Last week I was part of many conversations about race and racism – in organizations, with the people in my life, in the community.
Race and racism are tricky to talk about. People feel cautious – even afraid – to say the wrong thing, or to be perceived as ignorant (or worse, as racist). The trouble is that this often means that we are not having these important conversations. Because we don’t know how. Remember the “practice makes perfect” your parents likely said to you when you were a kid? Perfection is a lofty goal, but it sure is true that the more you practice, the easier something can become.
The spectre of political correctness is still with us. And while it’s important to think about what we are saying and the impact it might have, it’s also important that we connect with people, ask questions and learn about each other. How else will we learn what their lives are like, what matters to them, what they need, and how we experience things differently – and therefore what needs to change? Because we can be in the same situation, organization, conversation, community, etc and be having a completely different experience because of race (or any other identity).
Take the recent shootings of two Black men in the USA by police officers for example. Firstly, these deaths were due to (at the very least) systemic racism. They were tragic, heartbreaking, and unnecessary. But if you are a person of colour, there was likely also grief and anger. I heard a lot of “no words” from Black people as we grappled with the reality that we are still not seen as equal, still not living the lives we should be on this continent, still not safe. Same incident, different experience.
When we open ourselves to see more about another person’s reality, it’s because we are beginning to recognize that we move through the world and experience the world differently. That things may be obvious for some and that others may be oblivious to those same details. This is an important first step. But what comes next?
We have to listen. Really listen to what is being shared.
And then we have to use that information and our privilege and commit to creating change by being allies (more on that later). We have talked about it long enough – we need action. Because action, not words, shows us you get it – and change doesn’t happen without it.
Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
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