Is America Ready?Racial Equity
My husband likes to tell me that I live in a bubble of butterflies and rainbows. He’s not wrong. I am an eternal optimist that likes to believe the best in people. However, that was impossible to do when the gut-wrenching video emerged of George Floyd’s life being taken away by four Minneapolis police officers who deemed his life worthless. My heart broke again when I saw the footage of Amy Cooper casually, yet with the right level of theatrics, display her privilege.
As a Black mother, wife to a Black man, child advocate, and a citizen of the world, this is harrowing. These two events, that occur less than 24 hours apart, expose just a glimpse of the racism that shows up in our society daily. It didn’t matter that Christian Cooper was a Harvard graduate and a board member of the New York City Audubon Society, or that George Floyd relocated to Minnesota to create a brighter future for himself and his family. They were both met with hate and fear.
We, as a nation, are at a critical inflection point and the future we leave our children, and generations after that will depend on the steps we take next. Our country, and the world, is changing. Since 2012, the majority of babies born in America have been of color, and today, the majority of children living in the United States are of color. In less than 25 years, the majority of the United States population will be of color and by 2032 the majority of the American working class will be people of color. We will transition to a plural nation of different ethnic and racial groups.
At the same time, the number one near-term terrorism threat likely to impact the United States within the next 5 years is the globalization of white supremacy.
For me, this is bigger than racist police practices and our flawed criminal justice system. It’s bigger than the upcoming elections and one’s political affiliation. It’s been over 400 years since the first slave stepped foot on Jamestown’s muddy shores – it’s time for America to finally have a meaningful and honest dialogue around how deep the roots of racism trace back in this country and the immeasurable pain and harm it has caused people of color. From the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands, the legacy of slavery followed by Jim Crow, the exploitation of Hispanic and immigrant populations, and now through systematic police brutality and mass incarceration of African Americans.
This moment has tested and reaffirmed my faith. Last week, I found myself listening to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct”, he delivered exactly two months before his death at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. I highly urge every American to dedicate 40 minutes of their time and listen to his words.
Dr. King says:
“…And if you don’t stop your reckless course, I’ll rise up and break the backbone of your power.” And that can happen to America. Every now and then I go back and read Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And when I come and look at America, I say to myself, the parallels are frightening. And we have perverted the drum major instinct.”
Perhaps Dr. King knew, when he delivered this sermon over fifty years ago, that we would need his words today. Perhaps he knew that America wasn’t ready to listen in 1968. Are we ready now? Will this be the moment we finally plant the seed that will take root?
The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.
While I would love to keep true to my innate sense of optimism, the truth is I don’t know if we are ready. Yes, the drumbeat for justice has been steady the last few weeks. There have been protests in almost 20 countries around the world and in nearly 600 cities and towns and across all 50 states. People of all ages, colors and religions are demanding change. But will the beat hold? Will we be having these conversations a year from today, with the same intensity? Is it possible for white people in America to process their anxiety and embrace the change that is on its way? Can we all recognize the full worth of how beautiful our country could be if we ground ourselves in unity and shift the way we think of what it is an “American” should look like?
The time for lip-service is over. Our children, and those that will come after them, need us to get this right.
Every person, corporation, nonprofit, philanthropic institution must authentically prioritize racism. Even if it means being uncomfortable or making others uncomfortable. White men in particular, especially those in power and in leadership roles, need to step up.
It’s going to take talking the talk like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos did by calling out racism directly and walking the walk like Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who resigned from the company’s board and urged them to replace his seat with a Black candidate.
The Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of the country’s leading companies, has the ability to drastically improve race relations in America. The remarks from Doug McMillion, Wal-Mart CEO and chairman of the Business Roundtable, while well intended, missed the mark for me. We are well beyond gathering information and listening, and if the BRT is going to tackle racism in America by approaching it like a “mathematical algorithm that we have to tweak the variables so the outputs are different,” I’m not sure how much progress they’ll make. Unless they plan to tweak every single variable. Because we know every system in America – ranging from the law to policy to policing – was designed to keep people of color at a disadvantage. Remarks from other BRT members including Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson and Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky were thoughtful and comprehensive.
Any nonprofit or funder working to advance issues around the environment, health, food access, and nutrition, education, economic mobility, poverty, affordable housing, transportation, or government and isn’t prioritizing racism and equity will fail. In addition to shifting strategy, program, and funding – the entire sector should examine and evaluate how more people of color can be represented in leadership roles and on their boards.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”James Baldwin
The reality is, most people carry implicit bias that consciously and unconsciously affects their understanding and decisions. It’s something, especially parents, educators, and anyone else that has a vested interest in our children and their future, need to talk about. Our children are paying attention and it’s no longer an option to ignore or sugarcoat or glorify racism. The stakes are simply too high. We can’t leave our children a country where the 6th leading cause of death for young Black men is police force, where Black women earn 62 cents for every dollar a white man makes for doing the same job, and where school districts serving primarily white children receive $23 billion more in funding than those serving primarily Black children.
The other day, my almost 4-year old daughter asked me why people were marching in the streets and we kept our response simple. Because they believe everyone deserves equal justice.
That’s the goal.