At a Black Lives Matter rally I attended I saw it was mostly white people. Its times like this that I continue to have hope that change is gonna come. I am seeing CEO’s speaking out in support of the movement, they are “leaning in” as Sheryl Sandberg would say (not that I think Facebook is doing enough to be a real news source). I have also noted that many that attend these events talk openly about their own white privilege. As for me, this is an ongoing discussion, as I have attended a couple of diversity classes in the last 20 years, I don’t think I heard as many white people acknowledge their privilege so easily.
We are seeing CEO’s admitting that systemic racism exists and pledging to take concrete action to improve their hiring, promotion, and inclusion practices, even donating money. But we still have many elected officials that are sitting on the sidelines locally.
These moments give me hope, but I am a pragmatist. Its not that I look at the glass as half empty, its just I believe we can do better. Racism in the US didn’t start with George Floyds murder or that of Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. It has been going on for over 400 years. This is a big problem, not a normal business type issue that you can fix because you have control. Its something you can’t physically see and certainly you can’t see inside someones heart and mind. But we can make change if enough of us move forward together, as I think back to the issue of same sex marriage and how quickly that change came when people got on the same page together.
There are some ways white leaders can make themselves allies who actually make a difference in the fight to end racism in their organizations and communities. Blacks have been doing the heavy lifting every day of their lives dealing with a racist system that has disproportionately benefited whites. It’s way overdue time to do our part. Below are some ideas for all of us, whether you are in a leadership or not.
Let’s be honest: many white people don’t understand how long racism has been around or how pervasive it continues to be. Many are, only now, hearing for the first time from blacks close to them how different their experiences are in shopping and the advice they give to their teenage kids about going out with friends. These stories are not new! So, time to catch up. Consider reading books by W.E.B. Du Bois, Michelle Alexander, James Baldwin, Robin DiAngelo, and others to learn about the African American experience and the white response to it, both past and present.
But understanding racism isn’t enough, nor is just marching and protesting. White people need to understand their own privilege and the power it has to bring about positive change. White leaders have decision-making power that blacks most often do not have impacting healthcare, education, hiring, special assignments, promotions, and so much more.
White people are members of a cultural group operating in society just like any other. Owning your cultural identity first means understanding how your culture got shaped. If you don’t, you are assuming that yours is the default culture. But if you approach this process as you were learning about another culture, there are many insights to be had as to how your culture is as subjective to interpretation as other cultures are to you. Secondly, this will help you understand how your culture is interpreted by others in ways that may surprise you. Without this understanding, white people will have a difficult time constructively calling out their own differences or engaging others in theirs.