• Jose Pierre

The Ills and Hopes of ThisTime

Despite the achievements made in the past fifty years, we are still a nation divided by discrimination and racial division. America’s current state feels delicate and shaky. The recent race-tinged police killing of George Floyd has created unfortunate conditions for the worst race riots since the 1960s. In the middle of a pandemic we find ourselves threatened by yet another reality. Numerous horrific incidents of deadly violence against people of color in our cities have left us disheartened and angry. We try to cope as we have always done, evoking our emotions through our sorrows and, protests. Through our conversations with family and friends, we struggle to make sense of it all and die a little every time one of our brothers and sisters are killed through senseless racial violence. America cannot run away from its troubled history of racial violence, from Freddie Gray and Eric Garner to Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the names of hundreds, of thousands lost over the last 400 years. They are humans whose lives were taken too soon due to a history of systemic racism that protects and allows for the violation of human rights.

No matter how hard we work or how much we strive and achieve, the prejudice follows us everywhere. As I reflect on these past few days, I realize that I or any of my Black friends could very well have found ourselves in that same situation as George Floyd just because of the color of our skins. Our professional and educational accomplishments are often immaterial. At times, when we go out of our homes, walk into a store, tryout for a new job/business opportunity or we simply give the keys to our cars to our children and watch them drive away; we do so with great trepidation in our hearts. For us, we are living in the shadows. Yet, we never give up and remain hopeful that one day our children will not have to live in such a world.

Socioeconomic Inequity. Financial influence is key for the success of any group of people. Black Americans continue to suffer in this area due to an imbalance and prejudicial system. The socioeconomic factors and discrimination affect the earning power of Black Americans. This has created real challenges in the ability to build and grow wealth. As a result, Black families are the first to feel the brunt of national economic woes when these occur. With less wealth, blacks are underrepresented in the market for financial products and services. New survey results by Fortune last month show that “24% of black adults said they had lost their jobs at the onset of the pandemic, compared with 20% of Hispanic workers, 19% of Asian workers, and 11% of white workers”. These disparities have tangible and widespread implications for black families. Exclusion of black families in the financial system due to the lack of sustainability in jobs and businesses, has dire consequences. With little to no savings, black families often lag behind their White counterparts. The financial system has failed Black Americans and have made it difficult for black families to weather economic storms. We cannot discuss prejudice in our country and not highlight the hurdles that exist to wealth building for black families. An in-depth examination of the financial obstacles that hold people of color in a state that offers significantly less economic opportunities than white peers require an expanded study. Nonetheless, systemic prejudice in all its aspects is unable to succeed without financial exclusion. Together; we can make a difference. The pain and mourning in our communities should compel all of us to do our part to seriously confront racism and address social biases for the sake of our children and, the generations ahead. The task is monumental, but the past is filled with examples of ordinary acts of ordinary people who overcame great challenges. Today, Whites, Black and Brown must agree to join the fight against racism and impartiality in justice—wherever and however it occurs. Some considerations:

Recognize own privilege. The term “privilege” is widely used but what is it? – Privilege by definition, is “a right, immunity or benefit enjoyed only by one person beyond the advantages of most.”

Examine carefully what you already have in your hands that can be used to make a difference in your world. On the floor of the Senate, Alaska’s U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski spoke and said that “…as a white woman born and raised in Alaska, with a family that was privileged, I can’t feel that openness and rawness that I just heard expressed by my friends Cory and Kamala. I haven’t lived their life. But I can listen, and I can educate myself.”

Privilege can include socio-economic status, race religion, gender, language, even opportunity. It may be your natural talent, a particular skill set, your influence, or your expertise. But whatever it might be, financial coaching, planning abilities, youth leader, athletic skills, Law degree, consider sharing with the world. Use it at work, in your community, or even your house of Worship.

God created all colors, shapes and sizes of people. When someone says they do not see color, it denies truth. It overlooks identity, ignores experience, and downplays the injustices that brown and black people face regularly because we are brown and black. In order to break down the barriers of inequality, we must work together and, not only accept each other as we are and have been created but celebrate our differences and learn from them.

Heed the call of our courageous ancestors who spoke out against slavery, marched and died for voting rights and for equality. Issues of injustice and racism are not distractions from the Gospel. Throughout the bible, God reminds us to challenge inequalities, and to love our brothers and sisters for we are all created in His image. In his book on race entitled “The Third Option”, Miles McPherson refers to the “in-group and out-group” bias that drive our preferences toward one another. This is the time for all of us to examine our past, and to recognize our own biases—the stereotypes, and prejudices — we’ve developed along the way that can lead to discrimination.

Let people of color share their experiences and feelings and, learn in the process. Conversations about race and injustice are difficult. But at times it is necessary to engage in these difficult conversations. Hear about the daily experiences of people of color from people of color. Do not rush to conclusions, but pause, listen, and learn about the ways that racism continues to affect neighbors, co-workers or friends.

Work with Leaders to help expand opportunities for people of color. Use your position and talents to help those in leadership find ways to do their part against Systemic racism within the workplace or at school. Now is the time for all institutions to implement immediate steps for inclusion, and to promote an equitable culture, both internally, and for those they serve. A recent research by McKinsey & Company shows that “financial institutions could realize approximately $2 billion in incremental, additional annual revenue if black Americans had the same access to financial products as white Americans. If black Americans reached full parity in terms of wealth with white Americans, financial services companies could realize up to $60 billion in additional revenue from black customers each year.”

The Financial Industry has immense wealth and opportunity. These institutions need to hire African Americans in senior roles, not just one token individual. No one company can solve the deep-rooted systemic problems but taking some key steps now will go a long way to ensure that Blacks are treated with dignity.

Some ways organizations and their leaders can help:

Recognize the existence of police brutality toward Black and Brown people. Companies need to speak loudly against this as some of their own employees or their friends and families may at any time become victims of such crimes.

Publicly acknowledge that Black Lives Matter, that employees who are people of color are not always being treated equally and are often cheated and exploited by oppressive systems that have plagued Blacks for centuries. Melinda Gates in a recent Tweet shows that she gets it “Black Lives Matter. We cannot allow systemic racism to go unnamed or unchallenged. Above all, we cannot turn away.” Support organizations that are anti-racist or are fighting for racial justice. Donate to help organizations like the National Urban League, NAACP, Black Lives Matter and others on an ongoing basis. Getting employees involved – matching programs within a company makes it more impactful. Many companies such as Apple, Facebook are donating.

Assess the current demographic state of your workforce and employment practices. Black employees want professional growth opportunities and to maintain their jobs as long as they are producing similar to their white counterparts. Unfortunately, too many times Blacks are the first to get cut during hard times. The Washington Post recently reported that the Federal Reserve is being called upon to pay attention to the current black unemployment as it addresses its policy decisions. The barriers and the relentless prejudiced assumptions about Blacks need to be removed. The Executives within our nation’s major corporations can make a difference by just simply placing a priority on this issue that is destroying the prospects of many families around the country. A recent study entitled “Being Black in Corporate America” by the Center for Talent Innovation reported that black professionals more than any other group have experienced racial prejudice at work. Develop innovative employment strategies Several programs such as the IBM’s P-TECH initiative provides exceptional opportunities, while others have established concrete recruitment targets that are tying Executive bonuses to Diversity Goals. Microsoft and Citigroup are good examples. For Blacks, every day, while we work hard to perform at our careers or, manage a team, lead a company we also do so in constant fear that at any time our efforts may be hindered by anyone simply because of the color of our skins. Living with anxiety is the way the majority of people who are Black in the workplace go through their day. We may smile but deep inside we are emotionally exhausted by racism. We go on and push forward, we live in the shadows, we are invisible, we bleed when hurt, we cry when fired, we die when shot, we are humans and, despite it all we continue to dream and hope because our lives matter! Our present time provides a singular window of opportunity for lasting change. History will judge us by the actions we take together today, for the sake of humanity. As our scientists do their part to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, let us do our part, and begin the process to eradicate yet another virus. The evil that is racism, that has plagued all of us for much, much too long.

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