Think you’re a bigoted, close-minded, self-righteous jerk? Me neither. In fact, I would say I’m an enlightened, open-minded, self-righteous liberal. But I’ve had a lesson lately that I hope will open your eyes too.
Many have been awakened by recent events to acknowledge the institutional racism in our country. It’s much worse than the blatant racism on full display. At least we can see that, call it out by name, condemn it, shake our heads, pass laws and walk away. That’s not us right? That’s those ignorant, racist people. This is where institutional racism is different. It is us. It’s all of us who don’t even see it. We think we know. But we don’t.
As many others have, I’ve been on a soul-searching journey of understanding. I wrote about this in Am I a racist? A cursory inward check shows all is in good order. I am secure in what I know and understand. Still, there’s a nagging voice that keeps pushing. “What aren’t you seeing?” “What don’t you understand?” As all editors know, editing words on a page is one thing. Looking for what’s not there is a different skill.
I was recently working on a new program for the Local Business Institute, tentatively titled Unity in Diversity (more on this later). It’s a program for local business owners who want to use their voice against racism but could use a little guidance and yes, self-discovery. I was looking at stock photography for the proposal. Searching for ‘diversity workplace’, I found a plethora of fabulous photos. I was selecting more great photos than I needed. They depicted multi-cultural, -gender, -age, -everything. I was set until that voice whispered “What aren’t you seeing?”
As I looked with a more critical eye, I saw it. Institutional racism right on my screen. And I am participating by selecting photos showing it. Oh, the photos look great. All the colors are there. Everyone is harmoniously working together, exchanging ideas, being equal. It’s easy to say this is us. This is what we should look like. This is what I want us to look like. But look closer. Listen to that voice asking what you’re not seeing. In every group photo that had an obvious leader in the scene, it was a white person showing people of color the way things are. Splainin’ it.
Once I saw it, I couldn’t un-see it. It was cloaked in hip scenes of perfect appropriateness. It was painted with hues of harmony. These lovely photos depicted the ugliest of us, the institutional racism us. I implore you to open your multi-colored eyes and see. What you see will open your mind and guide you to action. Take that action. Speak out. Show others. Open their eyes too. This is how we change—each of us taking one step.