Recently we have been overwhelmed by global events on a scale of change that leaves us breathless – Me Too, climate change, BLM, Covid-19, systemic racism, police brutality. It’s all too much, I’ve had enough of challenging my thinking, my head hurts. But I don’t really want the old days back, and I think it is too late for the status quo.
“What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw — that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change. A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather
the most important year of them all.”
I have been watching, listening and learning. I know that I have not done enough yet, but I have so much to learn. This article, this piece of work, is not my own. It is drawn from the many things I have heard and read and thought about over the last weeks, months and years. It is a collection of pieces that have resonated with me and may touch you the same way. If not, no harm intended – you will find your own inspiration to guide your path. This is not a quick and easy read but, if you are ready to spend a little of your time (30 minutes, maybe) and follow me through this thought process, please click on this link to listen to Verna Myers speak about Implicit Bias.
I think about moving towards my bias, and the times my fear has been put to rest. It has usually been through familiarity, and I recognize that, contrary to that thought, a lack of familiarity leads me to feel awkward, uncomfortable and, if allowed to continue, scared.
In conversation with others, white privilege has come up. White Privilege does not mean your life has not been hard, it just means the colour of your skin has not been one of the things that makes it harder. White Male Privilege does not mean your life has not been hard, it just means that the colour of your skin and your gender have not been two of the things that made it harder. Being white, being male, does not make you a bad person, but it does mean that you may have had advantages in life that are not afforded to others. It means that you are likely to have access to power others may struggle to achieve, and you have an opportunity to use your power for good. Concentrating on whether you are privileged or not, whether you are actually white or not, takes the focus away from the real issue – there are others who are actively disadvantaged because of the colour of their skin, their heritage, their gender and many other issues.
What about law enforcement and local government? The word “police” comes from the Greek word “polis” or “city”. A police officer is an officer of the City. The word “politician” comes from the word “politics” which is derived from the Greek word “politiká” or “affairs of the cities”. Both police officers and politicians represent the population of their city, their community, so should they not also reflect the demographic of their city? “When we look at awesome folks, who are black, it helps to dissociate the association that happens automatically in our brain.” (Verna Myers)
If we live in a diverse community, representation can be achieved when our politicians and law enforcement reflect the demographic of that community. If we do not live in a diverse community, perhaps it is time to ask why.
In 2012 Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, was asked when will there be enough women on the United States supreme court. She said “When there are nine.” There are nine seats in total, so her response shocked many but, as she went on to explain, there have been nine men filling all the seats since the Judiciary Act of 1869 established the current structure, and nobody has ever raised a question about that. So, if nine men have held the seats for 150 years, then nine women can hold them for the next 150 years and we’ll be back to a position of parity. This article is a good read on the subject of bias in the workplace, notably in the legal field: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/nov/30/justice-ginsburg-all-female-supreme-court
Could this logic work elsewhere? Can you visualize positions of respect and power being held by individuals who are not white, not male? I can. We have seen flashes of it in our time. I am just not interested in hearing the views of a white male, unless he is getting his facts and advice from a diverse and qualified team, and his succession plan does not include another white male. I know that’s extreme, but I want to see awesome folks, who are not just black but every under-represented demographic, hold positions where they can influence society for the better. We need to set the bar high and strive hard to reach it.
What if there is no-one qualified except the next white male? We should be asking why. When there are two identical applications, when both candidates are equally qualified, is the non-white sounding name still putting me off? Is my implicit bias at work? To be anti-racist, we have to recognize that our schooling, our training and our recruiting may be creating biases that we, as the white people who designed that curriculum, that process, that policy, cannot see; we can take positive steps to create the opportunities that lead to representation of our diverse community by our diverse community but, catch-22, we need the diverse representation to tell us how to take the positive steps to create the opportunities.
Those major events and wake up calls which have inspired, educated, awoken and terrified us have created division. Each event has offered an opportunity for two or more opposing sides to clash. Climate change deniers versus the environmental activists. Police versus demonstrators. Mask-wearers versus Covid deniers. But each event also offers an opportunity to learn with a listening and open heart. We have the opportunity to say “I have not walked in your shoes and cannot fully understand what you are going through but our differing views should not divide us. I am willing to listen and learn and consider your views in an effort to create understanding, if you will do the same for me.”
I have been reading, listening and learning. I hold a position of privilege. What can I do? I have some ideas:
- First, I shall try to do no harm.
- Second, I shall quietly observe my own bias.
- Third, I shall acknowledge that others have differing views.
- Fourth, I shall find a way to do good.
- Fifth, I shall support the law makers when they are doing good, and hold them accountable when they do not.
We all have some form of power: spending power; support power; voting power; professional power; influencer power; and power over our own perceptions and judgements. From that power we can set our own goals.
I intend to use my support power to promote arts where representation is equal.
I will use my voting power to push forward decision makers who represent the ethnic and gender balance of my own unique community.
I will use my spending power to support businesses that represent diversity.
I will use my professional power to recruit, mentor and employ a diverse team.
I will use my power over my own perceptions to challenge my implicit bias daily.
“While this movement may be started by black people and carried on the backs of black people, it’s going to cross the finish line on the backs of white people. And it’s important that we educate them, that we challenge them to get involved, to learn what’s going on. Because the only way we really see it getting all the way through to fruition is going to be if we get white people to bring this to a majority rule.”
Don’t be overwhelmed. Don’t feel alone. Whatever steps you can take towards better understanding, no matter how small, are valuable.
“Going forward we will educate ourselves about new cultures, open our minds to experiences other than our own, and Lead With A Listening and Open Heart”