Why does this little four-letter word keep nagging leaders? I believe it’s because most leaders don’t have the courage to engage it, don’t have the capability to discuss it, and lack the capacity to formulate strategies to resolve it. And then there are those who don’t care.
As a member of the Diversity Panel for The Olympian newspaper a few years ago, I posted a piece titled, “Powerful, misunderstood four-letter word is divisive.” Excerpts from the piece follow.
“There’s a four-letter word that divides families, churches, communities and sometimes nations. I believe one of the main reasons it is so powerful is because it is misunderstood; it is misunderstood because we dare not talk about it; we dare not talk about it because it evokes emotions, frustration, anger and often violence. Fear of engagement?”
The four-letter word is race. And most leaders avoid it! Think about that! Avoidance of it will not cultivate racial equity.
What difference does race make and what are its effects on us?
In 1849, Benjamin Disraeli argued, “The difference of race is one of the reasons why I fear war may always exist; because race implies difference; difference implies superiority; and superiority leads to dominance.”
Disraeli had prescience about race as you’ll see below in a few historical examples. But first, let’s look at the origin of race.
During workshops, I ask, “Where did race come from?” The silence is deafening.
Literature such as Robert Jensen’s book, The Heart of Whiteness, says race is a social construct invented by white people for the purpose of dominance and control. Jensen adds, “Race is a fiction we must not accept and a fact we must never forget.” To substantiate Jensen, a book by Rothstein titled, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America speaks volumes of this social construct. It talks about de jure, segregation exercised by our government, deliberately created racial inequity!
In L. C. Dunn’s The Race Question in Modern Science: Race and Science, he wrote, “The modern view of race, founded upon the known facts and theories of heredity, leaves the old views of fixed and absolute biological differences among the races without scientific justification.”
Historical examples abound regarding dominance and control. Hitler’s ideas of racial purity led to unprecedented atrocities in Europe–against 6,000,000 Jews. Other historical examples are the Balkans, Rwanda and South Africa. And let’s not forget the Congo, where King Leopold II of Belgium murdered 10,000,000 (million) Congolese with impunity; chopped off hands and feet of little five-year-old girls and boys, “desexed” men, etc., for disobedience.
In our United States, on the one hand, race has been a source of restraint, dominance, friction, animosity, frustration and sometimes murder. On the other hand, race has been a source of privilege, abuse of power, advantage, gain, denial and superiority, leading to social and economic injustice.
We all participate in this social construct, as social beings in perpetuating the effects of race knowingly or unknowingly. So, I ask you, “How can we challenge our status quo in thinking, our attitudes and beliefs in our communities about race?”
I believe, first, by understanding it more deeply, its origin, its implications and consequences, with the goal of starting a dialogue among us – dialogic civility. I believe this is everyone’s role in general and Leaders’ role in particular. What’s happening in the football world right now? There’s kneeling, locking arms, arguing, all because of race in general and racial inequity in particular.
Leaders, all leaders, from school districts, corporations, to universities, hospitals, and beyond, must show up, stand up, and speak up for racial equity!