And because we couldn't say it any better ourselves, an essay...
Chief People Officer / Chief Human Resources Officer
Silent No More - A Public Stand Against Racism
Published on June 3, 2020
Part 1: Confronting Reality and Taking Intentional Steps Toward Change
All of the injustice and hatred that continues to plague our world is destroying our humanity. What is happening in our neighborhoods, wider communities, cities, and the country as a whole is heartbreaking. Going within and reflecting on one’s own part in the perpetuation of racism is a good place to start when it comes to affecting much needed change. In personally doing so, it became painfully clear that quietly modeling the love that I want to see in the world is not enough. Remaining silent equates to being complicit. This means that as a privileged white person I am a part of the problem. Therefore, if I want change, then I must be a part of the solution to end racism. I must do my part to help build a unified world where all human beings are valued and where the color of one’s skin matters no more than the color of one’s eyes.
Waking Up to Reality. The other night I watched a dear friend and someone whom I greatly admire break down in tears on camera. This amazing woman is a well-respected top executive and leader within the community, the founder of a successful organization, a philanthropist who generously gives of her time by serving on the boards of multiple charitable organizations, an inspiring mentor, and a single mother who has raised three outstanding young men. And despite all of her significant accomplishments and contributions to society, she is forced to live in fear. This woman who is the epitome of grace, strength and human decency is faced with not only the exhausting injustices of being black in America, but the never-ending terrifying thought that harm might come to her sons. Really think about that for a moment.
When she so vulnerably shared what was weighing heavy in her heart, it was soul wrenching. Later, when I reflected upon what I had witnessed, I faced a harsh reality and an important learning moment. Up to that point, I had never considered that alongside my friend’s great success she was also carrying a heavy burden that no human should ever have to bear. By my not having previously considered that important fact or by naively assuming that injustice might somehow magically diminish the more one ascends the corporate ladder or rises above ones humble beginnings, then once again I was unwittingly playing a part in the culture of racism. While I have always believed that every person on this earth deserves peace, dignity, respect and equality without exception, I was blind to the fact that those basic premises of human life have never ever been truly afforded to black people. That awareness was incredibly sobering.
Connecting to Human Empathy. There are many white people who care yet may be clouded by feelings of overwhelm or powerlessness in relation to racism and just don’t know where to start when it comes to influencing lasting change. For us to move beyond naiveté and silence, we can begin by tapping into our innate quality of human empathy. One way of doing so is to vividly imagine the day-to-day reality of living in fear, experiencing ongoing systemic injustice, and being told by society that you are deemed as being less than for no other reason than the fact that you were born black. Really let that sink in on a heartfelt level. Next, give deep consideration regarding how you can be more empathetic and commit to changes that you can personally make now and moving forward.
With genuine empathy and a newfound personal commitment, remember this the next time you decide how much to tip or not tip your hardworking black food server. Think about this the next time you decide how much of a pay increase or bonus to award your dedicated black employee. Give consideration to this the next time you decide whether to extend a job offer to a qualified black person. Remember this the next time you decide whether to include a knowledgeable black leader as a part of your speakers panel. Think about this when deciding whether or not you will allow your children to play with the black kids in the neighborhood. Remember this the next time you decide whether you will stop and hold the door open for a black person walking in behind you. Give consideration whether or not you will make it a habit to smile and acknowledge a black person whose path you cross or whom you happen to share an elevator. Really and truly think about these and other important human interactions. Decide with intention whether you are committed to being a part of the solution to end racism. And especially remember that the way you choose to personally interact will directly impact the immediate moment and the collective experience of that black person’s life.
Seeking to Understand. Knowledge is illuminating. Making a concerted effort to learn more about racism will help to provide necessary context and shed light on the ugly reality of life that black people face. You can start by reading books like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo or watching documentaries such as 13th or When They See Us, both of which can be found on Netflix. To further deepen one’s knowledge and self-awareness regarding racism, you can participate in Diversity and Inclusion or Anti-Racism training courses that you can find by searching online. As you increase your own understanding about racism, you can then share with your community the information that you learn. If you are comfortable having a conversation with the intention of listening and learning, you might ask to speak privately with one of your black friends about the experiences they face in life. There are also various eye-opening articles or posts online like this or this or this which can offer additional insight into the true impact of racism against black people.
Becoming a Genuine Ally. To work toward becoming a genuine ally, the first step is to acknowledge that you will never truly understand as a white person what it is like to be black. No matter how many books you read or documentaries that you watch, no matter how many personal injustices in life you equate to being similar, you will never truly know what it is like to walk in the shoes of a black person. You can, however, use the knowledge and increased self-awareness that you acquire to better relate and affect positive change. You can stand united beside your black friends, co-workers, neighbors, and community members. You can tell and show them that you care. You can champion your black colleague who is accomplishing great things at work. You can frequent and promote black businesses that provide exceptional products and services. You can befriend your elderly black neighbor living alone and offer to run errands or otherwise help them out. You can invite your black peer whom you vibe with out for coffee or lunch and get to know them on a genuine human to human level. The greater the effort that you make to truly see, hear, acknowledge, and support others based on their character and shared humanity rather than the color of their skin, the greater the strides we will all make in eliminating racism in our society.
Speaking Up and Demanding Accountability. The reality of racism is ugly and real. Tragically, nothing that people are currently hearing about in the news or watching unfold is new. Not the indifference. Not the exclusion. Not the injustice. Not the subtle or blatant discrimination. Not the oppression. Not the abuse. Not the violence. Not the hatred. And not even the murders. The plight of black Americans is painfully real and what they face has been going on for hundreds of years. Our country is broken by the current global pandemic and the ongoing great divide amongst humanity living in a society that decides a person’s worth based solely upon their skin color. As white people, if we truly care, we must stop staying silent. The time is long overdue for us to publicly speak up and demand accountability and change. You can do so by making phone calls and writing letters to officials who have the power to hold racist perpetrators accountable. This includes your local mayor, district attorney, internal affairs division of your local law enforcement department, civil rights organizations, and your state governor. By remembering that silent voices are never heard, you can do your part by openly calling out and confronting hatred and injustice of any type that is directed at black people.
Supporting and Driving Change. No one should have to continue to turn the other cheek repeatedly and indefinitely. No child should come into this world and be shown time and again that they are considered less than. No person should be left to feel unseen, unheard or unworthy. No one should be beaten down physically, emotionally or psychologically. No human being should face this type of existence. Ever. The scourge of racism must stop. Black people have been crying out and pleading for help for far too long. It is up to white people to lead the dismantling of a broken and incredibly harmful system whose damage for the most part has been largely ignored. To help drive change, you can volunteer or donate to organizations in your local community that bring hope, possibility and/or justice to those who have been disadvantaged, discriminated against, harmed or murdered. These include not-for-profit organizations geared toward criminal reform and racial justice.
On a closer and more personal level, you can examine and openly confront the biases and white privilege behavior found in your own home, family, circle of friends, workplace, school, and place of worship. You can lead change that supports unity, true inclusion and equality. You can serve as a genuine ally to the black people in your world. You can speak up against racist behavior, demand accountability by offenders, facilitate necessary changes, and be the catalyst for related healing. You are an important and necessary part of the solution.
Bringing It All Together. What our black fellow Americans feel and fear is real. The same racist issues have been perpetuating sadly unchecked throughout our country for centuries. This is beyond shameful. It is time to actively listen with the intent of understanding. It is time to gain crystal clarity around why our black brothers and sisters are fearful, exhausted, outraged, and desperate for positive change in the world. It is time to acknowledge and validate the deep pain brought about by racism that black people feel. It is time as leaders, employers, community members, and fellow human beings that we confront the uncomfortable truths of racism. And it is definitely time that we as white people drive the necessary change that is required to build a better and more peaceful, safe and inclusive world for ALL of humanity.
Please Note: I do not hold myself out as an expert on racism nor do I have all of the answers. I’m still in the process of learning. The intention of this article is to prompt reflection and encourage positive change. Any political, divisive or otherwise negative comments will be deleted. Those who want to be a part of the solution in ending racism are welcome to comment, provide links to helpful resources, and/or share this article. Many thanks!
About the Author: Andrea Choate is a Chief People Officer and published author whose purpose is to create thriving workplaces and more fulfilling work experiences for all. In addition to leading the people function, she utilizes writing and coaching to advise top business leaders on people strategies that facilitate business growth and profitability, as well as the value of an inspired and highly engaged workplace.