Last week I was in San Antonio, Texas for the Evolutionary Business Council’s annual conference. My colleague and I led a short session called Real Talk: Race, Equity and Raising Social Consciousness. We also met with the organizational leadership to discuss these issues in the context of membership and representation.
While there is much I could write about the session and the learnings, what I want to share with you today is something different.
As I came down to the conference room for the Leadership meeting, my colleague – a Black man – was staring out the window. I assumed he was deep in thought. And, I suppose he was.
When I got closer, he showed me what he was looking at.
Here’s the photo I took.
If you’re not familiar with American History, Robert E. Lee was a Commander in the Confederate Army. When I looked him up online, here is what I found:
“Robert E. Lee was the most successful Confederate military leader during the American Civil War (1861–1865). This also made him, by virtue of the Confederacy’s defense of chattel slavery, the most successful defender of the enslavement of African Americans.”
Remember I was in San Antonio to talk about race, racism, equity to help an organization open their awareness about the ways we unconsciously exclude people – both in invitation to become members, and from really being part of the organization once they are.
And the backdrop to this conversation was the Robert E Lee hotel. “Now air-conditioned” – as if adding some cool air would make the energy of it better.
The irony wasn’t lost on my colleague and I that we were there to open the conversation about race and representation and inclusion, and not more than a couple of blocks away was the name of someone who was instrumental in the oppression of Black people.
We mentioned it in the Leadership session, and pointed it out. It was also visible from the windows of the room we were in. No one else had noticed.
I wonder what it means for residents to walk by that hotel every day. And what does it say to tourists? This is similar to the conversations we have seen about statues and names on schools and other buildings. We know that the experience will be different (in this case) for people based on the colour of their skin and/or how they understand/feel about racism.
Making the link to D&I work
It got me thinking of a few things:
- History is important. It lives in the land, in the DNA of the people in that area, and it impacts what we know, how we see and understand things – and when we don’t.
- Regardless of where we are today, we are impacted by history. And there are often reminders that keep us “in our place” and separate. For some this means fear, and for others this means entitlement.
- We have to take #1 and #2 into consideration when we work with people. Particularly when we do D&I work. History and its impact provide a context. And that context will and must inform how we work together.
The history Robert E. Lee reminds us about is a nation’s painful and oppressive history of people who are Black. But organizational history is equally important.
What are you doing to recognize the impact of history? And how does your knowledge of history impact your change process? I’d love to hear about it! Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(c) Annemarie Shrouder 2020
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