Do You Have the Courage to Read Reading for Leading

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My intent today is to create new and realistic hope and purpose.
But I need you to go uphill with me. Please don’t give up. Give me a few paragraphs before you do. Yes?
Why make this unusual plea? Because I know that few leadership topics generate the level of hopelessness that is caused by looking at today’s RFL topic: race in America. I am not talking about the hopelessness of African-Americans.* I want to talk to, with and about people like me – white to white in a public space. 63% of us, according to a 2016 Washington Post poll, feel race relations are generally bad, and over 60% report feeling they are getting worse.

Three thoughts today about what I am struggling to do. I am seeking dialogue. Comments. Open reflections. New thinking.

First, I am making race MY problem, part of my social and moral concern that seeks my action. African-Americans suffer the sickening consequences of racism, but that doesn’t make it their problem. I’m not talking blame (looking back). I am talking about choosing (in the now) to be moral and even heroic (going forward). In other words, I want to be part of the solution. Do you? How could 12.7% of the population possibly shoulder this difficult effort of conscience and repair? And who is in a better position to speak to us . . . than us?

Second, I am trying to accept without condition the dirty truth that my mind is polluted with bias. Maybe yours isn’t. But I suspect we are all – tragically, including African Americans who have been caused to internalize this – steeped in bias and racism. In the first debate, Hilary was asked about whether she thought the brutal, caught-on-tape police officers suffered from “implicit bias,” and she responded, “We all suffer from implicit bias.” (Her emphasis was on all.) I thought that was a brave and wise response. So, I’m letting myself acknowledge all the times my mind offers me stereotypes that it has consumed – as overt racists, newscasts, media of all kinds have created the tale that “blacks” are other, dangerous, etc. If I want to do the first point, above – make race MY social concern – I can’t be afraid to see how it IS my personal problem.

Our brains at their base are fear machines, trained to sense threat, and we have been primed to see black people as a threat. A physical threat. Sometimes as a moral (judging us) threat. I will own that this bias and opposition permeates my mind, and I will not deny this by saying “I am color blind,” “I don’t have a problem with race.” Etc. I DO have a problem – it’s NOT my best self, it’s not my chosen attitude – but I won’t deny it exists in my mind.

Third, I will convert my guilt to purposeful passion. Imagine being German today. You weren’t in the Gestapo, a Nazi, or “just” a fearful collaborator with Hitler; you’re three, four generations removed already. And your family suffered, too; dead uncles, bombed property, seen by the world as evil and dangerous. You haven’t an anti-semitic or Aryan-nation bone in your body. And yet you are German.

And, so we are white. Yes, we, too, bear a burden: a shame at the roots of our nation, and at how our nation hundreds of years on, has still not gotten it right. Maybe it’s personal, too. Maybe there were times we let the N-word rise unchallenged in conversation, wondered if blacks weren’t responsible for their own problems (as if we are opposed as tribes and different in kind), or just doubted someone’s intellect, trustworthiness, or work ethic “because they were black.”

I have done these things (thanks to my fearful mind). How will I respond? I will not punish myself for these unbidden thoughts, for that will only cause them to go underground. I will notice them. Because awareness creates choice! More importantly, I will not let my guilt, block me from hearing the grievances of African Americans. It is hard to watch the police beatings. I want to believe in “my” country, want to believe in justice, and am sick of carrying white guilt! But, this is my burden, because I share in the bias (at least in my thoughts), and because this is MY country, and I am committed to it being OUR country.

So, I must work. I must educate myself about my mind.

I must open my heart to the African American experience and experiences. There’s a huge difference there. I must not let it be the black burden both to experience bias and then to have to change it alone. Many of my African American friends are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” And you may be sick and tired, too. So, perhaps you get tired of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson railing. I do. My irritation with them is a good indication I am experiencing them as a threat to my mental peacefulness, rather than experiencing the underlying injustices that concern them as the real threat.

Many of my African American friends and the too-few African Americans in my Berkeley classes don’t want to always have to be “the” black spokesperson. They don’t want us asking, as if we are children: “What should we do?” So, it’s time for us to do what you have done in reading this — and I thank you!: take on the issue ourselves, speak openly to each other, listen deeply to each other, and speak our words of impassioned justice from our hearts. Please comment this week. It’s a way to take a step, to act!

Next week, I will share some ways that we can act to make a difference. Much of our frustration lies, I think, from the feeling that we don’t know what to do constructively. But I believe it is constructive, first of all, to look honestly at ourselves. Awareness generates choice, as we

Lead with our best selves.

* I have over-simplified race to speak about African-Americans and white people. I do not do so to ignore that there are very genuine issues faced by many other people of color, or of other “minority” groups. I only do so because of the unique and painful circumstance of African-Americans and because of limitations of my reader’s time and patience with me.

22 responses to “Do You Have the Courage to Read Reading for Leading

  1. We all have biases regardless of our race or gender, life long messages accumulated from our parents, family,friends and personal experiences.
    I attended Catholic school with all races and never heard my parents or other adults make racial slurs.I was truly naive and clueless.
    As a young adult entering the work force I was in for a shock. I experienced gender discrimination as a white woman and began to observe discrimination and prejudice directed toward other races.. Yes, it had been there all along but suddenly it was directed toward me and I became aware of this ugly aspect of life.

  2. Thank-you for taking on this very charged topic and encouraging us to think about our thoughts and how it influences our ability to lead with our best selves. The concept of white privilege is a fairly new one to me, but an important one to understand and acknowledge.

    I have seen more white people talking about it recently, in this moving address by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThO74-oFt_Q

    An essay that that captures the complexity for me:
    https://medium.com/@etori/a-home-safe-from-fear-my-american-dream-2de902d0382#.mngxixtvl

    The Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) has had a multi-year program, “Learning and Safely Talking about Race and Racism Film Series” the next movie in the series will be –White Like Me: Race, Racism, and White Privilege in America
    Sunday, November 13, 2:00 PM
    Location: Ypsilanti District Library, Whittaker Rd Branch, 5577 Whittaker Rd
    Read More: http://www.icpj.org/events-calendar/

    Thanks for making this part of the Reading for Leading conversation.

  3. My perspective comes from that of a white woman. I have always had friends of different race/color: African American, Chinese, Korean, Hispanic. I realize there have been and may still continue to be great atrocities primarily against the African American population. I do however get tired of hearing the Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson rhetoric that only seems to fuel the discord and bring about greater separation. I am blessed to be in the company of several great African American individuals whose lives started out in the streets as drug addicts, drug dealers, club owners, and in gangs. These individuals have gained my respect because of who they are now. I don’t fear them or judge them. In fact, their stories are encouraging to me and others would do well to follow their lead. I can’t and won’t pretend to understand how they feel personally when the media over reports crimes against their people group and under reports crimes against mine, but they are part of our communities and instead of creating a greater divide and discord we should be responding with respect and working towards creating unity. There has always been an ideology of war between good and evil, it would do us well to know what we are warring against and stop making it a fight against our neighbor.

  4. Dan, as usual you take on the toughest issues, where real leaders are at their best. I think sometimes are are our own worst enemies. You know my military background, probably the best example of a ‘sub-culture’ where race differences are at their smallest. No, the military culture is far from perfect, yet it is probably the best of our country’s efforts to improve our challenge of race inequalities. We laugh with one another about soldiers being ‘green’, not white, yellow, brown, black, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Shinto or whatever. We embrace our differences and openly, mostly, navigate the awkwardness of race differences. Of course personal biases are not totally absent from the military, or anywhere people exist. In my experience, I cannot remember a non-black person using the N-word. Frustratingly I have had to lecture numerous soldiers using the N-word, all of them black. Whether using it as a joke or a provocation to create a response, black soldiers don’t always realize that it’s very use perpetuates an unacceptable practice. We ALL have to be better at example-setting, creating the picture of ‘what right looks like’ for juniors. There can no excuses or exceptions in demonstrating excellence in race-relations. Leaders must understand where unacceptable practices live, in speech, manner, practice, policy, deed and actions. We, as leaders must always demonstrate the courage and strength to correct actions, policies, speech, practice where such as unacceptable. Leadership is always about strength. I commanded a high-priority organization, composed of 80%+ minority soldiers. In our pursuit and demonstration of excellence, rarely was race an issue, we simply had a common focus on excellence and skill-execution. If, as leaders, we can focus on people, caring for people, treating people as people, absent any acknowledgment of race, the frustrating inequities of personal biases will dissipate. Will we eliminate it completely, probably not. Personal biases will always haunt us and we must always be astute to them and work proactively to eradicate them.

  5. African -Americans are not the only ethnic group to have prejudice shown against them. However they are one group that has not been able to easily assimilate or homogenize with the rest of the population. Other groups such as Jews, ethnic Polish, Irish or Mexicans have physical characteristics or accents that may make them stand out however as some of my friends let me know in a generation or two they all seem to assimilate into American culture and are less identifiable with their background that is prejudiced against. In order for anyone to show prejudice against a group they must first identify them as being from that less desirable group. Jer 13:23 “Can the Ethiopian change his skin…” Unlike in Nazi Germany where groups were identified by a patch on their garments, African-Americans have their body covered in their identification. One causative factor in bullying is low self-esteem, prejudiced people do not all suffer from low self-esteem, yet many do. One way to increase your own self or group value is by denigrating those different than ourselves. My goal is to try and treat all people fairly and decently. It also means I do not try to correct decades or centuries of prejudice by showing undue positive favoritism to individuals. It does mean at times I will extend a hand of help or friendship to one who may be facing unfavorable circumstances at work, church, or socially. The tide of change in society ebbs and flows. Personal experience with people of varying backgrounds can have a powerful effect on changing the mind and heart, if we let it.

  6. for three years I have “struggled” with this issue in my denomination which claims to be very open dn inclusive – and is in many ways, but we have failed to be proactive nor have we been willing to even acknowledge, let alone talk about privilege and implicit bias. Like you, i have talked to the African Americans in our movement – there are many powerful ones and finaly realized it was not theres to do, it is mine – ours.

    I join you in this effort. I have been talking to the white leaders about how, when and where to begin. Now I am hoping we don’t get so caught up in “stratagizing the right approach” – important yes, but let us not fail to begin where we can anyway!

    Thank you,

  7. For my own thinking, I came to the realization 25 years ago that there is a cultural stew that we grow up in, that shapes the way we perceive and present ourselves in the world. However, our experience in that “stew” has an individualized sensibility for each of us. That realization helps me every day to seek to understand the individual and cultural experiences of the people that I encounter. I want to understand places and cultural influences that have impacted people that I meet. I think that this leads to a more genuine understanding.

    While systematic prejudices persist each of us has the power to challenge our own thinking and to recognize the prejudices that we are carrying with us and learn to treat ourselves and each other with compassion.

    1. You are amazing. really. I used to think it was enough to tackle racism at an individual level. I really didn’t know how systemic it was and how baked into our culture. Now I am much less concerned with individual acts of racism and more concerned with how we can make the systematic oppression visible and end it

  8. Dan

    Thanks for stepping up and taking this on as this critical time in our country. For me, when I recognize that “implicit bias” slip into my brain, I try to acknowledge it and flip the scenario I am seeing as a way of pointing out to myself that it is a bias that needs to be unlearned or re-trained.

    Also, I think it’s so important that we keep learning as much as we can about the history of our country and listen to our black friends and co-workers talk about their experiences. I want to be more educated and articulate (and perhaps patient) to rise up and recognize and address somebody when they articulate an “implicit bias.”

    Looking forward to next week when you share what actions we can take.

    Susan

  9. Thank you for expressing so articulately feelings I have shared for a long time. I can relate to everything you said in this RFL. I admit and recognize my implicit bias against African Americans. I want to make race my problem, but I have not taken action to do so. Your invitation to me allows me to give myself permission take this uphill journey with you. It is the right thing to do. While I feel the guilt that you mention in your RFL, I will try not to let it block me from, not only hearing the grievances of African Americans but, responding to those grievances with meaningful dialogue and action. I can no longer sit silently when I see the perpetuation of bias because I now take full ownership of my biases. Full ownership requires action, and I join with you in taking action to address the wrong mindedness that has existing far too long. Thank for your leadership on this.

  10. It seems human nature dictates one group must try to be superior over another group. Through out history this has been a constant. Doesn’t matter the why or what, just ‘I/we are better than you’. We still do not wish to look at the treatment of native Americans in the past and currently. They were not just discriminated against, they were systematically hunted and killed and placed into reservations = which for the most part are just really horrid living conditions(at least in the lower 48). The Golden Rule tends to be represented in some fashion in several religions so maybe if we ALL can agree to treat others as we wish to be treated we might finally get somewhere. I know I am only one voice, but I AM a voice and I continue to try.

  11. Dan,

    Thanks for speaking from the heart on a topic that I deal with daily. I am often amazed at the blame I seemingly have to bare and deal with just because of my skin color. The bias I witness and experience at work or in my educational adventure has been tremendous. If it was not for my strong belief in faith and a few good people, Lord knows what my life would be like. This is even after attending a non traditional bi-lingual school in the heart of Detroit for elementary and outstanding junior and senior high school. I could go on but I am thankful for educators and thoughtful persons like yourself.

  12. Two quick comments on this very important topic.

    Bias isn’t just about race or people in an “other” category. As a white woman baby boomer from NYC I can be biased in my reaction to other white women baby boomers drom NYC. My bias can be all along a positive to negative continuum.

    A colleague of mine has a simple and deep comment about bias. As humans we cannot claim or commit to being unbiased. We CAN commit to being anti-bias, starting with our own behavior.

  13. Dan, you were brave to ssy about being tired of Sharpton & Jackson. As a “white” female victim of police brutality I’m sick of them. I have troubles talking about what was done to me b/c nobody would help me that could. A cop saw me I get arrested for no reason/I be abused. One time I was dragged out of police car by my hair/dragged on ground all the way to the door of station and then had my face smeared into the ground b4 the cop stood me up. I was handcuffed/this was a sgt that did this. One time I was hog tied in cell w only underwear on and taken outside that way to police car/taken to county jail and carried through men’s lock up that way w the male inmates yelling sick things. Another time a cop waited 4 me to get off of pay phpne and then came after me while on bike & kept trying to run me over w a police car, he wouldn’t let me up on the sidewalk until I got to my parents yard-he knew they lived there. He kept going then. That started on main road. Another time as I sat on floor In police station handcuffed a female cop repeatedly kicked me calling me c***, other names. I couldn’t breathe b/c of my asthma but they wouldn’t take me to hosp instead took me to county jail and took naked pictures of me-next day I counted 18 bruises. This isn’t even everything but I went through Hell for 11 years, stalked, falsely arrested, abused; physically, sexually, verbally abused. When our government says-they are for all of the people I know it’s not true. Our government allowed the cops to do this. I went to everyone. I keep having flashbacks lately. I was going to night school for a few years trying to get HS diploma when they started doing this to me-6 mths b4 I got my diploma. I did nothing wrong. I never got justice bc nobdy listened. I have to end my comment now. I hope that you have a blessed day, Dan. It’s hard typing this on phone sorry for any misspelled words. P V.

    1. Dan, I hope that you’re not like many where they don’t believe It happens to whites too. I’m hoping the government let me take a polygraph one day for I can prove everything that was done to me for I can finally get justice for the false charges/abuse. I almost died many times at the hands of the police. My rights were violated repeately. The government looks down on me when I can prove I did nothing wrong. I feel so let down by the government for not listening to me, for not helping me.
      The cop that tried running me over for almost a mile with his police car is not only a church goer but always had plans to take over for his father when he retired whom is the pastor of a church. If that isn’t enough-my son is taken to that church every week, like there are no other churches in this state.
      You and your bride have a good day.

    2. Dan, I’m sorry about what I said about the government since your wife worked for the government. She was the only one who cared, who ever gave me a positive response but everyone else said to f*** off, basically. Example; The mayor made jokes about it at city council meetings. Another example; The chief told me that his cops can beat me over the head with a sledge hammer and there is nothing I can do about it b/c they’re cops. Sad thing is-I was repeatedly hit on back of head with a nightstick (on main road) the same day I was repeatedly kicked. I remember one court appointed lawyer, It was In 2002 he came to county jail and told me I had to pretend nothing happened or they won’t let me out of jail.

      I didn’t mean your wife when I said government. I am sorry. No more comments, I’m through.

  14. Dear Dan,
    It certainly requires certain amount of courage to write you have written this week.
    Kudos to you to openly admit bias: now it is ourselves to find a way out.
    This show of courage would definitely make this world a better place.
    Regards,

    -Jaydeep Shah

  15. Renamed – Leading to (more) Liberalism. A familiar rant these days from the left – “white guilt” – and Dan has it. I don’t. This wonderful country that liberals always condemn as racist along with all of its people, rectified slavery bravely and with blood and sacrifice. Done. Over. Leftover and lingering Institutional racism was eliminated with momentous civil rights gains to the point where we have our first black president (even before a female), elected predominantly by white Americans. Supreme Court justices, Secys of State, Defense, Commerce, Attorneys General, senators, reps, Mayors, police chiefs, CEOs, CFOs…… there’s literally no high, low or medium position uninhabited by black Americans. What is left, tragically, is a near-permanent black underclass destroyed by liberalism and their underclass position sustained by the democrat party. Inner-city black children oppressed shackled eternally to horribly failing schools simply to sustain democrat union teaching power to keep democrats in office, as just one of many, many examples. Hillary was “courageous” to pronounce all Americans biased? Utter baloney. Her answer was to the charge that she called some black men “super-predators.” This is a quintessential liberal tactic and it surely isn’t “brave” – blaming all Americans for what THEY actually did.

    God has taught us to love each other for every one of us is a child of God. And God never has us “lead” from a position of guilt.

  16. Thank you for bringing this up. I can relate on two fronts. As the child of a German mother, my German grandparents NEVER talked about their heritage when I was a child in the 40’s. There was such an unwritten embarrassment about being German in America, and this I was not raised to feel any strong allegiance about my ethnicity. On another front, I am married to a black man and we have (grown) bi-racial sons. I found myself defending them and us for so many of our 48 years together, and dumbfounded at the lack of progress in the areas of race. Went to a talk last night at an Episcopal Church in St. Augustine by the author Scott Brown who talks about the principle of Separation, which is what is happening in our country and in our world today, and how we can look beyond it. The rhetoric of fear in this presidential campaign further “separates” us and creates the ‘us” vs. “them” mentality.

  17. For the pursuit of honest thoughts, I will give a relevant addition of my personal history, memories, and takeaways. I am white and originally from Germany.

    I was told by my mother once that my twin brother and I, while we were still living in Germany, at the age of around 3 were put into a daycare one day where a black German woman worked and that my brother and I, having never seen a black person, freaked out and cried. After my mother picked us up, we apparently told her that the black woman was scary and we did not like her.

    Years later, after moving to the U.S., my brother and I encountered incidences were fellow students in school called us Nazis and isolated us for being part German and speaking German.

    Taken together, my later evaluations (in recent years) of the above occurrences in conjunction with this weeks reading have found me developing a greater appreciation for racism and my encounters with it. It is no easy thing to admit, but at a young age I had negative racial views. Through experience and appropriate education though, I have shown that an educated mind can identify this and be open to understanding what causes racial views. This being said, it is evident to me that racism persists in the U.S. and that something can definitely be done about it.

  18. Hello Dan,

    I want to tell you my story about the BiasBox.

    As you know, I was born and raised near Detroit, MI. I saw race riots, up close and personal in the late 1960’s and my family moved about as far north as one can go in Michigan. (25 miles further and my feet would be wet in Lake Superior.) This forced me to confront many of my own biases, as the people who live up here have an entirely different set of biases, or at least in far different degrees. Their biases were evident to me immediately. Mine, I am certain, were on brilliantly awful display.

    Shocked, I set about trying to change my biases to, at least, more closely coincide with those of my neighbors — and discovered that there is almost as much pressure put on me from others to keep my biases — as there is pressure from my own mind to stand pat. People fear and distrust you if you change, and will actively seek to keep you pigeonholed in the little “BiasBox” in which they have filed you. As I slowly accumulated friends and acquaintances they classified me, and for ease of future judgments and reference, put me in my appropriate BiasBox. I guess it simply makes it easier for them to interact if they feel they can predict how I will react to certain things, thereby avoiding uncomfortable confrontations and the like.

    My point is that as much as I desire to work on these biases, I will have to deal with my own fears and habits AND I will have to deal with pressure from others to stay in my BiasBox.

  19. Dan

    Thank you for this post. I agree White/Caucasian/European-American people (of which I am one) need to take responsibility for our role in a culture that still Bears the legacy of slavery and ALL that entails. European-Americans need to take responsibility for our thoughts, words and actions. Your post states that clearly and beautifully in my opinion.

    Growing up for whatever reason I had white guilt and thought all black people must hate me because I’m white. Needless to say this did not result in honest relationships with African-Americans I came in contact with.

    Thank you again for your willingness to address this issue honestly.

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