Equity is giving people what they need to be successful. Equity NEVER focuses on giving people equal amounts in order to be fair and just. Instead, equity takes into account structural racism, bias, discrimination and many other barriers and then realizes that some groups need different solutions than other groups. Equity is NOT Equal! Equity does not treat everybody the same. As we begin 2020, I want to share my perspectives on Equity and what it takes to move it forward.
Someone told me that someone told them that when James was the Chief Inclusion Officer for the State of Minnesota, he did too much for the Black Community and therefore other communities of color and the Native American community were not happy with him. In the past when I heard something like this, I would get angry and try and justify my actions or defend my stance for the Black community. I will no longer take that stance. Instead, I will say, I am TOO Black! I was born a Black Man. I own the greatness as well as the challenges of being a Black Man. I own the Detroit upbringing that taught me to always look out for US! I own my commitment to increase state spending in the Black Community that led to a 1000 percent increase in spending with Black businesses. Equity required this of me and for that there will never be an apology. As for the assumption about what other communities think about me because I practice equity, I will let you ask them. I am positive my sisters and brothers from another mother have a different story to tell about me and my work than the person who made the comment about me. Equity is Too Black!
I have often been told that I am pushy when it comes to the work of equity in Minnesota. Some have said that I don’t understand that everybody is trying “their best.” I have also been told that people are afraid of you James because “your presence takes over the room.” Lastly, I have many times been blamed for people not offering a counter opinion because they “thought” I would not hear what they had to say. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 or more inequities for communities of color and Native Americans. I will not belabor the horrible statistics because you have heard them many times before. We are bad in unemployment, home ownership, health equity, economic development, education, etc. When things are in a dire straight and change must happen NOW, I submit that there is no such thing as Too Strong. It is quite possible that people in the past have not been strong enough to make change and also not strong enough to hold people accountable. It could be that if we increased our strength to not only have tough conversations, but also exhibit tough actions we would all be stronger and healthier in Minnesota. Equity is Too Strong!
Too Intimidating, Too Demanding, Too Harsh
If you don’t demand change, change will not happen. Many people have asked nicely and politely and when told to apologize for asking. The infant mortality rate for Black mothers is 2.3 times higher than that of white mothers. Black babies are 3.8 times more likely to die from complications of low birth rate than white babies. In other words, the HARSH reality is that Black babies are dying and we need everyone to be more intimidating, harsh and demanding until this tragedy is fixed. If you are worried about being nice or well received rather than urgent, that could be the root of the problem. Equity is Intimidating, Demanding and Harsh!
Too Much (Hot) to Handle
An old Heatwave album from the 80’s was entitled Too Hot to Handle. The picture of a LP on the front of album was so hot that it was melting. My goal in 2020 is to be Too Hot to Handle for Equity. What does Too Hot to Handle look like? Well, I am so glad you asked. It looks like ridiculously high hiring and retention goals for people of color and Native Americans that some think can’t be met. It looks like ridiculously high supplier diversity spend goals that some say cannot be met. It looks like holding people accountable for their actions who consistently demonstrate inappropriate behavior towards people of color and Native Americans. It also means holding people accountable for their inactions in resolving these issues. Lastly, it looks like addressing the statement of “we have never done it that way before,” with the response, “equity requires that we do it differently and it may look nothing like we expected.” Equity is Too Hot to Handle!
As you bring in the new year and the new decade ask yourself do you really want equity? If the answer is yes, ask yourself what are you willing to do achieve it. Your answer may surprise you.