BILL PROUDMAN

BILL PROUDMAN

Montgomery Diversity Summit
In September, I will facilitate a workshop at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Diversity Summit that explores the role of white men in equity and inclusion efforts. I am both eager and humbled to push this vital conversation further down the road in Montgomery —in the very place some white men did unspeakable things, and then were not held accountable.

Montgomery yesterday and today 
It is no secret Montgomery has a troubled history of racism. And pretending the racial problems from the past never happened only perpetuate current day racial conflict*. During this difficult era some 5 decades ago many white men were not prosecuted or were simply acquitted by white male juries.

Now in 2016, we see a new form of judgment applied differently across skin color lines.
First the continued killing of unarmed black men on routine traffic stops or in seemingly non-threatening situations —the latest this week in Tulsa. In the sports arena, there is the condemnation of Colin Kaepernick for sitting while Ryan Lochte, an American gold medal swimmer in Rio vandalizes a bathroom and then is excused by some.

kaepernicklochte49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick sits down during the national anthem to protest America’s treatment of people of color, and he is accused of being a traitor to his country. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte is facing criminal charges in Brazil for falsely reporting he was robbed at gunpoint, and, while he lost several endorsements as a result, he ultimately was rewarded with a stint on Dancing With the Stars. –philly.com

And that while this racist past (and present!) was and is not the fault of all white men, I and other whites share a responsibility to look deep inside and ask what is our work to if not eliminate, certainly lessen the effects of racism.

Part of our work is to stop pretending it is always the role of whites to determine when race is, and is not a factor.

Consider the difference between black and white reaction to Kaepernick’s behavior. Do not misinterpret this as me saying you need to agree with his action. Look instead at how his actions are interpreted and quickly judged or dismissed. When black men continue to be killed by law enforcement it makes sense that a movement like Black Lives Matter emerges. Notice then how some whites equate Black Lives Matter as an affront to all lives matter.

There is a lot of work to be done in engaging other whites, and in this case white men, to forge a new way of coming to partnership. We have work first to do within ourselves and then with other whites before we turn to the partnership work with our colleagues of color.

I am all in. My white friends, wherever you are, take a look at how you might seemingly and quickly either not acknowledge the racial lens that frequents most every interaction across skin color lines.  It is a factor.  Not seeing it becomes the ultimate white privilege.

Learn to lean into the possibility that race is almost always a factor

Many whites often do not see racism because we have been forever immune from the daily ravages of being continually seen as menacing, threatening and/or not worthy. We do not get followed routinely by store security; ignored in check-out lines; and assumed to be given jobs and/or promotions simply because of the color of our skin.

For many whites racism is like an invisible disease, a latent cancer sitting in and around them but not necessarily visible to their eye. Consciously or unconsciously, racism permeates every movement, action and thought process (whether we are aware of it or not) ––and it continues to have a disproportional negative impact on communities of color. So to some degree, I can understand how some whites see Black Lives Matter as an affront to all lives matter. And we owe ourselves, white person to white person, an ongoing discourse as to why that might be and what is our work to arrive at a place where men and women are truly judged by their character, and not by the color of their skin.

My white friends, please look in the mirror each day and ask these 5 questions:

  • What might I do differently to see how race impacts the reality of others?
  • What am I responsible for in co-creating a world where a person’s merit does truly matter rather, than how they are viewed and treated based on the color or their or my skin?
  • How do I notice difference and sameness simultaneously, rather than seeing sameness at the expense of difference?
  • How do I seek out the perspectives of others and see them as complimentary to my own, especially when at first glance they might feel or look contradictory to my own position?
  • And lastly, am I willing to own that my view of the world is a biased one –shaped by my upbringing and honed over the years through this lens?  Am I willing to admit that my perspective, while valid, is just a part of the full picture? Am I willing to be curious to ask others what they see to help me gain a greater understanding of that full picture?