We Must Do More Than Talk About Racism

| by Bert Armstrong

Not long ago all of us were being asked to do our civic duty and help each other by staying home and keeping our distance from one another. While emotionally and financially difficult, it is believed to be the most effective means of confronting this terrible COVID-19 pandemic until a vaccine is discovered that allows us to come together again.

With the events of the past week, we are being called to make another commitment, one that is vital for defeating the pandemic of racism that has raged for generations in our hometowns, schools, workplaces, state houses, and institutions. Sadly, there is no vaccine coming that will miraculously close the wounds that have been opened by recent events. There is no pill to quickly heal the painful effects of racial and economic injustice on the lives of our black brothers and sisters. And there is no shot that can immediately raise the social consciousness of me and my white brothers and sisters such that we can fully understand the fear and inequality faced every day.

Instead, we must roll up our sleeves and get to work building a stronger, more just, and inclusive community. The circumstance that led to George Floyd’s death and to the peaceful protests and riots that followed were not created yesterday. They are the results of decades of discrimination. And it will take a significant shift in understanding and years of hard work by people from all walks of life to see the type of change that this moment calls for.

Our team at Armstrong McGuire began leaning into our own study of these issues earlier this year and we are committed to the continued examination of our blind spots around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are working to understand how implicit bias impacts the way we approach our work and we are determined to address those areas where we have lacked understanding or the courage to change. We make no assertions that we have the answers. But we are committed to asking the uncomfortable questions and to listening to those whose experiences are different than ours. This work will make us better individually and as a team, and it will inform and strengthen our support of our vital nonprofit sector.   

Our hearts go out to the Floyd family and to all our brothers and sisters of color whose generational struggle has been fueled by systemic racism, but sympathy cannot be the only thing we have to offer. In family life, civic life, church life, work life, and elsewhere we all must recommit ourselves to shining a light on the inequities that continue to exist in our systems and institutions.  Earlier this week I read a terrific article by Vu Le in his blog post for NonprofitAF.com where he questioned whether our nonprofit sector was having any impact on bringing about social justice or whether we are unintentionally harming the cause by what he called “white moderation.” He referenced the Letter from Birmingham Jail written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What struck me in reading the letter was Dr. King’s statement that Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” As nonprofit leaders, philanthropists, and rank and file donors and volunteers we must be about helping our communities more effectively address the inequity that exists for people of color. If white moderation has contributed to these problems in the past, let this time be different. Let this moment make us better. 

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