What happens when people in positions of power don’t speak out against things that are wrong?
If you were listening to the news last week, we’ve had a recent example with President Trump condemning both sides for the recent violence in Charlottesville. If you missed it, you can check it out here.
Racist violence, and the hatred that fuels it, needs to have a light shone on it and condemned. Period. All violence based on hatred and bigotry needs to be condemned. This is important on many levels, but as leaders, it’s crucial.
When leaders speak out against hatred (in this case racism and White supremacy) and the resulting violence, it draws a line in the sand about what is acceptable and what is not – and why. It reminds everyone what the country or people stand for, and why. This is important, because not everyone is on the same page, sadly. It also reminds us that speaking up is important.
So it’s a necessary message and a modeling of behaviour that helps to keep us moving forward, valuing each other and upholding human rights. It can also help keep people safe (or safer).
Silence equals complicity. When we are silent, the message is that we agree and that what is happening is ok.
Not naming racism and white supremacy (or other forms of hatred and bigotry) is a form of silence and complicity. It doesn’t count to not say it. And condemning both sides is a form of silence. And a cop out.
And that’s not leadership.
I believe that President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the racism and white supremacy, and the hatred and violence that these groups bring and incite, is dangerous. Making those that rose/rise up against racism and white supremacy wrong for their defense of human rights (their own and those of others) is devastating.
The impact is multi-layered, in my opinion:
- It refuses to name racism as a problem – which is problematic, not to mention ignorant of history and present reality;
- In that refusal, it legitimizes the hatred and the actions that it incites; and
- It undermines those fighting for social justice
We need leaders to be leaders: to stand up against all forms of oppression; to remind us of the moral compass and the vision of community, inclusion and human value & dignity; to inspire us to also let our voices be heard and stand up/speak out against racism and other isms; to support those who are the targets of hate and ensure them that they belong.
Of course we all need to participate in making the world a kinder, gentler place for everyone. Shining a light on racism (and other isms) is part of that responsibility. And the job of a leader is to lead… to go first. To set the bar. And to show us how it’s done and why it’s important. In case we have forgotten, or need some courage to do the right thing.
PS: President Trump’s initial comments created a firestorm of backlash. He has since made a new statement. You can see it here.