Acknowledging Race Isn’t Controversial, Oversimplifying Its Impact Is
Pointing out racial discrepancies is how we find more ways to improve diversity
I was watching as poll numbers began to show Reverend Raphael Warnock, now Senator-elect in the state of Georgia, rise to a commanding lead over Kelly Loeffler, his opponent and also incumbent.
Then the news started rolling in. Warnock was projected to win a seat in the Senate and the thing that stuck with me most is watching people across different news mediums announce that he would be the first, yes, the first Black Senator in the state of Georgia…ever.
I’m used to hearing first when it comes to Black people doing anything, especially when it involves a position of power, status, or leadership. The good ole boy system has some of its strongest roots deep in the heart of the South (I really don’t have to explain the obvious here) and it has infiltrated pretty much any systemic structure willing to have it locally, statewide, and nationally.
So when I heard the word first this time, it sat with me different. I think it rang loud and clear in the ears of so many other people who align with progressive ideals that while we should be celebrating, we, as a country, have so much further to go when it comes to diversity.
Let’s talk about race. Race sets the tone for how the United States does everything. It affects police and community relations, its leveraged to fuel political agendas good and bad, and people who don’t see color use it as a means to virtue signal how they love everyone as humans while ignoring its impact on the stereotypes and actions projected on said people because of it.
I’ve been told several things that have made me realize that people’s refusal to acknowledge race is quite literally the reason diversity still struggles to take a dynamic step forward. In the past 2 months alone, I’ve seen and heard that:
- Seeing race in everything is a bad way to live.
- I should view myself as much more than just a Black man.
- We ALL feel underrepresented — followed by a diatribe about how the American Christian is oh so oppressed and ignored.
- If I’m the best then just be the best and that will open doors for me.
- If I need someone who looks like me to do it before I do, how can I ever get things done?
- If I’m always seeing things through a lens of race, how will I ever feel good enough?
- MLK once said yada yada content of character yada yada that’s what I should see people through.
And while I understand the why behind these statements, they come from a place of ignorance, sometimes more willfully and willingly than those who use those statements would like to admit. Race makes people uncomfortable. Nobody wants to talk about it except the ones on the wrong end of race relations. It makes so many who are privileged (usually White) and protected (usually White) anxious and defensive because they see the word diversity as mechanism of supremacy and not equity.
And before you think I’m making generalizations, I’m not. I’m talking to a very specific subset of people and they know who they are. But if this riles the hairs on the back of your neck, I’m also talking to you too.
In 2021, we are still using the word first and it goes just beyond Black. We use this word for gender, age, other races, religions, backgrounds, and nearly every other unique identifier found in this country. But because we can’t cross partisan lines and meet in the middle with our differences as a whole, we still can’t tackle the elephant in the room.
Those who benefit from this (again, usually White) see diversity as an inconvenience to them. It’s why pay gaps still exist, police brutality is still prevalent, leadership positions are held hostage by nepotism and traditional optics, and representation is taking a slow walk forward in every aspect.
Diversity is empowering, but it’s powerless if race isn’t an important metric or priority that’s included when major decisions and actions are made. I don’t mean putting the only ethnicities in the company in Diversity and Inclusion board and Diversity and Inclusion leadership positions. I mean having the courage to say that there are serious racial discrepancies across the board, having the conversations loaded with criticism and solutions regularly, and dedicating real time to fixing diversity issues.
What happens when race gets talked about and representation is taken seriously? We see cultures shift entirely.
Yes, we should be more than our skin color, but we’re also subject to a lot of things that come with that that we can’t help. So seeing representation is a signal that things are changing diversely in areas that we may or may have not been welcomed or accepted into. It matters to our children and gives them goals to reach for and surpass and it matters as adults who thought they would never see the day and their fight to do more was meaningless.
That’s powerful because acknowledging race and diversity in all facets of life is a signal to every living generation that it is possible for us to get to a point where we are more than just our skin color, are no longer subject to firsts, and really have a diverse environment that is truly equitable and of substance for all.
We all do bleed red, but diversity is one of those things that has a gigantic impact on culture and the way we do things. We have to keep pushing it to the forefront or else we will continue to tread water here for tens and hundreds of years in the future. We have to.