By Steve Moran
Some Embarrassing Lessons . . .
I have always seen myself as being pretty aware and super-nonprejudiced when it comes to race. These past 10 days have painfully uncovered some things in me I missed.
A few weeks ago when we were in the middle of selling tickets to the “Our Time to Shine” virtual summit someone emailed me with a comment that went something like this “nice diversity in your speakers”. I immediately cringed because they were 100% right. But I felt kind of justified. Because well, when you look at both senior living leadership and the population of older people we serve, both are mostly white. So what could I do?
The problem with this, of course, was that it was a pretty pathetic answer and self-justification and I knew it when I said it.
Making It All Worse
Our industry is completely dependent on a non-anglo workforce without which we could not come close to surviving. And yet, we have done very little to create career paths for non-whites who have extra burdens they carry day in and day out, because of their skin color, because of their ethnicity.
Three Moments of Clarity
These last couple of weeks have given me 3 profound moments of clarity that showed me I was more complicit than I thought possible.
1. The Protests and Violence in Minneapolis and the Boston Tea Party
I watched the early protests and violence in Minneapolis with a broken heart over the murder of George Floyd. But also some distress, even anger, over the property damage being done to the city. Then it occurred to me that both the protests and the violence in that moment were not so dissimilar to what the “patriots” did when they threw whole ship cargos of tea into the bay.
They were fed up that their complaints were not taken seriously and we today more than 250 years later celebrate that act of vandalism. It would be hard to argue that the violence in those early days in Minneapolis was substantively different.
This is not to endorse the violence and destruction that is taking place today, it is thuggery and much of it is being done by white people. It is diminishing legitimate protests.
2. Amy Cooper, A Dog, and A Black Man
When I read the story about Christian Cooper, a black man who was birdwatching in Central Park, asking Amy Cooper (not related) to leash her dog as required and her responding by telling him she was going to call the police and report she was being threatened by a black man, I thought “not good”. But I found myself thinking that the reaction to what she did was overblown, particularly her being fired.
Then I came across an article at Forbes by Terina Allen, titled “3 Things Amy Cooper Did In Central Park to Damage Her Reputation and Career” and it rocked my world. It never occurred to me that when she made that call, she was weaponizing his skin color against him. And that it was entirely possible that, without him videotaping the encounter, she could have ruined his entire life or at least created substantial damage to his personal and professional life.
And she did it as her default behavior. She cared not one bit about him. I missed how completely repulsive her behavior was.
3. Akebulon, My Buddy, and His Extra Burden
Several days ago I was following a discussion about the extra burden of being black in our society and a woman, not someone I know, responded by saying “life is tough for everyone not just people of color.” I have heard this from a number of people and it even had a ring of truth for me.
Then I got to thinking . . . 16 years ago, a young black woman showed up at church with two little kids. The church completely embraced the family, but the youngest, Akebulon, and I had this special bond. Every Saturday he would sit in my lap and I would rub his head until he fell asleep. Fast forward to 2019 when he graduated from high school. He is a big, dark-skinned, black young man who is one of the gentlest souls I know.
I also have a biological son, Paul, who is a very tall young man with an equally gentle soul. But he is about as light-skinned as they get.
Every day I fear for Akebulon, that he will be mistaken for something he is not. I never fear that because my son is big and white he will be mistaken for something he is not that will land him in jail or make him dead.
A New Perspective
In the past week, I have come to realize that, for the most part, those of us who are white have convinced ourselves of something that is not true, and that is that we have mostly eradicated racism. It is alive and real in all of us. It is perhaps most insidious for those of us who think we are not racist.
It is a particularly serious problem in senior living. We must figure out how to create more diversity in leadership and perhaps residents (something that needs to be talked about in another article).