Simple Ideas: Time to Learn

June 2020 | In the Context of a Nationwide Focus on Racial Inequality

When is the last time you invested time to learn… to honestly seek new information about a topic or an issue – enough so that it changed your context and moved you along a continuum of understanding? If you are like me, this experience is rare.  I don’t like to be uncomfortable, therefore I tend to avoid discomfort if possible.  But, out of either curiosity or conviction, I’m finding myself seeking it out now.  If you, like me, are white in America, and don’t struggle with food and shelter security – perhaps you’ve found yourself similarly open and willing to learn.  If so, read on.  If not, you may not find this post particularly helpful.  

I believe this is an important time in our history to listen, in humility, and try to learn.  I confess, I feel like I’m only at the beginning.  The more I read and talk with people about racial injustice and inequality in America, the more I am struck with what I don’t know and, up to this point, have not understood.  Perhaps it is important to start with this context… I believe we are all created in the image of God and absolutely equal.  I believe racism and inequality in this country are real – and have been for centuries.  Black lives absolutely do matter and I must do my part to work against racism in my sphere of influence.  Furthermore, I believe that because racism is often systemic, pervasive and subconscious, it is not simply a matter of declaring, “I’m not a racist.” 

Demonstrations, community building, financial support, organizing and voting – these are essential for lasting societal change.  But, embedded into such scaled efforts, must be individual change… individual people waking up, seeking another point of view, reflecting and learning.  And, if you are a leader – a person of influence – it is even more important. So that is what I am proposing as a simple, but potentially uncomfortable, activity that can be a step in the right direction – engage one-on-one with each other to build relationships and promote understanding.  

Ask questions with genuine curiosity, and then listen to understand, not to respond or counter.   Relate to what you’re hearing versus reacting to it or comparing it to what you’d previously thought.  As you do, I hope you can bring a heart-attitude of humility, love and courage to these conversations.  

Before you jump in. 

Asking direct questions of others with whom you have not yet built a foundation of trust, may not be as simple or productive as it sounds.  It takes time to build the kind of vulnerability-based trust needed to go deep.  Start with self-reflection with your friends and family.  Next, broaden your scope to include other allies — fellow learners who share your own life experiences.  As you are able, reach out to those with different life experiences. Create safe places for them to share and for you to listen.

Questions for self-reflection and dialogue:

  • What could get in the way of me exploring issues of race with others? 
  • What is my story?  Where did I grow up?  What was my family like?
  • What was a unique or interesting challenge I faced as a kid?
  • How did these experiences shape me?
  • How open am I to truly learning new things?
  • What values and opinions do I hold strongly?  Where were these formed?
  • What voices have I been listening to in my life?  What voices have I not heard?
  • What are my current biases, prejudices or believed stereotypes?
  • What are some of my own experiences with racism or inequality?
  • What forms of privilege do I have?  How do I benefit from that privilege?
  • In my position of influence, who do I choose to surround myself with (professionally through hiring/promotion or personally through relationship-building and community networking)?
  • How open am I to other points of view? How can I actively seek out other opinions and perspectives before making decisions?
  • What voices must I include so that I can gain the perspective I need as a decision-maker?
  • What are the most insensitive things I might be doing/saying… and may not even realize it? 
  • What does it mean for me to move from being “not a racist” to anti-racist?
  • What would be a good initial step for me to take toward anti-racism?
  • How can my company, relationships, community, or network be more anti-racist?
  • What are the biggest lessons I am taking away from this?
  • What can I do more of, better or differently to make the biggest difference?

I must acknowledge the family members and friends who have helped to shape my understanding of race, injustice and inequality.  Dialogue is a two-way street — I must be open to new thoughts, and you have to be open to sharing yours.  While I do not presume to know what the solutions are… I do know that they will begin with people investing time to think new thoughts and taking steps to help.  I want to acknowledge D. Nigel Green who, in his essay to Muchin College Prep 2020 Grads “10 Things I Hope About You”, made this simple challenge… 

“Your words are temporary placeholders for what you actually do next. If you’re genuine, people will believe you initially. This belief will fade with each action that doesn’t align to what you say, until your words no longer have the worth and impact they should. I hope you’ll act in a manner representative of who you want to be.”

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