Why can’t we talk about race?

By Priscilla H. Douglas

Q:  I mentioned the Ta Nehisi Coates Atlantic article entitled “The First White President” to my colleague and she said, “Everyone is not a racist.”  What? Where did that come from?  Why can’t we talk about race?

A:  I have been left speechless by similar responses and I, too, have been struggling to find a way to talk about race.  It seems to me that race is and has been the smelly elephant in the room. And, when topics are raised and a racial motivation is part of the explanation we—Whites, Blacks, Latinos and Asians—literally do not have the language, facts and common experiences to express and convey our views.  The combination of an emotionally loaded topic and limited language usually explodes like a stink bomb—leaving people with sincere motives looking for ways to clean up after the conversation and avoid future ones.  Ugh.

We don’t talk about race because we don’t know how.

Initially reluctant, I have been trying out a few conversations with my friends because the time is ripe for authentic communications.  When I talk to my friends, I say “What I have discovered is that I as a human being I am racist” —which means that as human beings I –we—identify first with people who are like me.  Makes sense.  We do so because we are born into a family, a situation, and our racial identity is determined by that group. It is a positive and social thing to do.

Then, once we know who we are and how we belong in the world, we determine our relationship to others.  We can be our brother’s keeper or we can laud our superiority, thus falling from the neutral human condition of racial identification into the negative meaning of the word “racist”:  casting one race as inferior to another.

I am searching for answers—will you join me?  Here are a few questions that I have been thinking about and I invite you to consider:

  • In what ways does my racial identity hold me back or give me an advantage?
  • Are “other people” getting ahead at the expense of “my race”?
  • Do I see myself as a victim or the beneficiary of affirmative action?
  • Would my economic situation or professional opportunities be different if I did not have to compete with “others”—people of different races?
  • Is my social circle homogeneous or diverse?
  • What stereotypes shape who I trust? Who I think is smart? Who I think is hard working? Who I think is a free-loader?

Take a look at this extraordinary PBS series—Race the Power of An Illusion”  and try your  hand at sorting people by their appearance and then put yourself into the day to day experience of people who are not like you.

Remember that race is a concept constructed in language. I am coming to believe that our failure to talk about race is related to the fact that we have reached the limits of our language.  Collectively we are moving away from traditional “race” categories the same way that we have gender. With the help of 23andMe or Ancestry.com our DNA analysis reveals that color isn’t the sole determinant of our identity which is causing many to utter the words of Walt Whitman: 

        Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

Lets take up this charge and initiate a new conversation that contradicts the current discourse.  What is the conversation that we can begin that will allow us to talk about this critically important topic?

 

 

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Are people just meaner now?

By Priscilla H. Douglas

Q: I get pushed, elbowed and bushwhacked by backpacks on the subway. I get the finger more often than I use my windshield wipers when driving.

Every year brings a new low. It’s awful!  Are people just mean?

A: People are not always mean.  In my opinion it takes a conscious decision to be mean. “Meanness” is directed—it actually has a target.  Getting elbowed or bushwhacked may not be the result of a conscious act—deliberately aimed at you–   instead, it may be the opposite:  unconscious and not directed personally at you. This isn’t meanness, just thoughtlessness.

I know that my answer doesn’t make getting the finger feel better, but my attention is drawn to countless acts of kindness that I see when people interact following a natural disaster such as a hurricane or wildfire, or when a tragic death or diagnosis occurs.  A catastrophic event shifts our attention, our actions, our emotions and how we relate in an instant.

Think back to the shock, sadness and despair of September 11, 2001. On that day, people were kind to each other and no one was a stranger.  You probably have the same images seared into your memory that I have:  The plane hitting the second Tower and the ghostly people covered in soot and ash helping each other.  On that day we witnessed caring, compassion and thousands of acts of kindness.  We were one nation and we were indivisible.  When this happens, people are not mean; they act with kindness and compassion.

You don’t need to wait for a tragedy to be kind. Ask yourself:

  • Did I hold the door open and allow a person to enter?
  • How many times have I said “thank you” today?
  • Am I practicing “random acts of kindness”?
  • How quickly did I stop and turn off the negative/judgmental thought I had about a person? Note:  Your actions are correlated with your thoughts and you can’t hide what you are thinking.

Two final actions that you can take to stamp out meanness:  (1) be kind to yourself; and (2) smile—it is contagious.  When you connect to you—and when you smile and interact with another—you will be a beacon of kindness.

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Together WE built this country

 

“We built railroads, and highways; the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge together.   We sent my grandfathers generation to college on the GI Bill together.  

We instituted a minimum wage and worker safety laws together.  Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom, connected the world through our own science and imagination.

 We did these things together not because they benefited any particular individual  or group, but because they made us all richer.  

Because they gave us all opportunity.  Because they moved us forward together as one people, as one nation.”  

President Barack Obama

We work hard.  And  yes, we work together.

Labor Day we pause to celebrate the collective actions of those who paved the way.  Let us always remember that it is our ability to cooperate, colloborate, innovate with grit and imagination that brings us together to propel America forward.

Happy Labor Day!

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Where are the leaders?

A:  I have been appalled by the lack of leadership on what should be a red line regarding Nazis and white supremacists.   Where are the leaders?

Q:  Don’t make the mistake of confusing the trappings of power—for example, the White House, the Senate or your corporate headquarters —with the center of leadership.  Positional leaders may have the authority that comes from their place in the hierarchy but in today’s social networked world they no longer hold all of the power.

Remember that to lead means to guide on a way—especially by going in advance.  A stellar example of taking the lead is Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier:

 I am resigning from the Presidents American Manufacturing Council.

Our country’s strength stems from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, races, sexual orientations and political believes.  Americans leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.

As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience. I feel a responsibly to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.

The exodus began with Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier on Monday, who said, “As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

Other  executives joined Frazier in resigning but remember, he was the first to do so—the others followed, still leading by example.

Another outstanding example of leaders is the action of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  They broke ranks with the President on July 27 when Trump blindsided all of the military personnel including a vacationing General Mattis by banning transgender people from the military.

And, following Charlottesville, the Joint Chief of Staff for the Army, General Mark Milley, tweeted at 4:50 AM that the Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism “or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.”

This is the second time the Joint Military Chiefs have stepped forward

Americans fought fascism and crushed the Nazis in World War II, and anyone who waves a Nazi flag on our soil is, by very definition, anti-American.”

Leadership examples abound and are evident in all areas.  The members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned en masse, stating the following:

Speaking truth to power is never easy, Mr. President. But it is our role as commissioners on the PCAH to do so. Art is about inclusion. The Humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both. You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies. You have threatened nuclear war while gutting diplomacy

Carmen De Lavallade

funding. The administration pulled out of the Paris agreement, filed an amicus brief undermining the Civil Rights Action, and attacked our brave trans service members. You have subverted equal protections, and are committed to banning Muslims and refugee women and children from our great country. This does not unify the nation we love.

In previous posts, I remind my readers and coaching clients that we are all leaders.  Even when it looks like we are following, we have actually made the choice to follow—which is also the act of a leader (as the resignations following Kenneth Frazier’s prove).   Leadership and followership are one in the same.  So, here are three simple rules that guide me to leaders:

  • Do I trust them?
  • Will they keep their word?
  • Do we share the same vision for the future?

If you are not seeing that leaders are all around, you may want to zero in on your criteria.

“Freedom, by definition, is people realizing

that they are their own leaders.”

Diane Nash

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Take a stand

Q:  I recognized him right away. I am not surprised–I work with him and he is a real
*%#*.  I didn’t respond to @YesYoureRacist tweet and provide his name, I froze.  Help! 

A:   I can understand why you froze. This may provide you an opportunity to recalibrate your moral compass. 

It seems that we are straying into new moral territory in which Americans are being asked to “out” their neighbors.  However, the reality is that we “out” ourselves by being on social media and by buying and paying our bills online.  Have you noticed that your photograph has become public property and your FB friends freely post your “name”?  And as you know, corporate recruiters, college admissions and others gather readily available information to make hire and fire decisions. 

Some worry that that naming and shaming Nazis and white supremacists is a slippery slope to turning neighbor against neighbor; recent examples of online bullying would support that concern.  What seems to be undeniable is that naming and shaming has been and will continue to be with us and that it can be used for good or for ill.

I remember when LGBTQ people were “outed” and when abortion providers were targeted, tracked to their homes and murdered.  The term “outed” is old school, the current term is “doxxing”: 

 it means compiling and releasing a dossier of personal information on someone.

The word dox is the modern, abbreviated form of “dropping dox,” an old-school revenge tactic that emerged from hacker culture in 1990s.

What to do now? Ask yourself:

  • Do I agree that America is tolerant, inclusive and welcoming? Yes or No?
  • Did I miss an opportunity to let this person know how I felt? What was left unsaid?
  • How do I really feel about working and living with Blacks, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ and people who differ from me?
  • What actions can I take consistent with my values and beliefs?
  • What can I do to make the world better?

Finally, don’t beat yourself up:  take a look at the website and maybe one of your colleagues has named this person.  Also, talk to your managers—they may already know the identity of the person but what they don’t know is how you feel. 

Make yourself known.  Move from being frozen to taking a stand.

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After Charlottesville Listen and Be Kind

By Priscilla H. Douglas

Q:  I am a graduate of UVA and watched the mayhem unfold. I feel totally helpless.   What can I do to make a difference?

A:  I can appreciate that you feel helpless but I suspect that you are not hopeless given that you are asking what you can do.  The good news is that clarity of actions usually stems from the deep feeling that you have right now and there is much that you can do. Every thoughtful and humane action makes a difference especially if aimed to help — not hurt.  To determine your course of action, consider the following and ask:   

  • Am I an enabler or a bystander?   Be rigorous and determine — am I part of the problem or part of the solution.   If you are silent or sit on your hands an allow actions or speech that clashes with your values then you are part of the problem. Be honest:  are you living true to your core values?  If yes, act accordingly.  
  • Am I judging more than learning?   Do I already know what THEY think or do I already know my limits boundaries?   If yes, you may be living in a very narrow world where everything you do and say reinforces what you already know/believe.  
  • What if you could learn something new from each person you encounter?  What if you learned more about yourself from these encounters?  When we connect with ourselves and with others we expand our perspective — our experiences.   And the good news is that by seeing the world through another’s eyes we become more creative:  Yes, innovation always comes from the margins–from the folks who think and see things differently.

Finally, it may take you a while to be clear about the actions or cause you want to take. However, remember when you don’t know what to do listen and always be kind.

 

 

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Take a break from the news

Q: I can’t tear myself away from the constant stream of news alerts. Frankly, it’s throwing me off my game. How do I cope?

A: You are not alone! The whole country—indeed the world—is on the receiving end of the torrent of news that is being characterized as unprecedented, unpredictable and unavoidably disruptive. And, note that the aforementioned adjectives are not a complete description of what seems to be a new reality—a dystopian world that we have to make sense of each day.

“Tweeting” has added more velocity to the news and the content of the tweets causes us to zig and zag. Our internal clocks, social rhythm and capacity to make sense of the news cycle are out of sync. And as a result, many of us are, like you, thrown off our game. How do you cope? The answer is simple—take a break from the news instead of being jerked around by news alerts.

Also, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why are you watching and listening to the news? Note: Don’t be fooled by this simple question. When you answer the question you may discover how you can “disrupt” or “leverage” the current narrative.
  • Are you emotionally intelligent? Are you able to listen and not be “triggered”? If the answer is “no,” recognize that you are giving away your power by allowing yourself to be carried along in emotional currents.
  • What steps and actions will you take to expand your emotional intelligence?

Recommendation:  take a break read a book and expand your perspective.  Now, enjoy the cartoon below. 

 

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C-Suite Mindset: Bloom Where You Are Planted

By Priscilla H. Douglas

C-Suite  Advisor: Yvonne Jackson former chair of the board, Spelman College
“I believe in the law of attraction. If you are clear about your goals and where you are headed you will build support systems that inform and nourish you. The support systems allow you to stay connected. When I think about my early career, I see that I owe my success to the fact that I have always worked harder and more strategically than the people around me.

When I was an executive recruiter at Avon, I was responsible for the technical area—engineers, metallurgical engineers. I remember going to the VP of the area—it was a bold move—and saying, “You have five people working for you and they are all requesting people. I want to get everyone in the room to see if there are differences.” To my surprise, the VP said, “I will get them in the room.” That move signaled the beginning of a relationship that remains strong to this day. It was a routine job that I approached strategically. Some people may have even viewed it as not important, but I valued what I was doing and I valued the people who worked around me.

I treated what I was doing as the ultimate—the most important work that I could be doing. I never denigrated the work I was doing or its contribution to the enterprise. Of course I had aspirations, but every time I got promoted I was surprised because I was always focused on what I was doing.

I always did the best at what I was doing. My advice to you  bloom where you are planted”.

FROM GETTING THERE STAYING THERE Chapter 1 “Do I have the right stuff”

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A Crisis in the USA Brand?

Q: My global clients won’t openly discuss the US political situation and I don’t either.  However, US politics are the elephant in the room.  Our brand strength rests on “truth, beauty and the American way” and now it seems much harder to close deals. Without being political, how can I address their concerns?

A:  It is difficult to tiptoe around the elephant in the room; I have always noticed that attempts to do so are not successful.  Why?   When you avoid a subject, your behavior changes—the same way your behavior changes when you have a bad hand in poker. And, unfortunately your changed behavior is amplified—more noticeable—if a subject that was once OK to discuss is now off limits.  So, if all of your previous meetings with your international clients began with news about the United States, including politics, now is not the time to change your behavior.

You don’t have to worry about being political if you stick to the facts about what happening in the USA and if you keep your emotions and opinions in check.  Take a business case approach and consider the following:

  • What is the possible business impact of USA politics on your client?
  • What are the market dynamics? Trade issues? Policy changes?
  • Will it affect the flow of goods and services?
  • Will changing immigration polices be an issue?

Check the strength and relevancy of your relationship and offering:

  • What are the brand attributes at the core of your product or service?
  • Is the USA “brand” still appropriate for your client?
  • Are the characteristics of the brand relevant to the ways In which you interact with your international client?
  • Is your product or service out of sync with your client’s needs?

Continue to be attuned to the dynamics of our political situation and ensure that the integrity of your brand remains true and is executed in a way that celebrates the “American way.” When you do that, no politics are needed.

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 What makes you unique?

Arthur and Gwen are both viewed as smart and hard working. However, hard work is not enough to get to the next level. In fact, “He’s a hard  worker” becomes a catch-all phrase that can obscure the unique skill, talent,  and approach that differentiate you work from your peers.  To uncover what  makes you unique consider the following:

1. What is your reputation?

2 Who seeks your advice and input? Why?

3 How do your friends, peers, co-workers describe you?

4 Why did your manager hire you?

5 How do you feel when people recognize your talent and skill?

Notice that I am not asking you what you think about yourself. I’m suggesting  you take an “outside-in” view in order to discover what others think  is your value. And don’t ignore the feedback from your spouse or significant  other. They have the opportunity “24×7” to observe your strengths and  unique capabilities.

For example, Linda’s expertise in sickle cell anemia has caused her to  be sought out by the National Institutes of Health. She is leading a national  study and will present a report to the American Medical Association next  year. However, when she was asked to take a leadership role at her hospital,  she wondered, “Why me?” That is the wrong question! It is more useful to  see yourself from the other person’s point of view. Linda’s division head sees  her as a recognized expert in quality improvement; the National Institutes of   Health see her as a thought leader and innovator; her colleagues view her as  passionate and patient-centric, and her brother considers her to be a “Rock  of Gibraltar” and the heart of the family.

The gap in perception is between Linda and Linda, not among her wide circle of advisors.  If you overlook or downplay the characteristics that make you unique you will miss an important lever of your success.

From Chapter 1:  Do I Have the Right Stuff

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