ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and other unarmed Black Americans has spawned worldwide outrage and protests against racism. In the United States, diverse communities and leaders across varying organizations are demanding action to eliminate prolonged racial injustices.
In the Army in particular, senior leaders have led the way responding to this call for action by turning an inward look in our military and civilian ranks. While racism is an issue that has plagued our nation from its inception, the existence of racism is often denied or minimized in modern society. In order to solve the problem of racism, we, as a society, have to acknowledge that racism exists. Acknowledgement and acceptance of that fact are necessary before engaging in meaningful dialogue. Silence is no longer acceptable. We must start the conversation.
Conversations about race and racism can be challenging but are necessary. Oftentimes, well-intended efforts to create a shared understanding about these topics can go awry due to sensitivities around the issues. Here are three personal actions that you can take to have meaningful conversations about race and racism within your work environment.
1. Listen with an open heart and mind. In general, our society has overvalued the perspective and intentions of white citizens and undervalued the perspectives, intentions, and impact of the experiences of racism among minority citizens. Because of this, marginalized groups often do not feel heard. As intimated by sociologist, Dr. Robin Di’Angelo, we have to stop emphasizing and focusing on intentions over impact. She also notes that stopping racist patterns and behaviors is more important than defending claims that one may be a racist. To move the needle, we must abandon our comfort zones, challenge our assumptions, and listen with an open heart and mind.
2. Meet people where they are. For most Americans, the effects of racism are not well understood or appreciated. This context is important to manage expectations and prevent frustrations when having these conversations. There will be gaps in knowledge and a lack of perspective when it comes to conceptualizing the lived experiences of a colleague or friend. Meet people where they are.
3. Commit to action. While the conversation is a start, deliberate action is needed to bring about real change. Become dedicated to life-long learning, and seek objective resources to better educate yourself on the history of disenfranchisement and racism in our country. Speak up, even if it makes you uncomfortable or unpopular. Challenge the status quo. If you aren’t speaking up, you are part of the problem. Army Values call us to remain dedicated to respect for each other, regardless of our differences, and to have the integrity and personal courage to speak out when we see those values violated. Actively seek feedback from a racially diverse group of colleagues and request their representation in decision-making spaces to ensure diversity of thought and perspective. Commit to action.
As stated by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of the Boston University Center for Anti-Racist Research, as individuals, we have to “define the kind of people we want to be.” Knowledge is power, but action is change. As we embark on this watershed moment in our country, what side of history do you want to be on?
The Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury and disability of Soldiers, military retirees, their families, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through studies, surveys and technical consultations.