The Rule of 7: Testing Your Commitment to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

I have truly enjoyed engaging so many companies, schools, and individuals about pressing issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I have found that most people are serious about challenging themselves on seeing where their biases lie and doing something about it. One challenge that I have seen, however, is that too often, people with whom I interact ask me what books they need to read or what terminology they need to adopt in order to not make a mistake and be called out for being racist, homophobic, etc. While the concern is understandable, this is not the way to achieve true diversity, equity, and inclusion and definitely not a way to become antiracist. It’s more of a way to check off a box saying “I did this so I’m good.” I would like to propose a simple, but more in-depth measure of seeing how serious you are on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I propose The Rule of 7.

Rather than checking the box or reading an assigned book, The Rule of 7 is personal. Only you know the answers to these 7 questions and therefore only you know what you are supposed to do about it. The real questions is do you have the will to actually do something about it or are you going to stay comfortable and not rock the boat? You can come up with your own list of 7 questions or you can do it as a group of friends or even at your job. The goal is not come up with an easy list. This should be a list that challenges you to become better on this journey. The reason why The Rule of 7 can be powerful is because it speaks to what you’ve already done versus what you’re doing. The 7 questions could include:

  1. What do your 7 closest friends look like (or the 7 closest friends of your children)?
  2. Who are the authors of the last 7 books you read (or books bought for your children)?
  3. What do your 7 closest neighbors (in terms of proximity) look like?
  4. What did your last 7 teachers look like (or the current teachers of your children)?
  5. What does the cast of the last 7 shows and movies you’ve watched (or that your children watched) look like?
  6. What did your last 7 hires look like or what do the 7 closest members of your work team look like?
  7. What do the last 7 toys you bought for your kids look like?

I could go into more detail about each question but they are all self-explanatory. If, for example, you’re white and all the answers to all or most of your 7 is “white,” you have more work to do. If you are black and your answers are mostly “black,” you have work to do. I would also say that if you are a member of one group, say Latinx, and your responses to the most questions are mostly “white,” you also have some work to do. For those of you with children or students in your life, this is also important because you may be programming them in way that reinforces a narrative or superiority or inferiority in their minds in the same way you may have been programmed.

If this article is too vague for you, that is the point. The goal of this article is to challenge you to work on your own or with colleagues and friends to actively challenge your biases and do the work to diversify your experiences and practices. I can give you books, documentaries, glossaries, and TED talks for days. At the end of the day however, you have to do the work to challenge yourself on your thoughts and experiences with diversity, equity, and inclusion when nobody is watching. Lastly, if you want to go to a deeper level, spend time exploring why your neighbors and teachers all look the same or why you do not work with anyone who does not look (or think) like you. That is an entirely different reading list for you. Are you ready? Let’s go!

3 Reasons Antiracism Efforts Are Failing At Your Organization

The year 2020 has been called the year of America’s racial reckoning by some. It’s been called a time where movements for racial and social justice exploded on the national scene. I have to be honest. I am not convinced. As a student of history, I have learned to analyze the difference between what activist Joe Madison calls a moment versus a movement. Was #metoo a moment or a movement? In my opinion, it has turned out to be a moment in history because I have not seen wholesale systemic change in how women are treated in the workplace beyond certain individuals like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and others rightfully having their careers and fame challenged and more or less ended. I feel a similar vibe happening with the work of antiracism.

I have been engaged in so many powerful trainings and talks with organizations on the issue of antiracism, defined by some as “the policy or practice of opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance.” From the human resources to the executive level, I have been truly impressed by the sincerity by which these organizations have taken issues of racial or social justice head on. Below I am sharing three reasons why the antiracist efforts of your organization may not be working.

  1. You do not fully understand what antiracism is.

Is antiracism just a word at your company? Are you and your colleagues really learning vocabulary that speaks to the challenges we face today? Can you and your colleagues explain the difference between racism and systemic racism or a microaggression and a stereotype? Words matter. Definitions matter. I have had multiple situations where I had to work with an organization on just agreeing to the same definition of a term like antiracism before we could move on in any other part of the discussion and it was completely worth it because in times when this was not done, we had to backtrack and start over with definitions.

This is an extremely important step because if I’m looking at systemic racism as a “a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization” and you are looking at racism from the lens of “I never owned slaves so I’m not responsible for racism” or “if you just work hard you can overcome anything” without even acknowledging the “systemic” part of “systemic racism”, any training we do is going to be unintentionally sabotaged from the beginning. Invest the time necessary to get on the same page before you move forward.

  1. You are too focused on the problem and not the solutions.

Too many organizations have focused their antiracism efforts on reading articles and books and talking about them. This obviously must continue but it cannot be enough. For many nonwhite people, especially black people I have spoken to at some organizations, antiracism training is just the replacement term for diversity training. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is the new version of saying “We value diversity.” Organizations that have been more successful with their antiracism efforts have shown that black salaries matter and black employees matter. In short, they understand that representation matters.

Organizations that have hired more nonwhite people at the executive level, granted more power to their directors of diversity, and have increased representation of nonwhite people across the board are experiencing greater employee satisfaction and are celebrated more by their customers, exemplified by MSNBC naming Rashida Jones as president of the network and introducing more shows hosted by black people such as Tiffany Cross and Johnathan Capehart. It is represented by President-elect Biden not just saying he believed in diversity but making his cabinet more diverse including adding Native American congressperson Deb Haaland to his cabinet as well as appointing the first openly gay cabinet member in Pete Buttigieg.

  1. Antiracism is a fad at your organization.

I remember during the summer of 2020 seeing “black lives matter” signs going up everywhere from Dell to Starbucks. Even republican senators like Mitt Romney had marched for black lives and verbalized the phrase. Microsoft’s advertising department got in trouble after an email surfaced asking that they paint a #blacklivesmatter mural while the protests were “still relevant.” This led to a powerful response by artist Shantell Martin, who partially wrote that “Education and Accountability must occur in order to see REAL change. Supporting equality only when it’s popular is in itself a form of racism.”

While the aforementioned situation does not represent all of Microsoft, it does express the sentiments that I have seen by some leaders of organizations and companies that see work on antiracism as the flavor of the month. The fact of the matter is that, especially in the age of social media, your company will indeed be exposed positively or negatively. Your organization would actually be better off doing nothing rather than putting forth a half-hearted measure that will create more problems than you are trying to solve. Make sure your efforts are sincere and you are more likely to get buy in from most parties involved.

     Going forward.

At the end of the day, it is important that your organization steps back to truly assess what your goals are when you state that you want embrace antiracist policies. I have stated before that even though I am an antiracist and committed to the work, I am not a big fan of the word because it literally focuses (by the definition of the word “anti”) on what we are against as opposed to what we are for. It is similar to the late Mother Teresa stating that she would never attend an anti-war rally but would attend a pro-peace rally.

If you really want to assess your antiracist efforts, you should look at what progress your company has made eight months after the killing of George Floyd, which was one of the major catalysts for today’s antiracist efforts along with the killing of Breonna Taylor. In the same way you have not heard their names on television lately due to potential social justice fatigue, is your organization experiencing antiracism fatigue or just not moving forward? The three steps above may help you but only if you and your organization are sincere about the work and honest about exposing the challenges your organization faces in order to make sure that you are part of a movement and not a moment.

Sexism isn’t the ONLY reason for Dr. Jill Biden hate

Famed scientist Isaac Asimov wrote in 1980 that in the United States, there is a “cult of ignorance in the United States” and that the “strain of anti-intellectualism” boils down to the idea that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” While so many have rightfully pointed out the sexist and misogynistic overtones of Joseph Epstein’s Wall Street Journal article suggesting Dr. Jill Biden drop the title of “Dr.” from her name, the other major issue that merits our attention is how it highlights how deeply many in this country resent intellectual thought and critical thinking and this notion has been spearheaded by President Donald Trump.

We live in a world today where we no longer watch the news or search the Internet looking for information, but for affirmation. We surround ourselves with people who think like us and then expand that into our social media spaces. It’s the mentality that would lead a voter to say that everyone she knows voted for Trump, so he must have won. Maybe it started in 1987 with the end of the Fairness Doctrine; the policy implemented in 1949 mandating that networks provide a balance of opinion in their broadcasting. The end of this policy led to the rise of “infotainment” spearheaded by talk personalities like Rush Limbaugh. Fast forward to today and most of us have a strong roster of podcasts, audiobooks, social media people we like, and news networks that all enforce what we already want to hear. What too many of us have heard over the last thirty years is a decreasing disrespect towards education and intellectual thought.

I remember when President Obama ran for his first term. One of the main knocks against him from some critics was that he was too “professorial.” Yes. A former college professor was criticized for sounding like a college professor. Critics prepared his style with his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who was someone you could just sit down and have a beer with. I recall thinking that I never want to just have a beer with the President of the United States and it has nothing to with the fact that I don’t drink. I want to have a leader who I believe is smarter than me on issues related to leading my country. Fast forward to the 2016 election and we have President Trump boasting that he was the same person he was since he was in the first grade. Little did we know that he was just getting started.

Over the course of four years, President Trump questioned or outright demeaned the credibility of every institution we had because he was smarter than them all. He said he knew more about the military than the generals. He said he knew more about viruses than experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and knew more about everything than anyone else including taxes, visas, infrastructure, renewable energy, borders, and even more about Senator Cory Booker than Booker knew about himself. Add to this the creation of “alternative facts” spearheaded by multimillion dollar book deal recipient Kellyanne Conway, and you have a society where someone’s real educational achievement means nothing and is therefore constantly undermined. On a weekly basis I endure comments on social media from people whose first line of attack is asking how someone like me was “given” a PhD or stating that someone with a PhD wouldn’t be as stupid as I am. It’s literally their opening move.

As we prepare to usher in a new president, we need to also usher in a period where intellectualism is respected again. I may actually be more excited about Dr. Jill Biden than I am about Joe Biden. Dr. Biden is not just someone who values education, but is an educator herself who has always supported teachers. Contrast that with First Lady Melania Trump’s plagiaristic shadowingof former First Lady Michelle Obama and this country could be on track to becoming a respected intellectual giant once again. Finally, we must look deeply at our educational system from elementary school and beyond to ensure that we are teaching civics once again in addition to providing a curriculum that allows students to think intellectually and critically as opposed to checking the right answer on a multiple-choice exam. These steps will aid us in creating a world where the term “doctor”, regardless of the specialty it covers, will forever be celebrated and not just tolerated or outright disrespected.

Trump cutting off aid while Americans are dying is treacherous

Today I woke up to read the headline: “Trump administration overrules Jerome Powell and cuts off Fed emergency lending programs.” Not only is President Trump attempting to steal an election where he lost the popular and electoral college vote, he is literally starving Americans by cutting off money to hard working people literally trying to survive a pandemic. This is treacherous. This is not leadership and as upstanders, we cannot be bystanders to this.

Millions of Americans are literally starving, don’t have a job, or are losing their homes or a combination of all three. Suicides are on the rise and, by the way, we’ve lost over 250,000 people to the pandemic. Families will have to meet by Zoom this year for Thanksgiving, if they can afford a computer and have enough money to pay for access to the Internet. With all of this, Trump is not only not creating real programs to help people, he is cutting off funds that already allocated. The is savage, inhumane, and a betrayal of his oath of office. America deserves better.

Border children: charge Trump with crimes against against humanity

This past week, my son turned 6-years old. We celebrated with cupcakes, board games, and video games. It was a great day that I was so looking forward to. Yesterday I was reminded that under the Trump administration, there are at least 540 children who are still separated from their parents from babies to toddlers. On the news I saw a child staying with an uncle in the U.S. and when asked what he wanted for his birthday, his immediate response was his father. What the Trump administration has done to these families is the ultimate crime and he needs to be charged with crimes against humanity charges.

The only more inhumane action he could take is to kill these parents physically after he has killed them metaphorically, These children need to be united with the family but Trump’s administration is now stating that these parents don’t even want to be reunited with their children. These parents deserve the same right to be with their children in the same way we are with our son and daughters. What would you do if it was YOUR kids taken from you? The nerve of such ignorance only speaks to the arrogance coursing through the veins of this corrupt administration. Justice delayed is justice denied and he must face justice for this heinous act!

The President is not a leader for us on Coronavirus

President Trump said that as our leader he had to do what he had to do as he urged us not to let the coronavirus dominate our lives. When the President has to worry about losing a job because if covid, losing a business because of covid, becoming his child’s teacher because of covid, losing insurance because of covid, losing his physical or mental capacities because of covid, losing a loved one because of covid, or losing his own life because of covid and possibly dying alone, then the President of the United States can talk about being the leader for all of us on covid.

The President is a leader in spreading this virus. From his joyride at Walter Reed to his removing his mask before possibly infecting whoever was waiting for him in the White House or spreading the virus via helicopter blades, Trump never has and never will have the ability or desire to lead by example in ending the coronavirus. He uniquely has the ability to spread two viruses at the same time: the coronavirus and the virus of hate and this is all happening while he takes advantage of the best healthcare that is free to him while attempting to rip away the Affordable Care Act from those who need it most. President Trump is not a leader. He is public enemy #1.

Should schools also speak separately to white students, parents, and staff?

I have been really impressed by the steps taken by schools to speak to the racial tensions engulfing America right now. I have had the honor in my work to also lead some of these discussions as well and will be leading more. As a parent of K-12 children, I have also watched my own school’s response to the crisis in America today. Moreover, I have spent a great deal of time reviewing the responses of schools at the university level. While I have appreciated the fact that so many of these institutions have initiated or renewed a commitment to ensuring that black lives matter, I have found myself asking one question over and over again: what direct message is going out to white students, students, and staff?

            Across the country, many social media posts have popped with some form of @blackat… handle. These are accounts where black students as well as alumni have posted their negative experiences being black at their schools. These stories started to really trend in 2016 after incidents of racism at schools like American University, where I teach. I was inspired by this movement to finally write about my own “black at” experience from 7th-12th grade at Boston Latin School. I believe the @blackat… postings are also a large part of the reason why schools have been feeling more pressure to respond to their black students in ways they have not before. I wonder if, in some unintentional way, that this is leading to black students being singled out in ways that might do more harm than good despite the best intentions of schools. Let’s look at an example.

            One high school I was watching sent out an email that they were having a zoom call for black students, another call for multiracial students, and a third one for all students. I have spoken at enough schools to know that this can backfire. While many black students can be vocal and will speak up on issues, this type of action can lead to black students feeling they have to be the representative for all black people, which is an added burden, particularly in schools where they are not in the majority. Furthermore, not meeting with the white students separately can make it seem like they’re being brought in as allies and not as partners. I have writtenabout how this concept of “allyship” can create more problems than it solves. Another reason this is problematic is because many of the challenges black students face come at the hands of white students in addition to other issues, such as curriculum and staffing. Did I expect the students who wore white hoods in protest of my running for class president to really care for a call to all students about racial unity? Those students needed separate interventions, which never came and made me feel more marginalized. Schools therefore need to create environments where white students can be organized and spoken to directly about the antiracist work they must be doing amongst themselves. Robin DiAngelo speaks in White Fragility to the work white people must do to challenge racism. The book is primarily for adults but much of the work can be instructive for students as well.

            This takes us also to white parents and staff. I have appreciated the calls I have been on and led with parents of all backgrounds, and oftentimes the white parents and staff outnumber the black parents and staff. This makes sense given the makeup of these schools but if the black parents and staff are going to be separated or addressed in separate conversations, which happens, wouldn’t the fight for equity and equality necessitate that white, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American parents and staff be spoken to separately as well? Are schools equipped to even have that conversation? Are they ready to discuss, for example, how many private schools always use a black child as the face for the financial aid campaigns although the school may have more white students in the school on some form of financial aid? Are they ready to discuss the social networks that often form among white parents and staff that often exclude black people unless some form of representation is needed? My wife and I have had to often think twice before sending our kids to some birthday parties because we had to be sure that our kids were really invited because of friendship and not out of a desire to have diversity at a party. Examples like these are endless.

            At the end of the day, I could write an entire dissertation on the ways in which our schools are failing its black students. Many like Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Glenn Singleton have already done that work and more are doing it now. What is most important now is that schools realize that black students are suffering for real reasons that go beyond lack of representation of their full history in the curriculum. Much of what we suffer as black students, parents, and staff in these schools comes at the hands of our interactions, or lack thereof, with white students, parents, and staff. If schools are going to be really serious about addressing issues related to the black lives matter movement, they must be equally dedicated to challenging white students, parents, and staff in an authentic way that leads them to understanding their role in this movement. It is obvious that all white people are not to blame and I commend the white student, parents, and staff who are out there doing the work every single day to condemn ignorance and create true equity and equality. It is high time, however, that schools directly challenge their white students, parents, and staff in ways that go beyond a book club and curriculum review. Those are good points of departure but the journey is long and must go deeper beyond this moment.

           

Everyday is Father’s Day (lyrics)

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Happy Father’s Day to real dads out there

Ain’t no one built like you, no one compares

Stand proud of who you are for the world to see

But most importantly stand proud for your whole family

Happy father’s day to real dads out there

Ain’t no one built like you no one compares

Stand proud of who you are for the world to see

But most importantly stand proud for your whole family!

 

Just a little something for the dads, I see you

Just know that no one else can ever be you

Only time you’re discussed is when it’s to demean you

I see through media views that’ll leave you

Feelin’ you ain’t worth a damn, yo I believe you

For y’all who doubt don’t let the media deceive you

Only talk about our absence but those of us there

It’s like we’re Homer Simpson, yeah it’s time to compare

Cause is it just me? Am I buggin’ because

The strong men on tv are the uncle or cuz?

I mean is it really me? Am I goin’ buckwild

To see how they make us look like an extra child?

And no shade to the moms, you deserve all the praises

I’m just brining up some issues that fatherhood raises

All praises due to real dads out there

Hope the world sees that we got a story to share

 

Happy Father’s Day to real dads out there

Ain’t no one built like you, no one compares

Stand proud of who you are for the world to see

But most importantly stand proud for your whole family

Happy father’s day to real dads out there

Ain’t no one built like you no one compares

Stand proud of who you are for the world to see

But most importantly stand proud for your whole family!

 

Now dads I know it’s tough when you take your kids

To afterschool activities then back to your crib

Know it’s tough when with your kid standin’ right there

And teachers tell ‘em “talk to mom” like you ain’t right there!

Know it’s hard when you decide to be the stay-at-home dad

And the world sees you as weak or part of a fad

Paid paternity leave ain’t here federally

But we do what’s best for the fam, it’s necessary

But in times like these I acknowledge your worth

The world’s better with good dads walkin’ this earth

So dads do your thing like you were meant to do

Don’t worry about haters know your kids need you

And if you ain’t seen ‘em in a while time to reach out too

It ain’t never too late to tell em “I love you.”

And if you got ‘em next to you just hug ‘em too

And Let ‘em know nothing will ever come between you

 

Happy Father’s Day to real dads out there

Ain’t no one built like you, no one compares

Stand proud of who you are for the world to see

But most importantly stand proud for your whole family

Happy father’s day to real dads out there

Ain’t no one built like you no one compares

Stand proud of who you are for the world to see

But most importantly stand proud for your whole family!

 

How companies can avoid “Black Lives Matter” and Juneteenth becoming the new Kwanzaa

Over the past few weeks, I have seen “Black Lives Matter” stated by companies, schools, famous people, and everyday people. It has been spray painted across stores in protest and even the Mayor of Washington, DC Muriel Bowser had it spray painted across a prominent street leading up to the White House. I opened up my iTunes account, Amazon Prime and even turned on my PlayStation and there it was again, “Black Lives Matter.” This has been followed by companies like Nike and Twitter deciding to honor Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when the last group of enslaved people in America found out they were emancipated, with days off or some other form of acknowledgment. While I think that these gestures of solidarity with those of us in the black community are indeed appreciated, I find myself asking, “What happens on June 20th?” “What happens after ‘Black Lives Matter’ comes off the website?” Enter Kwanzaa.

I come from a family that has always celebrated Kwanzaa, the holiday created by Dr. Maulana Karenga for African Americans to honor their African heritage. Though it starts on December 26th, it has always been a cultural celebration and not a replacement for Christmas, which is a religious holiday. This is the reason why some black families celebrate both Kwanzaa and Christmas. For those of us who celebrate Kwanzaa, it’s a sacred holiday, which is why many of us became frustrated when it started to become commercialized, starting with Hallmark issuing Kwanzaa cards in 1992. Now there are stamps and debit cards where the 7 candles of Kwanzaa are prominently displayed. Some companies issue statements honoring Kwanzaa or will put out some form of display in their lobbies. This superficial nature of Kwanzaa causes the true nature of it to get lost or never even learned. The true nature of Kwanzaa is black empowerment. To quote professor Keith Hayes, author of Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition:

Whereas black power uses Kwanzaa to connect black Americans with the continent of Africa, multicultural America uses Kwanzaa to sell products and consumer goods. Whereas black power expected Kwanzaa to liberate African-Americans, multicultural America has tried to use Kwanzaa as evidence of racial diversity and black inclusion.

But is there real diversity and black inclusion in your organization? While “Black Lives Matter” has become a great slogan to show solidarity with black causes, there are black employees in every sector from schools to corporations who have been saying for years that they want to matter within their organizations. They’ve called for this in the form of demanding equal pay, demanding a shattering of the glass ceiling, challenging everyday discrimination on the job, and so much more. And this is also happening with Juneteenth. Most black employees I know would rather have a shot at equal pay or an opportunity to advance in their positions than a day off, which in reality should be a day on in terms of continuing the work of racial and social justice.

If companies are serious about “Black Lives Matter” and Juneteenth they have to immediately re-evaluate their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. They have to do the work to finally hear the complaints and concerns of their blackstaff. They need to challenge systemic racism that may have existed in their organization for years. This is the same country where a statue was built to the father of American gynecology James Marion Sims, whose work was performed on black enslaved women without anesthesia. It’s the same country that touts having some of the most prominent universities in the world, but they were built by enslaved Africans. And it’s the same country where some companies have engaged in global travesties such as the Holocaust and apartheid.

But this country has the ability to self-correct and so do companies, schools, and other organizations. The statue of Sims came down. Schools like Georgetown have begun to create programs so descendants of enslaved Africans that were sold to keep the university afloat can go to Georgetown for free. Companies like Kodak, Coca-Cola, General Electric, General Motors, and I.B.M. did end up divesting from apartheid but none of this happened without activism, similar to what we are seeing now. This is how you show that Black Lives Matter, which is an organization started by three incredible women named Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Before organizations state “Black Lives Matter” I would strongly suggest visiting the Black Lives Matter website to truly understand its commitment to social, racial, and economic justice. “Black Lives Matter” is about a way of life for society that is truly committed to equality, not band-aids on an open wound still seeping blood from the sword of systemic racism.

I have had some very powerful courageous conversations with companies and schools in the past few weeks. Some organizations are very far ahead in their work on diversity, equity, and inclusion and some are just starting out. Wherever your organization may be on the road, what’s most important is to stay on that road and not veer off. If we’re honest, almost everything organizations need to do in order to bring true diversity, equity, and inclusion matters to the forefront has already been documented by the black employees in those organizations. Companies must go beyond the external displays of solidarity to internal responses to the concerns of their employees. This is the best way to truly show that #blacklivesmatter beyond the hashtag and to celebrate Juneteenth 365 days a year.

From allies to partners: how white people can be better listeners

I’ve heard and read several stories about what white people need to do right now. Many of those stories talked about the need for white people to listen. That is absolutely true, but there are two points that need to be added: how to listen, and what to do after whites listen. I must say that I have heard for years that white people will only listen to other white people and they need to have their own conversations. While I do believe that white people need to do more amongst each other to further the work to end racism, we must ask what would happen if people like Dr. King believed he couldn’t speak to white people? With that, I am going to share my thoughts on how white people need to listen and what to do after they do so.

Les Brown once said to me that we have two ears and one mouth and that we should use them in proportion. So the first step in listening is to truly commit to not responding to every point brought up by black people who are speaking up about racism. For example, when I conduct my trainings on black boys in our educational system, I’ve been told by white educators that the issue isn’t race, it’s class. It’s not race, it’s gender. It’s not race, it’s this or that. Are you someone who is quick to say you want to listen but then shoot down the arguments made by the person you claim to be listening to? There is a difference between listening to what you want to hear and what the person speaking has to and often needs to say.

So rather than listen to correct, listen to respect. Rather than listen to analyze, listen to empathize. Rather than listen to teach, listen to learn. After you listen, acknowledge the words shared with you and acknowledge what you didn’t know. You don’t lose anything by being honest. I’ve had multiple conversations with white people in the last few days who have said things like “I really didn’t understand until I saw that video of George Floyd being killed” or “I really thought we had turned a corner once Obama was elected” or “I don’t know what to do as a white person right now.” Many of us in the black community get frustrated by these comments but I have also heard these and similar comments from black people who also thought these days were behind us. We have to take people for what they know when they know it but then it’s time for action.

The next step after listening is not take the patronizing mentality of “I’ll be your ally.” There is a certain level of arrogance that has started to develop with this term “ally.” We don’t need allies. We need partners. Allies help out and go home. Partners work together for a common good. Allies go to the sporting venue to cheer on their team and go home after the win (or loss). Partners are on the court as a player on the team and fight together for a common cause, win or lose. Where do you fit in the stadium of effective listening?

Once you believe you have become an effective listener, it’s now time for action. Action takes many forms but the first form is educating yourself. What’s on your bookshelf? Who is on your podcast favorites? What documentaries are you watching? Reading lists such as these are great ways to get started. Dr. King said that the two most dangerous things in this world are sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. You don’t know what you don’t know. You have to get out and learn so that you can engage from an informed position. That way after you start to listen, you can simultaneously engage in the work needed to challenge racism, systemically and individually. Systemic work looks at ways you can challenge racism wherever it presents itself in society. Individual work looks at conversations you should be having with your neighbors, co-workers, and especially family members who espouse racist ideas.

I saw a sign during the protest that said “White silence equals police violence” and several spins on that. Whether you agree with that or not, it is indeed true that silence equals compliance. By not becoming an engaged listener, educating yourself, and speaking up when you witness ignorance or injustice, you are part of the problem. There is no middle ground. As you can see, this country is in an all hands-on deck approach. Where do you stand? How will you stand? We are working with or without you but I believe that success is better together. Dr. King said that he would rather see a good sermon than hear one. The world is waiting to see your sermon. Let’s go!