There is an increased awareness of the problems in our society due to the recent events that have been captured and reported on social media, as well as in the news. Bias, racism, and prejudice are all issues that are now at the forefront of our society. However, the issue of racial equality for people of color is not a new issue. It has been interwoven in the fabric of the culture of the United States since the land was occupied by the first settlers. Unfortunately, it has been ignored . . . danced around . . . and only partially addressed. Still, I am grateful for progress.
There is a difference between progress toward a goal and the attainment of that goal.
I believe that we have come to a critical point in time where we as a global society have the opportunity to create unity, equity, and appreciation for all cultures, especially people of color. I also believe that we missed the opportunity to do the same 6 years ago with the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson. Fortunately, this time is different. We do not want to miss this moment! People across the world are using their voices and platforms to make it known that all life, including black life, is valuable.
Policies and systems are important to ensure fair treatment of all people. However, if the issue of the heart is not addressed along with the creation of policies, the mistreatment of blacks and people of color will continue to occur.
While there are many methods and opinions as to how the issue of bias should be addressed, I want to offer this perspective:
Laws govern behavior, but they do not change the heart.
Those in position of leadership must respond to this crisis because it’s the responsible thing to do. There is a call to lead at a higher level, for a higher purpose, and that purpose is to eradicate racism and bias against black people once and for all. However, the solution is not a top down solution. It is a solution that must be championed by every leader, at all levels of influence, in every community, and in every organization or business.
Before I can offer, in what my opinion, is one of the solutions to begin to eradicate racism, we must address a long-standing myth. One common myth in leadership development is the belief that the leader is totally responsible for the culture of their organization. This is not true. I believe it is the leader’s responsibility to set the tone, create the conditions, and the framework for the culture of an organization. Leaders also initiate the creation of values and keep them before their teams. Ultimately, they are the primary influencers and the protectors of the culture in their organizations.
However, there are others involved who bring with them beliefs and actions that negatively or positively affect the culture. Every team member has a role to play in creating and maintaining the culture of the organization. Culture, therefore, is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. It is the correlation between the beliefs; actions of the leader and the team which has an impact on the customers the organization serves.
In order to address bias, the leader must be willing to lead the team in authentic and transparent conversations about bias, racism, and prejudice. The team, in turn, must be willing to examine their hearts for any bias that may have been inadvertently deposited, be honest about what they may uncover, and then address the issue.
Here are a few questions you can use for reflection with your team, as well as with yourself.
1. Do I allow images of black people on television, movies, or in public to influence my opinion about all black people?
2. Do I view each person as a unique individual and not a representative of their culture?
3. When I speak about different cultures, do I use the term “race”?
4. If I am a person of color, do I feel that other cultures and ethnic groups are out to get me?
5. If I am not a person of color, do I feel like I have to apologize for what blacks have and are experiencing?
6. Am I willing to call out prejudice against another ethnic group if it is displayed by my co-worker, family, or friends?
About Jamal Maxsam
Jamal is a Strategic Leadership Champion. He helps leaders increase the impact of their organizations through the development of its leaders, teams, and processes. Jamal is a loving husband, and proud father. You can follow Jamal on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media outlets.