PHOTO COURTESY OF ISTOCK BY GETTY IMAGES: Boise, USA- July 16, 2016: Woman holds an All lives matter showing the irony of the statement
(This post was originally run on The Huffington Post on October 16, 2016.)
This country is in deep turmoil when it comes to the topic of race. While the incidences of continued and increased police brutality highlight this fact, and seem to continue to do so, the Presidential debates have been another arena for this topic. While Trump touts stop-and-frisk as the best way to stop crime, he completely neglects the fact that this policy unfairly targets minorities. Maybe he is uneducated in this arena. However, more likely he is just completely ignorant, pushing aside the facts, including a Guardian finding that “32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people”. Trump’s continued nonsensical comments, such as those equating inner cities with African-Americans and thus violence, are not only untrue, as most African-Americans actually live in suburbs, but scary. In essence, it speaks to the assumptions and presumptions that much of this country holds as they pertain to not only African-Americans, but minorities overall.
Over and over again, the Presidential Candidates and their running mates have referenced the term “implicit bias”, which encompasses associations that are not fully conscious, as being a contributing factor to why race relations is in its current state. However, as John Powell so eloquently points out in the Berkeley Blog, “Bias is part of being human. Racialized consequences of harmful implicit biases are not. And the content and strength of particular biases are socially constructed.” In other words, our environment, which includes everything from the upbringing in our homes to our communities, shapes implicit bias and the actions that follow. So, while I do credit the Presidential debates for bringing implicit bias and racism to the forefront, awareness and education around this topic will by no means solve today’s racial divide.
We will never be bias free, nor should we be, for without biases, we could spend inordinate amounts of hours on everyday menial tasks. HOWEVER, as a country,we can begin to eradicate the conditions that impact implicit and racial biasby, for example, implementing measures and solutions to revamp the outdated infrastructure that fails to mediate the increased violence, police brutality, and isolation of and bias against our inner cities and communities of color. As a former public school teacher in various socioeconomic settings, I have witnessed the gaping inequities between inner city and suburban schools. As a 22-year old teacher in inner city Boston, I had a 15-year old student with a newborn baby at home and another female student who had been molested. When I approached the Principal about forming a support group for girls facing issues such as this, he refused. In a more responsive school setting, this sort of group would be implemented. At the same time, I worked alongside colleagues who referred to students as “hopeless” and “stupid,” giving them rote tasks such as copying to “calm them down”. Needless to say, I was shocked and appalled. Compared to my public school experience, which was filled with demanding and caring teachers, extra curricular options and an outstanding college preparatory curriculum, these students really had no access to opportunity from an early age. It just so happened that, in 1996, most of these students were also minorities.
I share all of the above as one key to fixing America’s pitiful and misunderstood backdrop around race is education. I know this not only from my experience as a public school teacher, but also from my work as a Diversity and Inclusion professional. Time and time again I have sat around the table with very educated tech professionals at some of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, and heard the same comment when it comes to hiring diverse talent: “We don’t want to lower the bar for quality.” Every time I hear this statement, I want to scream, but instead calmly remind people that race, or any other physical trait, is by no means equated with quality. But, somehow, this myth exists across not only Silicon Valley, but our entire country. And to be very clear, there is plenty of qualified diverse talent. The Hispanic Heritage Foundation, for example, has a network of thousands of qualified Latino talent, inclusive of engineering students and professionals. I also remind clients that the playing field is not level and as such, companies need to not only expand their sources to include schools outside the typical Ivy leagues, but also commit dedicated resources to find this smaller percentage of talent.
While Trump blames the African-American communities for the racism they face, Clinton on the other hand realizes that this is a systemic issue that requires multiple measures, including community policing and federal legislation to end racial profiling. These types of measures, among many others, are what is needed to mitigate implicit bias. So, while it is reassuring that implicit bias has been acknowledged in the Presidential arena, it is also just the beginning of a very long battle to fight and solve a systemic issue that has unfairly impacted all minorities for too many decades. It also highlights the fact that this nation is extremely uneducated and biased when it comes to preconceptions about race; for instance Trump’s appealing to a mostly African-American crowd in Virginia with statements such as, “What do you have to lose by trying something new…You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” The truth of the matter is that the majority of African-Americans do not live in poverty. Again, bias, in the form of Trump, has reared its not so beautiful combed-over head too many times.
With all of this said, Trump is right about one thing: this country is a mess and is in dire need of change. What he fails to acknowledge though is that the change that is needed is positive, not negative, and in the form of solutions, not rhetoric and blame. And now is the time to start doing something about it. So, Mr. Trump, let’s indeed “Make America Great Again” and let’s begin by providing everyone access to opportunity. Now that’s something I will vote for on Election Day.