02 Sep Becoming a Better Us
Ferguson, MO, the current ground zero for our great Nation’s much needed discussion of race, has a population of about 21,000. In other words, it’s a small city, like so many of the other small cities that American Rural represents. Its pain is our pain.
A young man dead, a young police officer whose life is irrevocably altered, families plundered, a community and a country unsure how to move forward.
At American Rural, we have promised to fearlessly tackle tough questions. Being rural and small town folks, we know that there’s often no other way. Evaluating how to talk about this tragedy, however, I was stumped. Words come easily to me, yet I couldn’t find the right words for this.
Racist, Sexist, Misogynist, Homophobe, Bigot, Chauvinist. These are tough, harsh words. They are certainly tough and harsh for a reason. Words are tools and we use tools like these to condemn repugnant behaviors. But, what if we are oversimplifying our choices in ways that wind up holding us back? What if there are choices in between having no bias whatsoever and being racist or sexist or a bigot?
Because here’s the deal… If we are better able to acknowledge our shortcomings, then we are better able to improve.
I meet extraordinary folks every day. They are generous, hardworking, smart, innovative. And I’ll bet that just about every single one of them carries some bias about his or her fellow humans. These are not folks that most of us would consider to be racists, sexists, or homophobes. But I can’t find a non-inflammatory description for good, caring people whose unexamined perceptions about other people might lead them to behave in insensitive or discriminatory ways we hoped were long behind us.
When Twitter’s management filed for an IPO without a single woman on its board, it was painful for professional women everywhere. Then its senior management doubled down on its ignorance by saying, “We just couldn’t find any qualified women.” Ouch again. Social media pounced. Twitter got called sexist, misogynists, troglodytes. And what’s changed in the tech world since then? Precious little.
I know that oftentimes the more harshly I judge myself, the less likely I will be to seek the self-knowledge necessary to embrace the real systemic changes that I need to make a better me. And, isn’t that what we’re looking for here? How do we create a better us? Because we can do it.
We shouldn’t tolerate bigotry or discrimination or hostile workplaces. We should never excuse harming someone on the basis of how they look. Nobody…Nobody…Nobody ever “asks for it” by dressing or looking a certain way. Ever.
We are all someone’s parent, spouse, child, friend, loved one.
Our biases are real and we all know better now than a month ago how those perceptions can lead to tragedies. So, we have to talk about it. And we have to talk about it in a way that allows for learning, failure and recovery, and mutual support.
So let’s be brave, acknowledge our shortcomings, and get to the hard work of fixing them. Because, as one of our great supporters pointed out on Facebook, that’s how we’ll become colorblind…
That’s how we’ll become a better us.