Commentary: Open dialogue is difficult but will move us forward

By Dr. Eunice Gwanmesia

At the forefront of our ability to drive meaningful, positive change in our societies is our collective ability to speak out in the face of injustice. For centuries, such a phenomenon has been the driving force of change of every type. Whether we’re talking about social movements, cultural shifts or even the flames of revolution, the resolute spirit in denial of injustice underpins it all.

This is no different today. As recent events have shown us, the collective ability of people to come together and to take action around the cause of tackling injustice can be both powerful and effectual. It can shake the foundations of what we consider to be “normal” and challenge centuries of beliefs taken for granted within a society.

The brutal murder of George Floyd on May 25 is proving to be the catalyst for one such moment. The terrible event has fueled anger from millions of people, not only in the United States, but around the entire globe. Demonstrators, outraged over racial injustice, police brutality, systemic racism and a lack of lasting inclusiveness, have taken to the streets around the world. And while the event itself remains immeasurably tragic, the scale of the reaction provides a sense of optimism for what remains to come, with the lack of precedent hinting at lasting changes in the future.

However, such changes would require the cooperation and commitment of all, not merely that of people of color and of other marginalized communities who have borne the brunt of race-based discrimination over generations. Such a change would require the full support of white communities, with the underlying challenge remaining that many of those have historically harbored racial prejudices, even without realizing it.

Bringing about such change rests on the power of conversation. To truly become an ally in the fight against racial injustice, uncomfortable conversations are not only helpful, but necessary. To practice such conversations effectively, they should not merely be in self-reflection or in introspection, but they should also be face-to-face conversations with family, friends, co-workers and white community members at large.

Dr. Eunice Gwanmesia

On a positive note, this is a phenomenon that we are witnessing in real time, with an increasing abundance of white Americans – many of whom for the first time – beginning to recognize en masse their individual roles and responsibilities in bringing about lasting inclusion in our societies.

This is an important development. After all, conversations around race, inclusivity, diversity and ethnicity have shaped up to be excruciatingly uncomfortable in and around U.S. institutions in recent years. Many white Americans in positions of power and without power alike have become adept at brushing off questions on racial inclusion and diversity by insisting, for example, that recruitment policies are “colorblind” and that African Americans carry exactly the same opportunities as white Americans.

In the end, this remains a self-reinforcing problem. It pervades into all aspects of institutional America, from corporations to small businesses, from unions to associations, from religious groups to community organizations. Civil society and institutions at large, while outwardly focusing on ways to demonstrate inclusivity and anti-discrimination, are inwardly adhering to the increasingly outdated notion of being “colorblind” – all the while at the expense of the very people they tout themselves as uplifting.

In the long run, if the United States is to have any credibility, either domestically or around the globe, it needs to begin to practice what it preaches with respect to inclusion and equality. This means that Americans must collectively put a stop to the notion of being colorblind and make a change in the way we recruit, think and act. Inclusive policies, such as unconscious bias and cultural sensitivity training, will be necessary in the coming period, and instead of sitting back and waiting for them to come, individual Americans, business leaders and policymakers alike must consciously reach out to ethnic minority communities to encourage them to take part in the conversation.

It is for exactly these reasons that the need to engage in uncomfortable conversations of this kind is so strong. And while the discomfort is, naturally, unpleasant, it nevertheless is a sign that some truthful aspect of reality is being touched upon, and therefore, that something is being done that’s right.

When we facilitate inclusiveness in our societies in believing that by effectuating change among business leaders, steps can slowly be taken to create a more equitable and just society for all. By asserting that a person’s cultural identity is their hidden treasure, we become part of a movement to enlighten and empower business leaders in taking a bold step forward with respect to inclusiveness and embracing differences.

Racial justice is within our reach. We need only boldly reach forward to seize it. No longer can we continue to avoid uncomfortable conversations about race and inequality, and no longer can we let our shared institutions not represent the reality of our increasingly vibrant, diverse and multiracial societies.

After all, it’s only through conversation and education that widespread, meaningful change can be brought about in a sustainable way. It’s only through conversation and education that the power of cultural awareness and inclusivity can be realized to its fullest potential – not just for some, but for all.

Dr. Eunice Gwanmesia, Ph.D., MSN, MSHCA, RN, is CEO of Eunity Solutions, which strives to provide a fresh perspective on cultural awareness that gives leaders and employees the tools they need to expand their capacity to achieve success together.