It is unbelievable that in the 21st century we have to say that Black Lives Matter. And for those that may be thinking “All Lives Matter”, that is evident but it is not the point. The sad reality is that black people have been systematically abused, enslaved, beaten, jailed, killed, and denied opportunities. This is not a history lesson. It is happening today. Just consider the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on the black community in the recent months.
- We need to speak up and hold ourselves accountable. It is not okay to look the other way, or “stay professional” and pretend nothing is happening. It is also not acceptable to “disagree in confidence”. Taking a passive stance does nothing to prevent racism and inequality. People are dying and suffering. This is a great time to show backbone.
- It is not appropriate for those in power to threaten protesters with “vicious dogs” or praise the use of “overwhelming force”. That only exacerbates the problem. It is also not productive to engage in partisanship, or meaningless attacks on each other because we are different, or because we have different points of view. This is a deeply rooted and complex problem, and the only way to solve it is with collaboration. We need to come together, de-escalate, reconcile differences, understand each other, and take care of each other. Some immediate steps you can take include seeking diverse points of view that disprove your opinions, studying history (preferably from different points of view), expanding your sources of news and information, fact checking what you hear, and considering ideas before accepting or rejecting them.
- If we want positive change, we all need to contribute. This is not something we can outsource to politicians, the police, other institutions, or management. Voting goes without saying, but beyond that, we have plenty of opportunities to do our part. When was the last time that you challenged your assumptions around credentials needed for a certain role? Have you recently taken a risk and gave someone an opportunity? What is your strategy to attract, hire and develop people of color and under-represented minorities? Do you take the time to listen to your employees and genuinely try to accommodate their needs to help them be successful? Are you actively engaged in inclusion and diversity initiatives in your company? What are you doing to support education and help young people succeed? How do you make sure all voices are heard?
- Let’s try to stay away from making broad statements and from labelling entire categories of people. The reality is that there are good and bad cops, there are peaceful protesters as well as some bad actors that have taken advantage of the situation, there are good and bad republicans and democrats, etc. Understanding our own biases can be very helpful to have greater awareness of how and why we react to different stimuli in certain ways. A great place to start is project implicit. I challenge the readers of this article to take the Race Implicit Association Test. If you want to dive a little deeper on cognitive biases, I recommend reading “Thinking Fast and Slow”.
At the end of the day, it boils down to whether or not we truly believe that all humans are created equal and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe that is the case. I also believe that this is not a zero-sum game, and that - together - we can find solutions that work for all.
It will take courage to look in the mirror and accept our mistakes, it will take a lot of work to get where we need to be, and we will probably make mistakes along the way. But we can do this, and it is imperative that we start now.