(7 minute read)
If you are following the news, social media, or break-room conversations, than you know that emotions are riding high over the racially-charged and violent events in #Charlottesville. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I am actually living in 2017. The hate, the division, the racism shows no signs of stopping, however, my message remains the same. We can change. Below are three more ways to become more unified and create a new era for the next generation. You can find the first three ways by clicking here.
4. Speak Up and Speak Out. I truly believe that one reason racism and division persist is because good people remain silent or selfish. We either don’t say anything out of fear or we don’t say anything because we don’t want to mess up our social or financial position. Therefore we become complicit in creating environments like #Charlottesville. Things normally don’t get better with time and silence. Things normally only improve when there is confrontation, a fall-out of some sort, and swift action takes place. Silence is always the friend of racism and division. Several years ago, I had a conversation with a department chair and they revealed to me that in the 20 years they had been affiliated with the program, no black females had ever returned to speak or encourage admitted students or given back as alumni of the institution. The department chair was white and I could tell they sincerely wanted to know what was going on that made black women feel so uncomfortable. I asked several questions and the chair answered honestly. The chair asked several questions and I answered honestly. There were several “a-ha” moments and there were some points of disagreement but the overall conversation was great. One thing stayed with me long after I left that meeting. I had asked the chair had they ever received any complaints or concerns from any of their students of color and the answer was no. This really puzzled me. If the experience in the program was so negative and unwelcoming that no black woman wanted to be affiliated with it any longer, why didn’t anyone complain? 20 years is a long time. A few months later I was sitting at lunch talking about the PhD process with several black females who were at different stages in their academic journey. They all basically gave me the same speech: “You will feel isolated. You must work twice as hard. Keep your head down, and just get through it. Your PhD awaits you on the other side.” It was good advice, and now that I am in the process of getting my own PhD, I understand exactly what they were telling me. Yet, something still nags me about that advice. It is the part about “keeping your head down.” How many people get this type of advice and rather than contribute to change within an organization, they unknowingly guarantee that things will stay the same? By keeping your head down, you will undoubtedly reach your financial, social, or academic goal, but what would it have cost you and what will it cost the people who come after you? Folks kept their heads down while their Jewish neighbors were removed from their homes and transported to concentration camps. Folks kept their heads down while four little black girls were bombed to death in a church basement on a Sunday morning. Keeping your head down may result in some good for you, but a whole lot of bad for someone else. Speak up for others. You never know when you will need someone to speak up for you.
5. Befriend Someone of the Opposite Race. Depending on your location or your age, making new friends can be challenging, but I encourage you to accept the challenge. I also encourage you to go beyond a social media or text messaging friendship although this is a good start. Embrace the discomfort and seek out someone with a different skin tone, belief system, or sexuality preference and befriend them. Is there someone on your job, at your church, at the gym, or at your favorite grocery store that you keep running into? Is it possible for you to introduce yourself, strike up a conversation and begin the process of getting to know them? Can you invite someone to lunch-someone who doesn’t fit in your group and makes you a bit uncomfortable? If you allow your assumptions to dictate who you will and won’t befriend, you will most likely miss some great opportunities, partnerships, and friendships. Yes, it is always more comfortable to be around people that talk, think, and act like you, but this is also exactly why we have so much division and racism in our country today. We refuse to move out of our safe boxes of agreement and engage with different viewpoints and life experiences.
6. Stop Segregating Your Kids. I know this one is a tough one. But if your child grows up around people that think, act, and look like them, how will they ever be able to relate to people that are different from them? Let me be completely transparent. My family and I live in a very culturally mixed apartment complex and the complex has its own daycare facility which has been really convenient for us. We don’t have to fight traffic or put the boys in a car to take them to daycare. We merely push them in the stroller on a short 5-minute walk. The daycare is the most diverse daycare facility I have ever seen. My oldest son’s best friend is an Arabic boy from Saudi Arabia. His mother, like me, is working on her PhD. His other best friend is a little girl from China who hugs him every day. The boys adore their teachers who all appear to be non-native English speakers, and their teachers seem to adore them, but in spite of all this, Richard and I were not satisfied with their multicultural experience. We wanted to find a daycare where they could be supported in their blackness and develop confidence in an all-black environment. That is something that we have been discussing even before the boys were born. We did not want them in a place where they felt isolated, ostracized, or invisible so although they were being exposed to various cultures, we preferred Blackness. We actually found a place that fit all of our requirements. The owner of the daycare is black. Almost all of the teachers are black. Most of the kids are black. It was a top-notch facility, with an awesome learning curriculum and extracurricular activities. We had found our pot of gold, but really we hadn’t. The more we talked, the more we realized that what we were attempting to do with our sons is what many people who are fleeing public schools are doing for their kids. They are leaving environments that don’t fit or line up with their personal ideas or goals. Now, hear me out. By no means, do I think cultural support is not important. I wish I would have had more teachers of color along my academic journey. In my four years of undergraduate studies, I had one professor of color. During my Master’s programs, I also only had one professor of color. That is a problem. I also think it is a problem that there are so few black males teaching in elementary and middle schools. My husband and I are doing all we can to surround the boys with images of themselves in the books we read to them, the shows they watch on television, and the home environment we are creating for them. Yet, we also have to start considering the consequences of our children growing up in silos. The world is vast. It’s global. It’s full of color and different languages. Will your child be prepared to live and thrive in that world or are they being groomed to live and thrive in little boxes where they can avoid conflict, competition, and change? Richard and I realized that what we do or don’t do in the home will have the largest impact on our sons. If our sons have to constantly be in all-black environments to learn properly and feel good about themselves, something is wrong. If the only exposure your children have with other racial groups is through television shows or the nightly news, what messages are being sent to them? The strength of our country has always been its diversity. The girl on the ranch in Montana, the boy on the metro in Chicago, the girl on the farm in Texas, the boy on the beach in California, and the girl on the ice in Minnesota all have one thing in common. They all represent the United States of America. If you lose sight of this, your children will too and we will have to live through another #Charlottesville 20 years from now.
None of the changes I have suggested are easy. As we speak, I am putting every single one of them into practice and the emotions I have experienced have been crazy. That is why I also made the cover photo for this blog a picture of my sons. When I look at them and consider the future I want them to have, I know that I have to keep pushing myself and challenging my own ideas. It makes no sense at all that we are still talking about race in 2017. Let us be the generation that changes that. I believe it can happen, one person at a time.