This post is written by Harold Bell, Director of the Office of Career Planning and Development at Spelman College. Watch our fireside chat recording to view a discussion about how career educators can begin anti-racist work.
Many have questioned the Black Lives Matter movement by responding “All lives matter!” This is an intellectual response to an outcry whose source of origin is the expression of excruciating pain emanating from one’s heart. The underlying current of this painful emotion can be expressed in the statement: “Has my life become so devalued and marginalized that it doesn’t matter?”
The reality is that Black people have been observed being maimed, abused, lynched, and executed for over 400 years. Many whites have watched on the sidelines totally aware of what they were watching, while others have lived their lives totally unaware of the magnitude of this atrocity.
It is important to understand that before any authentic, sustainable response can be made towards this issue, the need for a thorough self-examination of one’s heart is absolutely necessary. To assist in guiding this self-examination, a list of seven categories has been listed below to initiate this exploration. Each category begins with the letter “E”, and is followed by a list of questions that will aid in facilitating your self-reflection.
These questions are by no means comprehensive, and hopefully will spark others as you dive into them. It is encouraged that you share these questions with others—such as your team—and have discussions around your responses. This is courageous, but necessary to initiate healing, reconciliation, and reconstruction. Thank you for allowing yourself to go from comfort to discomfort to greater comfort.
How much Black History were you exposed to outside of slavery and possibly the civil rights movement? Why is Black History Month celebrated? How many Black instructors did you have? What was your interaction with Black students in grade school and/or college? Do you know what an HBCU is? Do you know why HBCU’s were established and why they remain relevant today? Why do colleges and universities have dedicated resources to recruit Black students? What does a Black student’s enrollment at a college or university contribute, if anything?
What is your frequency of interaction with Black people (work, school, neighborhood, church, etc.)? Have you ever visited a Black museum, landmark, or historical site? Do you watch documentaries on Black people? Have you ever participated in any formal discussions regarding the issue of race in America? How aware are you of major news stories that significantly impact Black people that aren’t high profile stories?
How would you describe both positive and negative experiences you have had with Black people? How have these experiences shaped your views and perceptions of Black people overall? What is the myth of “reverse racism” and do you believe it?
Do you believe the justice system in this country unfairly treats Black people? Do you understand what racial profiling is? Are Blacks hired, retained, compensated, promoted, and recognized equitably when compared with their white counterparts? What are all these Black organizations about? Is that really necessary? What relationship, if any, exists among white privilege, a belief in so-called “reverse racism,” affirmative action, and diversity and inclusion?
Prior to George Floyd, were you on a conscience level aware of the number of Blacks that have lost their lives to racial profiling, and how the judicial system more times than not has failed to convict their murderer? Do you realize Black men have been executed (unlawfully) just in the last few years over jogging, playing with toy guns, walking while eating skittles, cigarettes, complying with officers during an arrest, shopping at Walmart, reaching for alleged weapons in cars that are rarely found, etc.?
Can you genuinely feel the pain of Black people who have to live their lives everyday with the weight of these things on their shoulder? Do you understand that this weight has been carried for literally hundreds of years from generation to generation? Will you sit back and continue to say nothing, do nothing, or believe nothing? Will you continue to vote people into office that clearly demonstrate unfair practices towards Black people?
What is white privilege? Is it a fantasy or fact? Does everyone have equal access to opportunity? If not, why not? If so, how? Are you aware of the historical, consistent discrepancy between the unemployment rate and the “Black unemployment rate”? Any thoughts as to why Covid-19 has had a significant effect on Black people? Why is freedom of expression dismissed in regards to a Black player kneeling down during the national anthem? Why do others get to define the reason the players are kneeling that are contrary to the reasons the players are articulating? What exactly about America was not great prior to the election of President Trump? Was racial inequality a part of that list?