In this country, we have watched, and some of us have experienced, racism in its many forms for many years. The economic, employment, health, education, housing, technology, wealth (and on and on…) disparities exist and some may say (now that these are being brought to light in different ways) they are shocked by hearing this “news.” But to many people, these disparities are not shocking; they are real – they are a way of life. The impact of these disparities is felt each and every day. That they are brought to the surface – again – after the killing of George Floyd, however, seemed to be a wake-up call for many people – including many leaders.
In defining leaders I’m not talking about those necessarily in titled positions. I watch as some of those titled leaders refuse to / choose not to / don’t have (or make) the time to acknowledge their colleagues who are hurting. I watch as these titled leaders roll out the seemingly obligatory statements. I watch as some of those titled leaders find it so difficult to say three words, “Black Lives Matter!” I watch as some of those titled leaders feel they are being attacked because people are demanding justice. I watch, and I ask myself, “Is this leadership?”
However, I see leadership in so many other places. I see it in a friend of mine who called to say that he has “found his voice” and he’s been speaking up at his place of work in order to effect change there. I see leadership in the students at many institutions who are demanding justice for Black students (and faculty and other traditionally underrepresented groups) on their campuses. I see leadership in the people who organize protests to draw even more attention to the systemic problems of racism and calling for changes in these systems. And I see leadership in my friends and colleagues who demonstrate their activism every day in so many ways.
These leaders understand that to change the systems of oppression, we must all be vigilant in our words and actions as we hold ourselves and those in positions of authority (myself included) accountable for our collective actions. In the last week, I have seen several references to “performative activism” and “keyboard activism,” both referring to the fact that, for some people, their words/actions will not be sustained. And certainly, there is reason to believe they won’t be sustained as this is not the first time we’ve been here. My fervent hope is that this time, with sustained pressure and action, especially from the often unsung heroes – these leaders – we will see positive changes for Black people in America.
Let’s all rise in response to the third question in the cartoon below…