I have been hearing from leaders in all sectors of American society that they are outraged by the brutal police killing of George Floyd. I have been hearing these leaders talk about their personal convictions and their resolution to change. I have been hearing new statements of anti-racism and new commitments to attack racism and to lead in a way that attacks racism.
I have been in this country for more than 30 years as a black person. In those 30 years, I have seen many unarmed black people killed by white police officers. I have myself endured racism in many sectors of society. In those 30 years, I have not seen much change in terms of police violence against black people or the racism that makes it possible.
So, I want to ask a question of all the leaders expressing these new or renewed convictions of anti-racism and these new commitments to lead in a way that attacks racism. And – as a black person who is therefore a reluctant expert on racism – I want to make some concrete suggestions about two things they should do to act on their new or renewed anti-racist feelings and commitments.
My question is this: what did you start doing differently after August 9, 2014 and what progress in the struggle against racism do you have to show for it?
On August 9, 2014, an unarmed young black man named Michael Brown was killed by a Ferguson police officer. We do not have video of that killing, as we do with the murder of George Floyd, so the brutality and (at best) indifference to black life of the Ferguson police officer is more open to question. But, still, whatever their stance on the culpability of the police officer who killed Michael Brown, all of our leaders said the community uprising over his death taught or reminded them that our region is hampered by racism and racial disparities. They all said that things must change and that they would change.
So, what changed? What did you, as a leader, do differently? What change did you make? It is six years later. What did you do to attack racism and empower black people in those six years?
Now I challenge our leaders to make two changes, and I give them six months – not six years – to start showing evidence of growth and positive change in the struggle against racism.
All institutions should have a grievance process. They don’t work very well, for a reason we all know: people fear retaliation when they speak truth to power, especially within the organization that employs them. But you will never improve your organization if the experts on its dysfunction – the people who work there – do not report their grievances.
So, you need to revisit and reformulate your grievance policy and process. You need to make sure that the policy includes explicit statements that racism and racial bias are not acceptable, will not be tolerated and must be reported. You need to make sure your grievance process respects and protects truth-tellers and revise it if it does not. You must then promote your grievance policy and process throughout the organization. You have one month to accomplish this.
Then, you need to revisit and reformulate your diversity statement and strategy. I know you already have them, but they aren’t working or you wouldn’t be saying the things you are saying now. You need to fix your grievance policy and process first, though, because the new stream of grievances you should start receiving will be your best source of information about how to revise and revive your diversity statement and strategy.
You need to make sure your diversity strategy also respects and protects truth-tellers and revise it if it does not. You must then promote your renewed diversity statement and strategy throughout the organization. You have three months to accomplish this.
In four months, you should have vastly improved your grievance process and diversity strategy. Along the way, you should be learning who in your organization is discriminating against black people, who is hindering your diversity strategy, who is enabling or committing racism. Within two months after your vastly improved grievance processes and diversity strategies are in action, you should have a renewed organization with more empowered black leaders. You should actually have done something to attack racism other than talk about it.
Please, go to work now.
Karley M. King is a program manager in the health care field. A native of Togo, West Africa, she has lived half of her life in the U.S. in New York City and half in St. Louis County.