What Will You Do

When you’re at a loss for words, something disruptive happened. Something disruptive DID happen. Something disruptive has been happening for a long time.

We write, “No words,” hashtag it under a photo of something we don’t agree with, despise, find unacceptable, or wish to point out its flaws.

In the first week of Black History Month as well as the first days of the Lunar New Year celebrated by Asian peoples worldwide, my mouth is agape. While I’m not surprised by the examples of racism that has made America’s headlines recently, I find myself wondering right along with the greater community about how I — and we — want to respond.

We’re not just talking about one example in one field, such as Northam and American politics. There’s Ehrenreich’s tweet about Marie Kondo, the Japanese home organization “tidying guru”, and there’s also Rep. Steve King’s long-standing history of proclaiming western white supremacy as a “superior civilization” (he was most recently stripped of his House committee seats). If that wasn’t enough, fashion design house Gucci removed a sweater with a built-in blackface design with red lips, leaving the world wondering how an expensive sweater design could have made it through the design process without someone flagging it with a, “Wait a minute”.

What would you do?

What would you do if you, your child, your colleague at work, your friend at the local coffee shop that you love spending time with, represents one of these people upon whom the nuanced and the not-so-nuanced effects of racism, bias, and discrimination lands?

What happens after the apologies — that is, the “sorry-for-any-offense” version of apologies — are demanded and given? For governing officials, do we also demand that there be any follow up, or even any kind of workplace bias and diversity training similar to what employees are expected to complete?

It was pointed out to me recently that the typical formula for “making nice” after an offense is to accept the apology first, and then to offer forgiveness. However, many people interpret forgiveness as the end of the apology transaction; that is, the act of forgiveness signals that nothing more need be done. It also may represent the offended person’s discomfort and pain, even if it does not represent the person’s experience. If I just forgive, we can all forget about what just happened, and go about our lives.

What would you do?

I don’t have answers for you. I leave it to the scholars, the researchers and the social scientists who are working on recommending real solutions regarding what we do to not only shape public discourse, but to expose the harm of the racial gaze and the socio-economic and gendered bubble. This isn’t an easy way out of the debacle; rather, I’m highlighting how this is so complex. To this date, we fire people, we lay public charges against those who display the most heinous of racist beliefs and actions, and then — in the silence that follows, what do we do, even in our own neighborhoods, to change the minds that seem so unchangeable?

I don’t have answers, yet I have many questions.

What will you do?

I can say that one of the better responses I have come across was found in a Social Media post from a black woman responding to a white friend from high school who asked about what white privilege is, and what effects of institutional bias she had experienced. Her response was published more broadly in Yes magazine. Ms. Hutcherson’s response involves a decision to take time and care to educate, even beyond the transaction between two people, when she didn’t have to, when it’s often tiring to share the same stories, when it seems like no one cares or listens, when the examples of racism are so numerous, there is no possible way to retell them all.

She took the time.

What will you do? 

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