Some days it seems the world is spinning madly out of control. This is the wildest ride we’ve had as a country since the 1960’s. We are facing an unprecedented perfect storm of global pandemic, cultural upheaval and polarized elections. And right when you thought your capacity for challenges and turmoil was full, fasten your seatbelts because this roller coaster ride is far from over.
When the protests began following George Floyd’s tragic death, I suggested writing a column addressing racism. However, so much has happened since that original thought that I have struggled to wrap my thoughts around a single concept. My own emotions have cycled from shock, outrage, empathy, confusion, fear, indignation and back through the same cycle again. One thing I know for certain, though, is that I’m not alone in these feelings.
Racism is a super-charged topic for our country and culture. I have struggled with how relevant racism is for our businesses and industry. Until the last few months, my general impression was, as an industry, many of us are on the outside of this issue looking in. It’s rarely, if ever, an issue I can remember coming up in a snow industry roundtable discussion or presentation. Whether that proves true in the coming months and years ahead is unknown. So many factors – the economy, new laws, and of course, this November’s election – could make this issue of racism relevant and demand our attention.
Then again, I’m a middle-aged successful white man who grew up in an upper middle-class Midwest neighborhood. In my adult years, though, I have gathered around myself an eclectic group of friends and acquaintances from every walk of life in terms of sexuality, race and political persuasion. I look into the mirror and see a socially progressive individual who accepts others whose life philosophies and experiences differ from my own.
George Floyd’s death was the catalyst to this recent debate on the pervasiveness of racism in 21st century America. I was stunned to see a number of my Black friends and their families so severely impacted by these events. It’s as if someone ripped the scab off of an old, unhealed wound that, until I saw the blood, I had no idea was even there.
I took another strong look in the mirror and asked myself what I had missed over the last 20 years. It’s as if there was a hidden room in my house I never knew was there. I just never saw the door even though it was there all along. How is that possible?
I have reached out to my Black friends hoping to understand and show them the empathy I lacked in the past. One friend, a veteran, vented how hard his life has been, always aware of his skin color and afraid whenever a police car pulled up behind him. He shared with me the emotional pain caused by generations of his family serving in the military and fighting wars, only to return home somehow unequal to those they fought to protect.
In my journey of self-discovery, I have investigated the other side of this issue, as well. Surely, things are better than they were over 50 years ago. How can racism be such a huge issue when you see Blacks playing prominent roles in government, the arts, music, sports and business? Instead, are they projecting the unresolved pain of the past on the present?
So, have I made any grand conclusions? Well, I’m certainly on board for sweeping changes where and when they are needed, but I caution we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
I urge my friends and colleagues to work harder to educate themselves to understand the complex issues of racism from multiple points of educated views and philosophies. Reexamine how you spend and distribute your influence, votes and resources to support positive change and equality.
Reignite relationships with those of other races and colors than your own and try to understand how they see the world around us. How would this world look next week if every person in the country devoted an hour of their time to learn about the life and culture of someone different than them?
Overall, we should use this opportunity to grow as people and organizations that have as our common goal to be good and to do good. Ultimately, the responsibility to be the agents of change falls to you and to me.
I hope and pray we all challenge ourselves to adapt, grow and prosper during these tumultuous times.