It has been months since the world witnessed the murder of George Floyd, a black man who was killed at the hands of the police, but the underlying issue of racial injustice remains. I share in the feelings of outrage, sadness, and frustration that many have felt in the aftermath of this tragedy. Much has already been said about this issue, but I feel compelled to add my voice to those who have spoken out.
Racial injustice long predates what happened on May 25, 2020. This ugly hallmark of humanity that has prevailed throughout the centuries. One need not think hard to recall atrocities committed on account of race…the genocide in Rwanda, apartheid in South Africa, slavery in the United States. Sadly, George Floyd’s death only adds to the growing tally of these sins.
One of the principles of continuous improvement that has always resonated with me that of ‘respect for people’. I believe that being treated with respect is not merely a courtesy but rather is fundamental human right. Racial discrimination is a clear and outright violation of this value. This is more than just a social problem; it is a moral issue. And all of us are responsible, regardless of our color.
A Sense of Solidarity
Most of us have either personally experienced racism or know someone who has. Growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore, I knew plenty of kids whose skin color was different than mine. I remember my first awareness of the existence of prejudice when a friend told me about how other kids made fun of him because he was biracial. A colleague recently shared with me that his wife’s family had essentially disowned her because she, a white woman, chose to marry a black man. The pain sent a pang through my heart.
While I cannot claim to understand what it is like to be a person of color in today’s society, I do understand to some extent what it is like to experience discrimination. As a woman who has primarily worked in male-dominated industries, I have occasionally been treated unfairly on account of my gender. And although I am white, I have not been immune from racial discrimination. I remember being denied entry to a restaurant in Japan despite plenty of available seating. I walked away feeling confused until I heard the hostess utter a racial slur in Japanese. A cold, sick feeling settled in my stomach. I felt dehumanized. While this experience was an order of magnitude less than what others are subjected to on a regular basis, it left me with a lasting impression. I had always believed racism to be wrong on the basis of principle, but now I personally understood to some extent how being discriminated against actually felt.
Many people have decried the violence that was demonstrated in some of the protests after George Floyd’s death. While destruction is never the answer, we must not dismiss the validity of the anger behind these actions. This outrage is justified, and is one that we should all share. This is not a black problem or a white problem – it is a people problem. To avert our eyes from this injustice is a dereliction of our duty to our fellow humans.
Respect for All People
Changing policies and procedures to ensure fair treatment for all is only part of the answer. To make progress we must understand the root of this problem. I believe it lies within our human nature. The problem manifests itself in society but its inception is in our hearts. Because the root of this problem is in our nature, I believe the antidote must be to influence hearts and minds. We must start with our own by taking at hard look at where our thoughts might be affected by bias and prejudice. None of us are immune from harboring bias and prejudice, and that includes me. I have subconsciously believed stereotypes and made assumptions about people based on their appearance. We have to hold ourselves and each other accountable for these biases.
Respect for people means seeing each other first and foremost as people in our own right, not based on any labels we might be tempted to apply. Black, white, male, female, etc. – these are descriptors, not definitions. We must delve past these physical attributes and appreciate what truly defines us as people – our minds, hearts, and souls. Our view of diversity is enriched by expanding beyond surface attributes to include the vast depth and breadth of experiences, beliefs, and abilities that we all possess. And we must understand the paradox of how these differences add depth and dimension to our shared bond of humanity.
We cannot remain silent on the issue of racism and discrimination. To look away or become numb is a abdication of our duty as humans. We must stand in solidarity with the oppressed and resolve to join forces in to pushing back the darkness of injustice. It starts with acknowledging and counteracting any bias and prejudice that exists in own our hearts.
Maybe we will never completely eradicate racial injustice, but that does not absolve us of our personal responsibility to strive toward a better state. Perhaps we cannot right the scales but we can shift the balance. We owe it to George Floyd and the millions who have suffered to be and do better. To hold in our hearts and demonstrate in our actions what it means to show respect for all people.