“Do the best you can until you know better.
Then, when you know better, do better.”
— Maya Angelou
Step Three: Recalibrate
Now we’re at the hard part. We must do something.
As a country, we have functioned in a certain way for decades. The systems/customs/mores that underpin our country have worked fine—for many. But for others — people of color broadly and African Americans in particular — embedded structural racism and unconscious bias, regularly reinforced, has created an environment many now recognize as wrong.
If we are to heal as a country, we must overhaul our racial belief system to enable us to recalibrate and fix a system of legal, structurally embedded, racism. This is a massive undertaking, but as the Chinese proverb states, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Recently, I read an exquisitely crafted commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education from Patricia McGuire, President of Washington, DC’s Trinity University. In “How Higher Education Can Atone for Its Long History of Racism,” McGuire writes,
“Renovation can sometimes cure outmoded structures, but sometimes the only solution is demolition and rebuilding. To make real progress in eliminating the structures of racism that depress the enrollment of black students, universities need to move from gestures of good intentions to real transformation. Rather than using metrics derived from the behaviors of traditional student populations—predominately white, economically secure, attending full time with parental financial support—universities that want to lead real change in eradicating the vestiges of segregation need to develop entirely new approaches to admissions, curricula and pedagogy, support services and measures of academic success that are not seat time in one place.”
President McGuire is talking about the complete recalibration of the higher education system. It is broken. It isn’t working for many students of color. Tinkering around the edges is inadequate. As McGuire says, “the only solution is demolition and rebuilding.”
To heal, that level of reflection and transformation is required. In my last post, I talked about the criminal justice system where reforms are unquestionably needed. They are also vital in housing, health care, and environmental justice. Large scale recalibration is necessary for almost all the systems that shape America. So, when I am asked, “Where should I start?” My answer is, “anywhere, just start.”
Everyone doesn’t have the platform of a university president, but we each have a voice and we each have a platform. A relatively easy, yet profound way, to begin is by asking a pivotal question: Will people of different races be affected differently?
What if you asked that question at the next PTA meeting when a new initiative is considered at your child’s school or at a meeting of your professional association. You could ask your state/city/county representative when you hear a new idea is being considered to address a community need.
Just imagine the effect if we all asked about the differential impact on racial/ethnic groups. For example, the discussion or planning for a new metro/subway stop or bus route might change if the leaders were asked: What neighborhoods will be disrupted or destroyed? What communities still lack adequate public transportation coverage? Is there an impact based on race?
Typically, when new societal interventions are considered, such as enhanced public transportation, the notion is all will benefit. Ever hear the expression, “All boats rise?” Think about it, even if all boats rise, the disparity is likely to remain. We may have achieved equality – offering the same thing to everyone, but we may not have achieved equity – addressing/improving existing racial differentials.
In order to recalibrate America, we must have heightened awareness and increased, intentional action. By asking a simple, critical question, you plant a seed, you introduce the concept of equity versus equality. When you put racial fairness on the table as a concept for those who may not have ever considered the potential for differential impact, you are playing a key role in recalibrating America. You are helping us to heal.
I have always believed lasting change must both bubble up and trickle down. I do not minimize the link between the dearth of leadership from our country’s “top” and America’s lack of progress toward racial healing. At the same time, I continue to believe in “We the people.” We can foster a new—better—way of thinking. We can promote fresh ideas and different actions. We – the people – can begin to recalibrate America. We can begin the healing process.