Stop. Don’t run away. I know the title may scare you a little, but don’t run from this word. I know the title and grammar (ain’t) is not Minnesota Nice, but don’t click away and just say, “that is interesting.” For those of you that don’t speak Minnesota Nice, “that is interesting” is a passive aggressive way to criticize something or someone without being direct or confrontational. Before you decide not to read this blog post, take a few minutes and breathe.
Realize that this blog will not physically or emotionally hurt you. Realize that if the title of, or reading this blog makes you uncomfortable, well maybe it is time for you to be uncomfortable. Realize that if your discomfort causes you to think differently, be uncomfortable as you think differently. Realize if your discomfort causes you to doubt your beliefs and question your values, be uncomfortable. This blog will not set you free or make you feel better about witnessing the murder of George Floyd. It will not show YOU what to do to feel better or solve 400 plus years of racial oppression. I ain’t white, so remember I don’t know what YOU should do. Hopefully, this post will instead guide you towards self reflection so that you and others like you can make a personal change that will be a catalyst towards systems change and racial justice.
Being a Black leader in equity, diversity and inclusion is very tiring these days. Everybody keeps asking me, James, WHAT SHOULD I DO? You may ask why is this question in all caps. Well, I will tell you. It feels like I hear this question when I wake up, when I sleep, and when I dream. It gets louder and louder throughout the day. The question is typically asked by my white friends and colleagues. This question started being asked over and over again after Memorial Day, 2020. You might ask what happened that day, however I think you already know. The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer was captured on video on Memorial Day. The 8 minute and 46 second video prompted the thought, but I think the question of “What Should I Do?” was posed only after millions of people throughout the world marched, protested and participated in civil unrest. This unrest led to buildings and structures being damaged. The protesters demanded change in policing and an end to racism. So think about it. It took an 8 minute and 46 second televised murder, for you to ask me, “What should YOU do?” It took the televised modern day lynching of a Black Man, destruction of buildings and world wide economic disruption for you to ask what should YOU do about racial, social and economic justice, as well as ending police brutality and racial inequities. Let that sink in for a minute.
I ain’t white, so I don’t know what YOU should do. However, I do know what the system needs for sustainable change that will move towards ending racial injustice. I do have some recommendations for you and your potential role in changing this system change.
1. YOU should sit in YOUR discomfort caused by the current situation. A Black, man, George Floyd, was murdered. CoVid19 and it’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially the Black community, and civil unrest after the murder of Mr. Floyd has caused high unemployment, the elimination of Black economic gains, and the unintended destruction of Black owned businesses. Unfortunately, many of these businesses will not return. Since 1619, America has enslaved, lynched, segregated, murdered, imprisoned and economically destroyed Black people. This systemic racism continues through 2020. So taking this in to consideration, rather than try to DO Something (an action), listen and learn something through self reflection (sit in it) and learn how we got here so you can fully and collaboratively engage in how we can collectively end systemic racism. Don’t rush to DO SOMETHING to just make you feel better. Sit in it.
2. YOU should not think that placing a Black Lives Matter sign on your lawn makes it better. You should not think changing the image of Aunt Jemina on a syrup container makes it better. You should not think that intensely celebrating Juneteenth makes it better. You should not think reading an anti-racism book makes it better. You should not think playing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, before NFL games makes it better. Once again, I ain’t white, so I don’t know what YOU should do. However, for system change to occur you may have to do more than simple gestures. YOU MAY HAVE TO INVEST YOUR TIME TALENT AND RESOURCES to make a significant change. . Don’t rush to DO SOMETHING to just make you feel better. Sit in it.
3. YOU should not expect Black people to dismantle racism. White people created systemic racism. White people benefit from systemic racism and white people have a lot to lose if we truly adopt racial equity and eliminate systemic racism. Eliminating racism is not a zero sum game, however it will change the way the game is played and who benefits most from the game. So rather than ask Black people what should YOU do, it may be helpful to inquire and soul search with your white colleagues as to what Y’ALL (another non Minnesota Nice grammar usage) should do to disrupt and dismantle the system that was created for your benefit. Ask your white colleagues what Y’ALL should do to redistribute wealth and create access to opportunities so that equity is reflected in your community and your businesses. This does not mean that you cannot collaborate and partner with your Black colleagues to address systemic racism. Instead, it means that they should not SOLELY be asked to solve a problem that was not designed or implemented by them or for their benefit. Don’t rush to DO SOMETHING to just make you feel better. Sit in it.
4. YOU should not rush to do something, before you build relationships with Black people. If you build relationships first, Black people can tell you when you are “Doing Too Much.” Let me tell you why this is important. After the civil unrest in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, and the destruction of office buildings and stores, many people donated food to the Black community. The donations were heartfelt and needed. The donations assisted the community. However, the donations seemed to be endless and were not aligned with leaders of community organizations receiving and distributing the donations. So the donations kept coming and the people kept dropping off food and then driving back home. Because some of the donors had no relationship with the Black community, the donations overflowed in churches and community centers. Instead of asking the simple question, “what else do you need and how can we help,” the donors kept “doing too much.” You should build relationships and continually ask the the community what they need. The community will tell you if you ask them. They may even already have what they need to be successful in the community. The community will be more responsive in partnerships and collaborative if there is authentic engagement and joint problem solving. Don’t rush to DO SOMETHING to just make you feel better. Sit in it.
5. YOU should not expect to DO ANYTHING that is going to make you feel better after witnessing the murder of George Floyd. Let me repeat this one, YOU should not expect to DO ANYTHING that is going to make you feel better after witnessing the murder of George Floyd. Once you realize this important fact, you will not rush to do something quickly or urgently. Instead, you will be reflective and thoughtful. You will ask yourself this question. “Am I preparing myself for sustained action rather than a quick fix that makes me feel better? Let me give you an example. Many organizations want to invest in addressing police brutality and social and economic disparities in the Black community. They want to DO SOMETHING right away to solve these problems. However, these proposed solutions are grounded in strategies and ideas that have previously not worked. These solutions are grounded in systemic racism and have led to Minnesota having some of the largest racial disparities in education, employment, health, housing and economic development. Before you DO SOMETHING, you may want to establish and build relationships with some of the community members that have been protesting and demanding change. You may find their ideas creative and valuable for long range systemic change. If you begin change without their partnership, your DOING SOMETHING will be for naught. Don’t rush to DO SOMETHING to just make you feel better. Sit in it.
I ain’t white, so I don’t know what YOU should do. However, I do know if you really want to have sustained change for racial justice, do not rush to do something that makes you feel better. Do not rush to do something that will get you a few headlines. Instead, sit in it, learn, reflect, build new relationships and make a difference with your next move.