In my first Huffington Post blog, "White People: If You're Not Part of the Solution, You're Part of the Problem," I asked white people to hold ourselves accountable for our racism and actively engage in dismantling it. In this post, I describe how to get started by developing an accountability mindset, assessing your current biases and racial inclusiveness, and setting some goals.
White people of conscience, we hold the key to healing our country of racism. As I discussed in my prior post, white people originated racism in America, and the power to stop it resides in our hands. We can unlearn this behavior, work with people of color to dismantle institutionalized racism, and influence others until the culture shifts.
Fearlessness, accountability and actions are the way to move forward to better race relations in our country.
Many people of color are reeling from a series of events that they interpret as evidence that American society finds them of no value. They are exhausted of pointing out the abundant evidence of institutionalized racism that is all around us, tired of calling for a national dialogue on race that has gone unanswered, and exasperated of white people's inability to empathize and recognize that change is needed.
They are understandably wary of white people, and our motivations. We are going to need to make the first move. And when we do, we need an approach that will not further alienate, but will begin to build trust.
An accountability mindset about race lays the foundation for building trust. Accountability is different from guilt or shame. Accountability means, "I recognize that you are my equal, a fellow human being. Although you and I are exactly alike except for a characteristic that makes up a teeny tiny fraction of our DNA, that characteristic has historically disfavored you and favored me and led to us having a power and privilege differential. I am here because I authentically want to get to know you and bridge the gulf between us, not out of guilt, pity, or charity, nor because I want to "save" you, but out of RESPECT. I am committed to learning from you and to healing our society of racism, and want to do what I can to contribute, starting with this relationship, right here and now."
The next step to accountability is to conduct an accounting. Assess your city/region, and how it compares to the networks and institutions to which you belong. People of color make up:
_ % of the population of my city/region
_ % of my social network
_ % of the workforce at my employer
_% of the students at my children's school
_ % of the members of my house of worship
Then assess yourself. You can take an implicit bias test
Ask yourself some questions about your level of racial inclusiveness:
When is the last time:
I invited a person of color into my home?
I visited a person of color in his/her home?
I shared a meal or a cup of coffee with a person of color?
I heard a person of color express an idea, and my first reaction was "Wow, that is a really great idea and I could learn a lot from that person"?
A person of color hired me?
I hired a person of color?
I kissed a person of color or thought about kissing a person of color?
I attended a social event where the majority of attendees were people of color?
Do I serve as a mentor to a person of color? / Do I have a mentor who is a person of color?
Next, establish some goals and hold yourself accountable to achieving them. "By the end of the year, I want to X,Y,Z." The goals don't have to be huge, as the wonderful James Altucher says, "I only hope to get a little better each day. 1% better a day compounds into 3800% better every year."
Of course, an accountability mindset will not end racism by itself, but it will create the foundation for the work ahead. In my future posts, I will describe how to build relationships based on trust with people of color, who can teach us what it is like to live life as people of color in our country. With trust established, we can work together to dismantle institutional racism and influence others.
You may ask yourself, who is this lady who thinks she has the answers to this stuff?
To be honest, where I grew up, the answer to almost all of the assessment questions was "close to zero" and "never." Out of over 1,000 students in my high school, there were only three Black students.
My experience is common among my white friends. After all, we live in a very segregated society, and many white people don't encounter people of color very often. Some white people live in regions where there are very few people of color. Others live in diverse places where there is still a great deal of geographic, economic, and cultural segregation, so much so that addressing segregation has become a federal policy priority.
My journey has taken me to Washington D.C., Austin, New York and San Francisco, and I have made a career of outreach to people of color as a community organizer, public servant, attorney, non-profit executive, and consultant.
In my work, countless people of color have shared with me how they view life, including the way racism has affected them. These teachers have brought me to the point where I am now. I realize that given the impasse we are in in race relations on our country, the next step in my journey is to reach out to white people and help them to become more empathetic and compassionate with people of color.
I humbly offer my suggestions now because I see many white people grappling with what to do next. We know we need to do a lot of work, we don't know how to get started. These suggestions are solely based on what has worked for me, and I welcome you to offer suggestions based on what has worked for you. I look forward to your thoughtful responses.