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Black History Month: Comfort means convenient

It’s the start of February which means it’s the beginning of Black History Month. How have you learned about Black history outside of school, from your family or community or from your own curiosity? Let’s all do a better job of highlighting and appreciating the contributions, impact, and the fingerprints that Black Americans had have in this country’s history and growth; and let me help. Here are just a handful of African Americans who are brilliant in their craft while paving the way for others:

· Kamala Harris, 56, first Black, first South Asian American and first woman Vice President

· Rosalind Brewer, 58, Walgreen’s next CEO and only Black woman to currently lead a Fortune 500

· Amanda Gorman, 22, youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history

· Raphael Warnock, 51, Georgia first Black Senator

· Rashida Jones, 39, MSNBC’s President and first Black executive to run a major TV news network

· Nicholas Johnson, 23, Princeton’s first Black valedictorian

· Mellody Hobson, 51, first Black woman to serve as chair of Starbuck’s Board

The future is bright with these amazing and inspiring people in leadership roles. And I find my first reaction is to be overcome with joy and pride because I know a small fraction of the challenges and obstacles that they likely had to conquer. The road to success is significantly different for Black and Brown Americans which only makes their stories that much sweeter in my eyes. However, the next feeling I am hit with is discouragement. As corporations, social media campaigns, and television commercials begin to “celebrate” Black History Month, I cannot help but to think it feels misguided.

Misguided because the real problem isn’t ever addressed – institutional power. As Associate Professor of Sociology, Sarah Mayorga shares, “Diversity becomes about inclusion and tolerance — including everybody at the table — but without ever really talking about why the table looked that way in the first place. In other words, there's no discussion about how one group of people has been systemically privileged over others.” In the professional setting, we are STILL using the words “first” and “only” to describe many BIPOC’s (Black and Indigenous People of color) accomplishments. Do you see the problem? The State of Georgia has yet to ever elect a Black woman governor – FYI the State was established in 1788. In the history of the Supreme Court (est. 1789), there has only been two black justices.

The uncomfortable reality (and problem) is we have yet to fully acknowledge the legacy of slavery. America is still dealing with how to reconcile, and memorialize, that dark period of its history. We distance ourselves from these issues. Distance is key; we need to get closer to these topics. We are not doing anyone any favors by sidestepping them. Too often dominate culture walks around with the incorrect lens. The notion of we don't see things as they are; we see them as we are.

In contrast, Germany is intentional on addressing the Holocaust. They understand the importance of discussing this so that history is never repeated. Germany has placed markers throughout the country that speak on the Holocaust. Additionally, the swastika is banned in the county. There isn’t any statues of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels. Interesting enough, since hate speech is illegal in Germany, extremists and rebels will often wave the Confederate flag as a symbol to glorify the sins and horrors of the past.

We are still held back from all the “isms” – racism, colorism, ageism, classism. Undeniably there are gate keepers in both the workplace and society that strive to keep the status quo. Want to be an ally? A champion for diversity? Let’s focus on breaking away from traditions, because historically, tradition is an undercover code word for placing barriers in the path of racial progress.

Need an example? Yesterday, former Miami Dolphin’s head football coach, Brian Flores, an Afro-Latino man sued the NFL claiming discrimination in hiring in the NFL. The complaint points out that white coaches have longer tenures than Black coaches. That after winning seasons, Black coaches are much more likely to be fired than white coaches. That Black coaches have a harder time getting a second job than white coaches. Of the seven openings for head coaches at the beginning of the 2020-21 hiring cycle, one was filled by a black man. Over the previous four cycles, there have been 27 openings and only three were filled with black men. What message are NFL owners supporting and endorsing? It appears the league and its owners prefer to keep the 'old boys club' to exclusive members.

As we honor and celebrate 2022’s Black History Month, let us also reaffirm our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This fight needs an adjustment. More action is necessary. We are too often concerned about the symptoms and not the sickness. Associate Professor Mayorga puts it best - When we talk about diversity, it often becomes this performance of being "the good type of white person." We hyperfocus on the person's intentions. We stay in that first step of proving we're committed to diversity and never really follow through with the commitment. We don't ever really get to the conversation, Okay, are our measures to promote diversity effective or not."

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