It has taken me three drafts and many re-writes to finally hit publish on this post about how our family is planning to address racism. While I know this is a personal finance blog I hope you bear with me as I put my thoughts into the world regarding current events. Too often people are scared to put their thoughts out there because they’re afraid of their words and intentions being miss understood. I am too, but I think it’s important to share even if my words aren’t perfect.
For the past several weeks many White folks like myself have been asking what we can do to help address the long standing and complicated issues around race in the United States.
The answer has often been to sit back and listen and learn.
Don’t get me wrong, listening and learning is a critical part of this process. Too many of us live in our own bubbles and are blind to the complexities of racism. Developing empathy always starts with listening and learning. However, at some point action is needed to advance a cause.
In today’s world, all too often it seems that taking action means sending out a few Tweets or Instagram posts and then moving on to the next hot button issue.
I think we can all agree that not one of us will solve these complex issues by ourselves. I believe for most of us that change happens at the micro level, not the macro. It happens in our living rooms, communities, and in the voting booths. It happens when a large number of people take small steps collectively.
So while I do not have all of the answers to solve these issues, below are a few things that me and my family will be doing to help make progress.
Ensure my Kids Have Exposure to People of Different Backgrounds
A few weeks ago when racial tension was at all time highs, I had a conversation with my 6 year old. My intention was to open the discussion around race. He goes to a school that is diverse with a mix of People of Color, Immigrants, Christians, Muslims, and so on.
I asked him, “do you like going to a school where not everyone looks the same as you?” We haven’t had conversations directly about race (he’s 6) but we do talk a lot about how important it is to love all people regardless.
Eventually he started talking about how he gets along with everyone. In his words, “I like people with straight hair and curly hair.” Not exactly what we were going for but the innocence of his answer gave me hope that he would grow up seeing people as people and not by the color of their skin. Maybe I’m naive.
When I think of how people can be so cruel to people with different backgrounds, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the time it’s because they never get to know that other group of individuals.
Hate festers in spaces with a lack of proximity to people that are different from us. In my experience it’s really hard to dislike people from up close. When we get to know different people it allows us to see the good in them.
To me this all begins with getting to know people of all backgrounds. Its one of the reasons why we like the school district we’re in so much. There is a good mix is people from all different races, religions, and other backgrounds. I want my kids to grow up knowing that even though we may be different we should still love one another. That all begins with interaction with a diverse mix of people.
Hire, Mentor, and Promote Minorities
During the past several weeks the organization I work for has done a great job giving the microphone to Black leaders while many of us have sat back to listen and learn. It’s been eye opening hearing stories of the blatant racism they’ve experienced in their lives.
The fact that people in the workforce today had to go to segregated schools when younger always puts into perspective the recency of the civil rights movement. This wasn’t something that happened generations ago. It happened less than 60 years ago.
As we all know, once the civil rights movement occurred People of Color did not immediately start being treated as equals.
It takes diversity initiatives and sometimes even quotas to level the playing field in the workplace. It may not always be fair. But if we want to get to a place where we have real diversity in organizations, especially within leadership, we need to help those that have been discriminated in the past play catch up.
After years of overt and subvert discrimination those of us in leadership positions need to help pull up minorities so they also have a seat at the table at higher levels within organizations. This happens by hiring, promoting, training, and mentoring minorities.
My goal is to become more aware of my biases towards anyone with a different background than myself. To try to focus more on diversity instead of cultural fit, which can sometimes be at odds. I want to help pull up the people around me that need the most help.
Vote in Local Elections to Address Racism
To be clear upfront, I do not identify with either political party. I know this bothers some people but it’s never made sense to me how people can just vote blindly for one political party 100% of the time. That blind loyalty has always seemed dangerous to me. Instead, I like to look at issues individually, prioritize the issues that I think are most important at that time, and then vote for the candidate that I feel will best support those issues.
When we think about voting we often think of presidential elections. While voting for the president is important, the elected officials that matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at local levels.
I know that voting is a controversial topic in minority communities. Why vote when you feel the entire system is against you? And for those that want to vote, in some areas there are policies in place that make voting challenging. I understand all of that. Some may even think that voting is rigged and their vote doesn’t make a difference either way.
What I personally believe is that voting is the single most effective way for most of us regular citizens to make meaningful change in society. That all starts in our backyard with local elections.
“In the 2016 presidential election, about 56% of the voting-age population cast a ballot. And if you think presidential election participation is low, wait until you see the numbers for local elections. Nationwide, only 27% of eligible voters participated in local elections, reports the NYT.”
Why aren’t more people getting out there to vote in local elections? (I’m talking to myself here as well. I’ve been guilty of skipping local elections.) My question to those who think that their vote doesn’t matter, I would flip that question on its head and ask “what if my vote does matter?”
Again, I know this is a complicated issue and it’s not always as simple as “just go to vote”. At the same time I hope that the energy from the recent protests also carries over to the voting booth later this year. Your vote may not always matter and there may be complicated barriers to allow a person to vote, but as American citizens we should do everything in our power to be able to cast our vote and voice.
My commitment is to become more educated in local elections. To make sure I don’t skip local elections in the future. And to vote for politicians and policies that will make meaningful change to eliminate racism.
Get Involved With Our Church
I’ve appreciated how the church we go to has not tip-toed around racism. It’s addressed it head on while acknowledging the shortcomings of our church.
The church we go to has two locations. The main location is about 10 miles outside of the city in a suburban area that is nearly all White. The second location is within the city limits and is in a more diverse area. This new location has been open for a little over a year so the majority of the attendees came from the original location. Therefore, despite being in a more diverse area nearly all attendees are White there as well.
Churches remain segregated across the country. While improvements have been made over the years there’s still a lot of work to do. This is another situation where trying to resolve this issue on a macro level is overwhelming. However, Individually we can take steps to increase diversity in our own churches.
The first way to do that is by making People of Color feel more welcome. I was listening to a podcast recently with rich and Regular. They talked about how important it is to make Minorities feel comfortable when around a mostly White community. They were referring to the personal finance space but the same applies in all situations. So while sounds simple, I wonder how many People of Color have walked through the doors of our church and never came back because they didn’t feel comfortable?
The second way is to find a sister church that is predominantly Black and partner with that church. This will allow us to learn from each other. To hear directly how we can make both of our churches more diverse and break down the barriers preventing increased diversity. A stretch goal for me will be to be involved in this effort instead of just taking a back seat and hoping it happens. I want to be involved in bringing this effort to life.
4 Things We’re Doing to Address Racism
These four things above are not going to solve the issues with racism on their own. Some may read this and think that what we’re doing is not enough. This is a trap that many people fall into that results in us doing nothing because it feels too overwhelming. It’s important to focus on the things that we can control. Racism is a messy and complex issue with a deep history. At the same time, I think we vastly undervalue the impact that micro changes can have over time.
Often what I see happening is people get really fired up about a social issue for a period of time. They make a few posts on social media (which isn’t a bad thing) and then move on without ever really making changes. It’s important to eventually take action no matter how big or small.
I acknowledge that it’s impossible for me to solve every complex social issue out there so instead I’m going to be realistic and try to make a few changes in my life that I think can make an impact. At the same time I will continue to listen and learn and seek out other opportunities. Thanks for reading!