Start with Why: History before Remedy – Reflections about Racial Issues

“The racial divide (in policing) is real, it is ugly, and it grows from a thing that has worked its way into all Americans’ minds.”
Tom James, The AtlanticCan Cops Unlearn Their Unconscious Biases?
“Implicit bias” training is spreading to departments around the country, the theory being it can influence officer behavior on the street. But it’s still not clear that the classes actually work.

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The evidence is in.  There is still way too much racism in America (and, throughout the world).

And companies and organizations, and government agencies, are trying to reduce racism.

And a ton of money is being spent in trying to do that. The intentions are good, and noble.  But, there is still bias in hiring, and in promoting, and in…  well, there is plenty of bias.

Bias is real because racial prejudice is real.  And even though we have made progress against racial discrimination, it has not brought about all that much of a reduction of discriminatory practices within organizations, and….

In other words, from all indications, the training, is not working very well.

I have a theory.  It is based on reading many books, and on travels I have made,

My theory:
People are prejudiced.
And, yes, some people – dare I say many people – are racist.

In other words – and, yes, this is very hard to acknowledge – many, many white people believe that they are better than Black people.  Period.

So, in thinking about this, I thought of Simon Sinek.  In his book Start with Why, he says that until the why is right, the what and the how will be off.

In his book, he talks a great deal about Martin Luther King, Jr., and the movement he led.  He affirms that the people who marched and protested and endured beatings did all of that because they had their “why” right.

State troopers swing billy clubs to break up a civil rights voting march in Selma, Ala., March 7, 1965. John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (in the foreground) is being beaten by a state trooper. Lewis, a future U.S. Congressman sustained a fractured skull. (AP Photo)

State troopers swing billy clubs to break up a civil rights voting march in Selma, Ala., March 7, 1965. John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (in the foreground) is being beaten by a state trooper. Lewis, a future U.S. Congressman sustained a fractured skull. (AP Photo)

I write this just a couple of days after the death of John Lewis.  In 1965, he had his head bashed in by an Alabama State Trooper for marching across a bridge in Selma, Alabama.  Why?

Why did the officers bash his head in?  Because they did not believe that a Black person should have the same rights as a white person, and they did not believe that a Black person should ask for, much less demand, such rights.
And,
Why did John Lewis, and so many others, endure such treatment?  Because they believed the cause was just.  They believed that they should rightfully be included in that great circle of “all are created equal.”

John Lewis acted like he did because he had his why right.

Here’s my thought.  Implicit bias training, diversity training; these are well and good. But they should not be first.  These jump ahead of the real starting point.  If you leap first to these, and skip the why, you will not succeed.

I believe that too many people in positions of leadership are ignorant of the history.

Here is the history:  white people did not want to make room for the Black people, who they viewed as inferior and undeserving of equal place; including equal opportunity.

I believe that the real starting point is to bring in the history experts.  Let them teach the people about the past, and why the racist practices were set up, and maintained, and tolerated for so very long.color-of-law-book

Read the speech that launched the Confederacy: the Cornerstone Speech.  Read the accounts of the laws that were established and widely adopted to keep Black people “in their place”  (The book The Color of Law is a good place to start). Read about the Civil Rights movement, maybe beginning with Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch.

And so many more.

Parting the WatersYou can’t skip the history, because the history explains the why.  And you can’t read just a small piece of the history.  You’ve got to read a number of books and accounts in order to grasp how sweeping the racist practices were.

We have been a racist country.

Explain the history; teach the history; help the folks study the history.  THEN begin the diversity and implicit bias training.

Those are my thoughts.

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I am presenting synopses of books dealing with racial issues for a few months at the First Friday Book Synopsis.  For August, the book is White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.  The Color of Law is coming soon.  Listen in (on Zoom).  You might find it helpful.  Be checking this blog for details each month.

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