The scholarship, reflection, and understanding of systemic racism has increased considerably in the last several years. There has been a long history of analyzing its effects, but much more attention has been placed on its origins and its continued role in all aspects of our society.
This means instead of just focusing on the problems it has created for Black and Brown people and how to “fix us,” focus is finally on the pathologies that caused the problems themselves and how to root these out of our systems. The previous definition of “white supremacy” that focused on a set of implicit beliefs has been broadened to include the white supremacist characteristics based on those beliefs that permeate the ways in which we live and operate semi-explicitly and explicitly.
This means that one doesn’t have to share the beliefs directly to be complicit in upholding those characteristics. We have all been conditioned to do so, albeit to different degrees. We must now all do the work to unlearn them and reimagine new ways of relating and living together.
There are particular aspects of leadership that become much more heightened when managing diverse communities. One should, and I would argue must, be able to hear, understand, and incorporate a number of diverse perspectives and needs into policy and practice.
One must also be on the journey of increasingly understanding and weeding out white supremacy. It is no longer acceptable to plead ignorance when displaying and actively supporting white supremacist beliefs and ways of operating. Leaders are required to increase their understanding and make change.
Most of our local leaders have undergone some form of equity training or have chosen not to do so. I recognize that the work of undoing these pathologies is not a once-and-done event. It is a journey. Yet it is clear when one has embraced the journey and when one is actively avoiding it and preventing others from doing so.
When leaders insist on preserving the status quo, which we have seen and know is inequitable, they will be called on it. This is not mean or “terrorist” behavior. It is what is needed to effect change.
But we are also conditioned to not challenge those who benefit most from the status quo. We have been conditioned to picture white men as the definition of hard work, professionalism, and competency even when individuals we meet are not. Trump’s statement that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and get away with it — in fact his whole approach to life — is built on the expectation that white folks will assume that he is right, virtuous, and competent even when it is clear he is not.
I have attended predominantly white schools and spent 25+ years in a white-male-dominated industry. During that time I’ve seen both hard-working and slacker white men. I’ve seen both professionalism and insanely unprofessional behavior yield the same access. And I have worked with some who are incredibly competent, some ridiculously incompetent, and everything in between.
This has shown me the profound misguidedness of those who fear the limited progress of marginalized people. There are many more white men in leadership and positions of power who have not arrived there by merit and are often the least competent.
The young woman at the center of the Fisher v. University of Texas lawsuit who did not have a good score was more concerned with the Black students who were admitted with low scores than the larger number of white males who were accepted with lesser scores than hers, thus allowing herself to be used to undermine progress. Unfortunately, we still have people actively working to uphold these forms of inequity under the misguided notion that it is the best way to advance their personal agendas. And sometimes it is, just to the detriment of Black and Brown folks.
This brings me back to our response to these facts of life. We have gone past the point of having marginalized people tolerate indifference or active harm. We are well past the point of preserving the feelings and reputations of those perpetrating the harm.
I participated in corporate gender and racial equity training 30 years ago. The Civil Rights fight and ensuing legislation took place more than 55 years ago. And yet, our children are still required to continue this fight?
Many of our children and grandchildren are calling us to account. It may seem like youthful idealism, but it is not. It is their frustration with how long we’ve tolerated the slow pace of change, despite knowing better. What older folks refer to as call-out culture is merely the long overdue reckoning that must take place.
Our slow pace has now left us needing to take big steps. All of us are responsible for supporting this change, but community leaders are that much more responsible and should be held accountable. We need them to help lead our community through this. If they cannot, they need to step aside; or rather, we need to make them.