“Mommy, why are they shouting, ‘Black Lives Matter’? What about white people? Won’t that hurt their feelings?”
That question, from my 7-year-old daughter, was one that I have never had to answer before. It was sparked by the protests that followed the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. And one that gave me pause because in that moment I knew I had to get it right. I’ve been happy to answer that same question, not only for her, but for others in my neighborhood, in my virtual workplace, and with close friends of different races over the past several months.
I grew up with friends of different races. My parents had friends of different races. We dined at their homes and they dined at ours. We even went on vacations together. I knew that I was different, but never felt like I didn’t fit in or wasn’t accepted or that I was treated any differently based on my skin tone. In my young and naive mind, racism was a thing of the past. While protected in my parents eyes, I believe I was sheltered to a fault as racism was not a topic of discussion in my home.
As I matriculated through middle school, high school, college and then the workplace, racism, sexism, and white privilege became more and more apparent to me. I could see I had been living in a bubble and being both a woman and Black in America was going to be a challenge. And in that present moment with my own child, I realized I was protecting her in the same unproductive way.
I absolutely agree that all lives should matter, but that statement seems very shallow in light of the bold and blatant police brutality and violence against Black people—Trayvon Martin, Antwon Rose II, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, and so many others . The “all” begins to sound like all lives, except the lives of people of color. I embrace the modified, “All lives matter; when Black lives matter, too.” To me, that’s a more powerful statement and hard to be misconstrued.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) was never intended to indicate that other lives don’t matter, but more so, “Hey, don’t forget about us; we matter, too!” While, BLM can be taken out of context and used in inappropriate situations, I applaud the pure mission of the movement and encourage people to learn more about it.
Unfortunately, systemic racism is still alive today. Unconscious biases are real and, in most cases innocent, but detrimental to the eradication of racism in America. It’s not something that we all witness or experience every day, but it is something we can all work together to impede.
My father has always told me, “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” Initially, I was hesitant to join recent conversations about race because I was uncomfortable, and I also didn’t want to make others uncomfortable. But the most powerful and impactful way for us to get to a place where all lives matter is through open, honest, and brave conversations with people who look like us and with people who do not. Walking into those conversations with diverse experiences and perspectives to share will help paint the picture for others that may not be aware.
Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. They stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing. In many cases this can lead to racist behavior, but I believe in my heart of hearts that most people have no malice aforethought with respect to the unconscious biases they exhibit. Remember, “knowing is half the battle.”
I’m a proud member of SMPS, and I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on this topic. I hope this has inspired at least one person to keep the conversation going. No matter who you are, where you are, what position you hold, what your race, ethnicity or gender, you can help eradicate racism in America. Here are five simple ways to start today:
- Listen. Reach out to one friend / professional peer / acquaintance. Ask if they’ve ever experienced racism. You’ll be amazed to hear the untold stories that are internalized and tucked away. Try not to explicate their personal experience. Listen attentively with a genuine heart and ask what you can do to make a difference.
- See. Saying “I don’t see color” strips the beauty and identity of a person no matter what color they are. Please see, respect, and appreciate people of all races and nationalities.
- Connect. Engage in brave conversations about race. Speak your truth. Ask questions to seek clarity. Listen to hear and not to respond. Share an alternative perspective.
- Be. Be an anti-racist by fighting against racism and making consistent, equitable choices daily. Be willing to speak up against injustices.
- Advocate. Look for underrepresented voices in your workplace, professional organizations, and community. Pay attention to who doesn’t have a seat at the table. Use your privilege to open new doors for others.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
Article was written by Rhonda L. Bolding, CPSM, marketing manager for Strada. Rhonda has held leadership positions on several SMPS chapter boards and committees. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.