By now, most of us have heard of the tragic deaths of Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, Walter Scott, Sean Bell and Eric Garner. The list of unarmed black men killed by police officers is much longer than the names mentioned here and that is truly unfortunate.
Many of us would like for the issue–excessive police force that is racially-biased–to come to an end. Many of us would like to see progress in this area and maybe even take part in the protests that are occurring throughout the United States. However, those of us who have committed our life’s work to the benefit of the public have our hands tied.
Some of us would like to participate in the street-level activism, but often times our employers prevent us from full participation in such acts. Those who have a vested interest in the public sector, administrators and scholars alike, run the risk of subjecting their future employment and any future work-product to unwarranted scrutiny. We are held to a higher code of ethics. Yet, the irony here is that most of us are vested in public processes because we want what’s best for the collective.
A few weeks ago I participated in a diversity workshop sponsored by Virginia Tech. Dr. Samuel Betances was the workshop facilitator. During the workshop he asked the audience how they could tell if someone was an acquaintance or a friend. Dr. Betances said, if someone is a friend, they are welcome to go straight to your kitchen, open up the refrigerator and look for something to eat. An acquaintance may never be invited to your house, let alone take the liberty of helping themselves to your food. He then asked the audience how many of their friends have a status that is different from their own, such as race, height, class, or sexual orientation. At that moment I was reminded of a truth. Race relations cannot just be dealt with by passing law; it has to start with each person.
When was the last time you invited someone to your home that was different?
Most of us have never done so. If we have invited difference into our home, it’s not happening on a routine basis. More importantly, those people are not our friends. We are living in silos that are based on age, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and a myriad of “isms.”
Our personal values and experiences make an imprint on our work environment. It is fairly evident that several of our police departments have issues with culture. Some of the cultures are upholding stereotypes that are false and they have deadly consequences. As public servants, we must take into consideration how we influence our organizations and public service.
Is our baggage contributing to a much larger problem? If so, we have the power to change that; our hands are not tied.
If you are still reading this, I would like for you to take up a challenge. Once a month for the next year, invite difference into your home. Cook for them, learn who they are, what makes them tick and show them the best of you. After each visit, observe yourself to see if there is an improvement in your interactions with those who are “different.” If you see no improvement, I will cook you dinner at my house.
Eat well and eat different.