Sunday, May 31, 2020

Two Simple Ways to Fight Racism

Unless you live under a rock of willful ignorance, you've heard that racial strife is boiling over in the United States. I am not an expert on this subject, but there are a lot of opinions flying around online about this. So here's that part of mine that I actually find worth sharing on my blog: the status quo is unacceptable and these injustices cannot be tolerated if we are who we say we are.

There are many people more worth listening to on this subject, but I have seen a lot of lists going around like "75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice" that seem mostly already geared towards people who have some understanding of the problem and want to be a part of organized action. The target audience I'm envisioning for this post is more curious about where to start on a more basic level. Perhaps you're even diving into this subject matter for the very first time. And that's okay because we are all constantly learning and growing. So that's why I wanted to distill my suggestions down to just two simple ways to fight racism. Please note this is not a checklist; this is a starting point. That being said, I hope some readers find it helpful.

1. Listen and Learn

It's exhausting for people who are suffering from a problem to have to explain the problem to others over and over again. That's why it's so helpful for those of us on the outside to be able to take ownership of our own learning, seek out good resources, and listen. Some of my favorite resources include @laylafsaad and @jameelajamilofficial on Instagram. If you prefer to read things, I recommend The Root and particularly this timeline of events that led to what we are seeing right now (note: it does have cursing). One Foreign Service-specific example that I consider a must-read is this heartbreaking article by someone who should have been supported enough to have been able to stay in public service. As one of my colleagues put it, "The State Department lost a great officer due to indifference that could have been based in a number of -isms. Hopefully, this story and our current environment will inform the way we manage and engage with colleagues at post and at FSI and in social media." (And yes, do at some point go and read that "75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice" article even if you find it a bit daunting. It includes more recommended resources for learning, too.)

2. Lift Where You Stand

We have a powerful influence in our families, circles of friends, and communities. Whenever we can, let's stand up for others even if they're different from us. That means not only refusing to laugh at the racist joke but also calling it out directly. That means not scrolling past that social media post where an echo chamber is reinforcing racist stereotypes but engaging in the conversation and providing an alternative point of view not just for the posters but for the many silent others watching. Take those materials and sources you discovered while following step one and share them with people you care about. Join diverse book clubs or start one of your own. If you're a parent or teacher or auntie or uncle, talk to kids about racism and help them consume entertainment featuring diverse characters.

It's that simple and easy to get started. I'm trying to do better and be better, too, so let's make this journey together as a society and as a country. Now, there is surely some subset of readers who will think, "But I thought you were in the Foreign Service? Aren't domestic issues a little outside of your purview?" To whom I offer the following:

  • In the digital age, the foreign/domestic issue divide is to some extent a false dichotomy. Especially as a Public Diplomacy Officer working to improve America's image, influence, and partnerships abroad it's impossible to ignore the effect what's going on in our country has on our effectiveness on the international stage. I highly recommend this article where the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom explores some of the main issues youth in the UK have with the United States (spoiler alert: racism and police brutality are high on the list).
  • I have deviated from this blog's regularly scheduled programming before, when there were outbreaks of violence in Kenya and Charlottesville. I will probably do it again.
  • This is my blog, and I think advocating for what is true and right (even when it's hard) is more important than making everyone comfortable.

Please feel free to share your thoughts or advice in the comments below. Trust me: I'm listening.

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