It’s been just over two months since the police killing of George Floyd, and it’s no understatement to say the world has changed. The public discourse on race in the U.S. is front and center and, I believe, it will be for quite some time.
During these last nine weeks, I’ve at times felt completely exhausted or completely exhilarated, sometimes both at once. The deep and honest conversations that I’ve had with so many colleagues and friends of both similar and very different backgrounds; the complex people and stories covered in the news; the radical, game-changing proposals I’ve heard pondered by intellectuals (such as this conversation on the On Being podcast) it’s real, heavy stuff. It’s all evoked this strange dual reaction in me: overwhelmed with how much needs to be done on one hand; energized to roll up my sleeves and get things done on the other. But as my brilliant mother always says “Just don’t be overwhelmed.” (Once she told me that years ago, I realized being overwhelmed is a choice. Choosing not to has been a game changer for me.) So I’m finding ways to jump in and work.
One of these is at my job. I’m at a great company, and we have a large percentage of long-tenured staff. A huge upside to this is that people truly regard each other as family, even though we are from a number of different background (racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, etc.). That said, I’m sure there are some people that are just fine with status quo while others are eager for improvement. My boss established a new diversity, equity and inclusion working group, which I am chairing. The group was established, in part, to continue the dialogue that started among staff after George Floyd’s killing and to advise and provide feedback to our executive director on related issues among other things. It’s a great, multicultural group and I think we will contribute to important advancements in the company.
The first two questions I asked the group to consider were:
- What does a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace look like?
- What does a diverse, equitable and inclusive world look like?
You know you’ve asked a thought-provoking question when you don’t even have your own answer to it! Even imagining an equitable world is hard because of the SHEER VOLUME of structural and societal change it would take for Black people to be equal. And that’s not counting what it would take to achieve equity for women, Native Americans, all other people of color, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups. But even though it seems a Herculean task, it all starts with each of us taking a step in the right direction…and then another one and another one. (“Just don’t be overwhelmed.” Remember?)
So how would I answer my own question of my vision of a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive world? As a Black woman and a mother of two Black sons, I will always hope, pray for and believe in a better future for my boys. As a start, I envision a world where their differences are celebrated, not feared or met with skepticism; where their friendships are true and deep and with people they are drawn to, no matter what those people look like; where they know, identify with and have pride in their African and African American roots; where that ancestry is included, studied and properly lauded in history books that accurately reflect the contributions of enslaved people and their descendants. And this is the bare minimum…I expect much better than this because I know we can do so much better. But how far we will go is yet to be seen. Getting there will include the difficult, long-haul, grimy work of pushing, changing and communicating, especially in the awkward, uncomfortable times when you’d rather be doing anything else.
Our DEI working group may not change the world. But it’s bringing in more diverse voices to contribute to organization-wide decision making and can make our workplace more open and transparent, both of which are good for all employees. I also think it’s important to work toward significant change in the places you have the most access and influence. That could be a larger stage if you have it, but for many of us, our jobs, churches, schools, communities and, most importantly, our homes are where we can make change in the hearts and minds of those we know and are connected to. Let’s face it: none of this will be changed by a piece of legislation – to move the needle we’re all going to have to do meaningful work in the place where we stand.
Equality in policing, healthy communities, thriving schools – we all want and deserve these things. And no one community has to “lose” so other communities can be safe – we can all win. It’s all possible! But it will take communication, creativity, dedication, hard work, innovation and cooperation – from all of us who see that the best way forward is together – to be the change we want to see.