The demographics of the country are changing. Higher education is transforming at great speed. Interracial dating is more acceptable than before. People from many countries are moving to the United States (sorry Mr. Trump).
When it comes to race, I embrace our country’s history — the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am more concerned about what is next. Yes, I may still experience racism at my local Whole Foods store, and yes, I may be the only black woman in a room full of local government leaders, but those times are changing and our behaviors and our mindsets must be forward thinking.
Whole Foods and Local Government?
Why do I mention Whole Foods? Last week I attended a Whole Foods cooking class. If you have not attended one of the classes, they are unique and held in the middle of the store’s produce section. I was late when I arrived for my class and every seat was taken. After a few minutes, I decided it would be good that I follow along with the rest of the class, so I found a copy of the recipes the instructor had been referencing. A few more minutes went by and although I wasn’t tired, I was thinking that a chair would have been nice. A few more minutes passed and two more women came in. I thought to myself, “Good I’m not the only one who was late!” But what followed their arrival bothered me. The instructors’ aides immediately grabbed copies of the recipes and approached the women who just entered, apologizing for the lack of available seats and then rushing off to retrieve chairs. As I observed this, one of the aides said across the room, “We are getting you a chair too.”
I recount this story because it happened right before this article was due. And because, I have encountered similar situations in our profession, maybe un-purposefully, but it does exist.
Every Second, Everyday
What are your thoughts? Should I have asked for a chair? Should I have interrupted the class? My thoughts: Maybe it was because I was the only black woman who attended the event and they thought less of me than the other white women that arrived. Harsh? Over assuming? These are my everyday experiences as a black woman, and unfortunately these instances, whether purposeful or not, remind me of my blackness every second of everyday.
A Picture Says a Thousand Words
Imagine how it feels to be in City Hall looking at pictures of a city’s history, you stop outside the council chambers to look at pictures of the former city councilors and city managers, and you see nothing but white males. Learning about this lack of diversity in local government has not discouraged me. I credit this to some great mentors. Call me a rebel, but I’ve drawn motivation from knowing about the lack of diversity and have become more determined to lead a successful career in local government.
I believe that local government needs more gender and racial diversity in order to hear from different voices. It’s not uncommon that I’m the only black female actively participating in local government – not pointing fingers but simply stating a reality – this is the type of racial prejudice our country was built upon, but that was history and things have and will continue to change.
Times Are A-Changin’
From my personal and professional experiences, I draw a few lessons that prepare us to address race in the future;
- Diversity conversations will become less awkward and more of an expectation in local government. My peers realize this when they walk in a council chamber of all white males – instead of taking their seat, they now ask why there aren’t more women represented, and next they will be roaring, instead of whispering, why aren’t there any people of color?
- We must make friends with people who look differently than us. In the current state of local government, there is not much diversity. This lack of diversity hampers our ability to become close to colleagues and friends who don’t look like us. Building these relationships would increase our knowledge and understanding of different genders and races.
In my situation – A LOT of my best friends in the profession are not the same color as me and that is how it ought to be – we need each other. We need the knowledge of the retiring generation – knowledge is power.
A final lesson I take to heart — diversity is not about the color of your skin but who you are. Each of your characteristics should be embraced and celebrated. Our differences foster unique problem solving and help us learn different perspectives.
Why be someone else when you bring so much to profession and those who love you. You don’t have to be brown to be diverse – you could have a unique strength or you could the ability to kick people’s butts at charades. Simply put, we need that charades ninja at work every day. We need that same person to show respect and appreciation for those who are different.
To sum up my thoughts on race, if you have not realized the changing demographics, get ready to accept and embrace it. You may change your pre-dispositions into something phenomenal and it’s something that is in the best interest of your community and yourself.
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