Two weeks ago I shared an article on LinkedIn by Real Talk: WOC & Allies for Racial Justice and Anti-Oppression. The article is entitled “Ask Any Black Person, and They Can Tell you the First Time They were Called a Racial Slur,” which was written on October 24, 2017. With the article I shared my first experience with racism, which was when I was walking to the bus stop in my hometown of Milwaukee, WI. after working at McDonald’s. I was 16 years old and three white males drove by and yelled the N-word out of the window. Initially I was shocked, then fear took over, what if they turned around and got out of their vehicle, what was I going to do? I asked people to share their first experience with racism and over eighty people responded with more than 7,400 views; making it the social experiment that was accidental.
Sharing their first experience with racism seemed therapeutic for many. People who are not even in my network shared their experiences too, which I was not at all expecting. A few people who are not racial or ethnic minorities shared their first experience with being called out of their name by people of color, when they were in space where they were the minority. Calling people out of their name and making them feel uncomfortable is something that many in marginalized communities experience often, which is problematic. When those who did not identify as minorities shared their experiences, minorities commented on their post and were empathic to their experiences too. Everyone was attempting to be understanding, empathic and careful with their words. Considering the current climate in America, which I perceive to be hostile towards certain groups, it was so refreshing to see people sharing and willing to be vulnerable.
People shared stories of being called a derogatory racial name when they were as young as 4 years old. Being able to remember the pain of the first time you were called a derogatory racially motivated slur stays with you, it’s something you don’t forget, regardless of age. Stories were told of being called “Buck Wheat” to being called the N-Word. People who shared their painful experiences included Hispanics, Middle Easterners, African Americans, Caribbean, Caucasians—no one seemed exempt to being exposure to ignorance and pain. We are a diverse nation and we must all address the ignorance of hate.
Diversity recognizes that people are different with varied perspectives and life experiences. Equity requires eliminating all barriers to advancement by ensuring all are treated fairly, just and given the same access and opportunities. Equity is different from equality as equity recognizes that not everyone is starting at the same point. Due to historical and contemporary issues surrounding race we still see inequality in America. Sociologist continue to document disparities in the criminal justice system, education and access to employment and health food. Inclusion is when we see these diverse environments where individuals or groups feel like they belong, are respected, valued, supported and have their voices heard.
To often I see diversity within companies and organization but only in numbers, NOT in leadership. In academia, where is where I have spent most of my professional career, I typically see diversity in the workforce but the people who look like me (minorities) are not in positions of power. When I go on a college campus the people who do look like me are in roles such as the janitorial staff, landscaping crew, administrative assistants and food service workers. Please don’t misunderstand me those jobs are respected and valued but when I look at the leadership, I don’t see people who look like me. One thing I hear to often that I know is statistically incorrect is that there are not enough minorities with post-secondary education to be in positions of power, this is not true. Studies continue to show that minorities are indeed getting post-secondary educational degrees and are actively engaged in the workforce but to often they are not valued.
We as a nation need to get back to being empathetic and understanding that people are starting at different points due to historical and contemporary issues that work to keep the status quo in place. People are not looking for a handout but a hand up. This accidental social experiment showed me that there are a lot of hurt people in our society and hurt people, hurt people. We have got to do better as a nation if we are to thrive and be competitive in our global society.