“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Monday, January 18 is Martin Luther King day. For me this is a day of service – of giving back. On this Martin Luther King day, more than any other, giving to our communities and to our country carries with it a somber responsibility.
As we watch with horror the violence on our Capitol and the attacks on our democracy, we need to continue to hold the reality of the systemic inequities in our communities. This inequity was once again exposed in the disparate treatment of the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021 juxtaposed against the heavily armed response to the peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters.
The systemic inequities have been amplified by the disproportionate impact of COVID -19 on communities of color and the police brutality against African Americans. With images of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes going viral, the racism in our systems was blatantly exposed.
Income Inequality is not new for Black families.For every $100 white families earn, Black families earn just $57.30. According to the Pew Research Center, Black unemployment rate has been consistently twice that of whites over the last 60 years
Workplaces have entrenched systems that disadvantage Black employees. Surveys show that more than half of Blacks experience racial discrimination in hiring, compensation, and promotion considerations. White applicants get more interview offers than Black applicants, regardless of education, gender, or labor market conditions. According to a widely cited study “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” in the American Economic Review, job applicants with African-American names with equal qualifications got far fewer callbacks for each resume they sent out.
Add to that the economic challenges as a result of COVID-19. According to a Commonwealth Fund study, more than half of Latino and nearly half of Black survey respondents reported experiencing economic challenges because of the pandemic — substantially more than the 21 percent of white respondents.
Health disparities have long plagued the African American community. As a result of unequal access to healthcare and provider bias, amongst other factors, Blacks have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease than other groups. Shockingly, Black children have a 500% higher death rate from asthma compared with white children.
African Americans are disproportionately represented in front line jobs and are 2.8 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Blacks, who comprise 13 percent of the total U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018), make up 30 percent of COVID-19 cases.
THE RESPONSIBILITY AND POWER OF INDIVIDUALS
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
This is a time for each of us to take a stand and address the deepening systemic inequities. This is a time for us to work to heal our country.
Companies have taken some bold steps in response to the multiple crises from giving over $ 66 Billion to social justice causes, to taking a stand against violence perpetuated through social media, in order to protect our democracy.
But they, and we, can all do more for social justice…
Because, when it comes down to it the companies I am talking about – the organizations I am saying need to step up and stand for social justice– these companies are made up of people. They are simply a collection of individuals – of you and me. Sometimes we can look at systems – entrenched racism, sexism, able-ism, homophobia – and it is natural to feel isolated and powerless in the face of the systemic change we want and need to make. But it IS possible to make inroads – even to radically transform systems.
Every single one of us is uniquely positioned to impact change. We need to look around us and look for what we can influence. We need to look for allies and find our power. We need to look into ourselves and learn to be models of introspection and self-awareness. We need to realize and acknowledge our unearned privilege from every perspective.
As part of the able-bodied majority, for example, I do not have to think about physical access to places. I will never forget the first time that I facilitated a workshop for an all visually-impaired audience. When I asked a question, several of them raised their hand and then started talking as they did not know who else had their hand raised and I had to quickly figure out a way to call on one of them to talk. I had never considered this as I had taken my able-bodied privilege for granted.
As a heterosexual woman, I have always been able to be open at work about my family – about my husband and my daughters. I have never felt that I needed to hide that essential part of myself in order to protect my job or my safety.
And as a naturalized US citizen it is easy for me to travel and move freely without worrying that I might be separated from my daughters and grandson who were born here.
There is another privilege and that is white privilege. We know that the consequences of such privilege are real and something that we must continue to recognize and work to dismantle.
In her seminal work, Peggy McIntosh lists 50 statements of her own unearned privilege as a white woman. These include things like:
“I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group”
“I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.”
“I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.”
“If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.”
The list goes on. McIntosh says she “repeatedly forgot each of the realizations on this list” until she wrote it down.
Cultivating an ongoing awareness of our own privileges is about fostering a radical willingness to step outside of our comfort zone. It is about using our privilege and our power for good. And ultimately, it is about being willing to take ourselves out of the center of the story and truly listen to others.
But now it is time to look forward. Imagine the impact we could have, if every person took stock of where we stand, and what we can influence. Imagine the ripple effect that we can create.
What is YOUR sphere of influence today?
What are YOUR sources of power?
Are YOU leveraging your privilege for the benefit of others?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” -Miriam Williamson
It is advocates and change agents like each of you reading this that can ensure that our workplaces and our communities are nurturing and safe places as we begin the process of healing. Sometimes it can feel as though the small things we are doing are not making a dent in the troubled world we live in. But that isn’t true.
Your advocacy has made and is making a difference. With your engagement at this crucial time slowly but surely, I am hopeful that we will build a world of compassion, empathy and respect in our country.
Let us work in the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King and begin the work of healing our community and our country.