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Solving a problem is impossible if you don’t agree it’s a problem. - Susan Fowler
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This CHOMP is personal. And I feel it may be a bit dangerous. If you choose to read it and respond, thank you. If you disagree with my perspective, I’m dedicated to understanding yours.

Three recent conversations with people I care about dearly are eating me from the inside out. The subject was racial inequality and what to do about it. At least these friends were willing to engage in the conversation—which is one of the reasons I cherish them!

But coming away from each conversation, I had “Why didn’t I say this or that?” moments. I wished I’d challenged certain ideas and presented a more cogent counterargument. This CHOMP is my attempt to better articulate my position on racial issues facing us right now based on motivation science and my values. I ask forgiveness for my ineptitude in advance. But I feel these are conversations we need if we hope to learn and evolve.

My friends and I seem to agree with basic facts proving that racial inequality exists, such as…

Our problem isn’t accepting that racial disparity exists. The problem is agreeing on why it exists.
My belief: We cannot begin to truly deal with racial inequity until we deal with the foundational problem creating it in the first place: Systemic bias, both implicit and explicit, that oppresses people of color and keeps them from thriving. I cite evidence, such as… My friends’ belief: These types of examples are not evidence of society treating people unfairly. They insist that laws apply to all Americans and opportunities for education and work are based on a meritocracy.

One friend refused to admit that systemic racism exists because, “That hasn’t been my experience.” I pushed back (lovingly), “No offense, but this isn’t about your experience, it’s about theirs."
  • What proof would you accept that implicit or explicit bias, maybe even racism, is prevalent and oppressive to certain groups of people?
  • Isn’t it possible that we have laws to protect all people, but those laws don’t get enforced justly?
  • Isn’t it possible that our meritocracy is unfair because it’s based on the idea of a level playing field that doesn’t exist?

But my friends, like many others according to Pew Research, simply won’t agree that social injustice and discrimination are problems leading to racial inequality. Bias or racism can’t be the underlying cause of racial disparity because they don’t experience it from their vantage point. And therein lies the problem.

In their own ways, my friends echo opinions shared by Bill O’Reilly in his appearance with John Stewart, and more recently, Rush Limbaugh denying the existence of White Privilege decrying it as a liberal, political construct engineered by Democrats to gain Black votes.

Limbaugh (awarded the Medal of Honor in February as an individual who has made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors) believes that social injustice and prejudicial treatment isn’t just a Black experience, explaining that he’s been “mistreated” his whole life. He cited being fired nine times in his career as proof—after all, everyone faces hardships.

Like O’Reilly and Limbaugh, my friends don’t believe racial inequity is a result of societal norms that work against people of color, bias in hiring, inconsistent policing, inequitable education, statues erected to perpetuate the message of the Jim Crow era, or unjust application of policies or laws. So, I asked them a pivotal question:

What Do You Believe Is at the Heart of Racial Disparity?

Their answer is what eats at me. Whether direct or indirect, their answers lead to the same conclusions. Some types of people are basically lazy. “They” want a free handout. “They” take advantage of the system. I pulled myself up from nothing, why can’t they? (Unfortunately, quoting Martin Luther King about how hard it is to pull yourself up from your bootstraps if you don’t have boots didn’t get me far.)

One of my friends said outright: I’m not racist, I just believe some people don’t try hard enough. They come from an inferior culture without a strong family structure; they don’t nurture hard work.

We all have blind spots in our beliefs that need exploring—and exploding. If you’re curious about your own potential for bias, try taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT).
You might also read my blog for SmartBrief on Leadership where I cite motivation science and the truth about human thriving to refute unfounded beliefs and stereotypes about some types of people. The blog will be published within the next week, here.
My hope is that you’ll help me share potent ways to explore the question: If you agree that racial disparity is a reality, why do you think it exists?

If we don’t agree that our own implicit or explicit bias—our generalized assumptions regarding some types of people—are underlying causes for racial inequality that needs fixing, we are not agreeing on the problem. Solving a problem is impossible if you don’t agree it’s a problem. That’s especially true if the problem is rooted in our basic beliefs about “some types of people.”

A note to my friends who I hope are reading my CHOMP newsletter: You may have recognized that I’m writing about our past conversations. Now that I’ve shared publicly, I will also find the courage to reengage in our discussions. I hope you are willing. If we cannot tug at our different perspectives to learn from people we love, what hope do we have for the rest of the world’s evolution?

With love and gratitude,
Susan
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