Judging people solely on appearance, as opposed to who they are (content of their character), is the perpetual insult festering at the core of racism.
Racism is the knee on the neck of social justice. People of color are being subjected to what I call “horizontal lynching,” in broad daylight and full public view. The only difference between the “strange fruit” of traditional lynching and lynching in the new millennium is that now the victims are laying in the street (or in their own beds) instead of swinging from the trees.
Failure to understand the plight of people of color in the United States is bad enough. What’s worse is not caring to understand. America was never “great” for people of color. Not even for the Native Americans whose land was raped and pillaged in the interest of “manifest destiny.” That concept was a construct that existed only in the minds of the oppressors. It was how they justified their actions. Their “destiny” meant death and destruction for anyone who got in their way. That air of privilege systemically prevails.
the fear factor
Fear is real. It grips you to the core. It is powerful—unrelenting. When it finally lets go, it leaves scars; scars nobody sees. Long after the threat has lifted, long after normalcy returns, fear prevails. For people of color, that fear is triggered when we leave our homes, as we walk or drive down the street, and whenever we are approached by law enforcement. It’s a matter of life and death.
Fear can be re-triggered in mere seconds. In that moment, every bit of your being is shaken to the soulish bone. It’s fight or flight, neither of which results in a good outcome for people of color. Even totally respectful responses have resulted in a death sentence without benefit of due process.
Prejudice is defined as: “a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.”1 In the moment, the preconception feels as real as rain and it rules without our being aware of it. So, here’s the rub: Out of that emotional state everything we see, everything we perceive, and all conclusions we draw out of those perceptions, do not align with reality. Nor do they align with the truth about the individual against whom we are prejudiced. It is tantamount to prolonged fight-or-flight gone rogue.
THE PERPETUAL INSULT
Judging people solely on appearance, as opposed to who they are (content of their character), is the perpetual insult festering at the core of racism. What ticks people off is the failure of others to view them as who they are as individuals as opposed to who others think they are based on erroneously preconceived notions.
People also do not don’t want to hear altruistic statements such as, “I don’t even see you as black.” or “Your skin color doesn’t matter to me.” These statements set up exclusions in the interest of what is viewed as a negative to be overlooked in the interest of acceptance. It denies a part of who we are. Nobody should have to exclude my color in order to accept me. I am African American. I have dark skin. I don’t get to deny that truth, and neither do you.
STOP TALKING . . . PLEASE!
This is but one girl’s opinion, but I am up to my ears with commentary, conflicting expert opinion, town halls, and presidential declarations regarding racism. I can’t take another racism-related:
- Work Group
- Sensitivity Sessions
- Rules, Policies, Regulations
- Corporate Values Statements
Where are the results of all that? Can we all just STOP TALKING and GET RESULTS? My middle name is “Get Results” and screaming at one another is not yielding any. This is my view of what it will take to facilitate meaningful conversations between opposing parties.
Let’s start by accepting these truths:
- You can write laws and rules all day long. Until they are heeded without compromise, it is all for naught.
- Training someone in what to do, and ensuring that they DO it, are two different things.
- You cannot legislate the heart of a man or woman.
- Information absent transformation is DOA.
Having a Productive Conversation
There is a big difference between talking and actually communicating. We’ve been talking at one another without benefit of establishing an understanding. These elements will facilitate meaningfully moving the conversation forward:
- Affirm: Affirming one another means that we each acknowledge one another’s perspectives. Affirming does not mean you agree with each other. It just means you honor and respect one another enough to set aside your views so they don’t interfere with hearing the other side. Admittedly, this is tough to do. It takes a determined effort. Sometimes, a skilled facilitator can help in this regard. But nobody will listen to anybody unless and until they, themselves, feel heard. So, somebody has to be the adult in the room who can shut up, suck it up, and listen up long enough to get the communication ball rolling.
- Listening versus Hearing: Put aside everything you have learned about the art of listening and hear me. The operative word is “hear.” You can’t listen to anyone or anything without first hearing. Hearing takes heart. Hearing is not strictly auditory. It requires our decision to honor and respect others whose perspectives don’t align with ours. Do not allow emotion to interfere with hearing the other side. Opinions differ because, we don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are. Leverage that diversity in the interest of understanding.
- Blame: Nobody ever wins the blame game. On all conceivable levels blaming is counterproductive. We blame each other repeatedly and incessantly because we want the blamed to agree and acknowledge their wrong. History speaks for itself. that’s not going change based on anybody’s refusal to acknowledge or own it. Blaming keeps us stuck and expecting of others what they are incapable of giving, or unwilling to, give. We need to move on to solutions.
After we engage in meaningful conversation, it means nothing unless and until we make sustainable changes to impact the systemic degradation of human rights. Beware of these dynamics in developing your strategy.
- Everybody’s Fake on it: Everybody acknowledges there is a problem that everybody wants to rectify. Everybody has his or her own view of how that end has to be achieved. While viable avenues of addressing the issue may be on the table, nobody accepts any of them because everyone thinks their way is better than the another. While everybody’s arguing about whose way is better, nothing changes.
- Faulty Focus: Symptom-focused problem solving is futile. We have to address core causes of the problems that led to public protest. Chasing symptoms never works because while we are playing Whack-a-Mole, symptoms prevail. The protests and violence are symptoms of complicated psycho-social, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical variables. Addressing these matters will take a coordinated multidisciplinary team effort. There is no team-of-one in this.
- Institutionalizing Solutions: Once the discussion ends, nothing changes without implementation. This phase cannot be sloppy or optional. The way to institutionalize the shift is to ensure that all stakeholders are held accountable to their part in the implementation and maintenance of the solutions. Hold them accountable with clearly communicated expectations and consequences for failure to do so. Every individual has some amount of skin in the game. Along with that comes individual responsibility to be the change we want to see.
It is not enough to cheer lead from the social media sidelines. Forwarding a meme or commenting on a post means nothing if your boardroom, c-suite, and leadership are not reflective of those values. If not, there is work to do within the institution or organization.
Unless and until we address or own prejudicial challenges, no significant change will result. Absent this, we all continue in our individual blindness, blaming others for our condition; blaming others for what only we can change.Dr. Linda F. Williams, DSW
It is easy to get overwhelmed and feel helpless in the face social injustice. But, the matter of systemic racism is just that–systemic. It will take a multi-prong approach to address it’s entrenchment. But there are things you can do as an individual, not the least of which is self-reflection.
Effective discussion is difficult. It requires communicating from the heart. It requires self-reflection and owning our individual parts in the matter. That includes addressing our own perceptions. It requires honestly challenging how we see things, our understanding, or lack thereof. It requires taking personal responsibility for what is revealed in our own characters.
Unless and until we address or own prejudicial challenges, no significant change will result. Absent this, we all continue in our individual blindness, blaming others for our condition; blaming others for what only we can change. Hey, truth hurts. Knowledge of the truth is the center of empowerment. Yet, it is only the truth we know and act upon that sets frees us.
Maintain Your Right to Complain
A police chief, responding to a reporter’s question regarding “dominating” protesters, had a strong response that included concern that there were protesters “who didn’t bother to vote.” Is that you? Frankly, the man is right. Come on. Nobody who didn’t take the time to vote in the last election has a right to complain about leadership failures or how that failure contributed to the current national landscape.
VOTE! Vote locally, vote state-wise and for heaven’s sake vote nationally. Don’t believe any voices to the contrary. If you don’t like any of the candidates, vote the lesser of the evils – but VOTE! That’s the way to maintain your right to complain.
 Prejudice. Oxford Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/prejudice
Dr. Linda F. Williams, DSW is an award winning Change Agent, Certified Personal and Professional Life Coach, trained psychotherapist, behaviorist, and motivational speaker. As founder of Whose Apple Dynamic Coaching Services Linda is the creator of The Whose Apple Dynamic GPS 360 Success Alignment. She is author of Whose Apple is it, Anyway: Empowering Purpose to Achieve Your God-Ordained Destiny , Too True to Tell (Why What We Don’t Say is Leading Us Down the Path of Stolen Vision), and The Joshua Complex.