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  • Stephanie Elie-Martin

Why Your Black Square Might Be Hurting the Fight for Equality

Updated: Jun 10

Black squares and BLM re-shares are the new token black character or the lone female equity hire. Equality isn't achieved by placating, flippant, or otherwise meaningless actions. Equality is gained through individuals willing to be uncomfortable in quiet introspection. The need to say something has overridden the desire to become something and equality is an ever becoming.

To overcome inequality people have to do the hard work and reflect in on their own unconscious bias. This can be a tough sell, because people feel as though this means they are somewhere secretly racist, sexist, or other-ist. It doesn't. Unconscious bias means we have been socialized, taught, or otherwise understand the world in ways that support systemic inequality. This doesn't just apply to inequality, but all areas of our lives. Heidegger refers to it as our pre-understanding. It is the silent back story, the lens through which we view the world, the experiences, beliefs, and values that shape how we engage with self and other. I'll give an example from my own life. My mother is controlling to the point of deciding every detail of my life prior to adulthood. One day my husband snapped - why do you feel the need to dictate to the children what they can or can not order at Taco Bell. Huh? Rather than take offense and snap back, an urge that was very present, I turned inward. I realized that my mother's inability to provide choice resulted in me doing the same to my children. Understanding what drove my action enabled me to determine that it was not serving me or my family. The kids now select their own fast food meals.

I study equality but have been largely silent on social media lately. However, I feel we’ve started to so glaringly miss the mark that we are hurting the future of equality in this country. I say equality in broad terms, because there are numerous non-dominant populations in the country all hurt by the dominant culture. These include race, sex, orientation, social-economic status and numerous others and the solution, at least to start, is largely the same.

Let’s start with the very basic - equality is not won by yelling at other people to change. That’s not to say that members of non-dominant groups should not share their stories and experiences, because this is crucial. The distinction is people in the more dominant culture yelling at each other to change.

Let's look at the current surge in visibility for black equality. Legislation is key to end the systemic racism in government; however the unconscious bias of the individual members of the nation must first change. They need to understand how their interaction with self and others supports the broken system. This only happens when people listen to the stories, experiences, and beliefs of POC and reflect them inward. This is the key - systemic change starts as an internal, intentional, and uncomfortable process, in which within the human mind one must come to terms with beliefs and understanding that paint non-dominant groups in a judgmental or unequal light.

You cannot make someone reflect inward. In fact, the opposite is true. Calling someone a racist is going to bring their brain into a defensive position, where they will instantly call forward every reason they are not in order to save face. They will shore up the defenses and become numb to the cause. Rather than opening their hearts and minds, they will shutter them against the unfair attack. They will find others under similar attacks and form colonies and defenses against the offensive muraders.

And the country becomes more divided.

We need to approach each other with love and care. We need to begin with the belief that others want to do the right things. We need to begin with ourselves. We also must recognize that there is no end in the becoming of a more whole person. We mustn’t fall into the trap that we’ve read a few articles and are cured. We must acknowledge the continued journey of rooting out our unconscious bias and acting in ways that treat anyone from a group different than our own with openness and compassion.

We must stop reacting with moral absolutism and hate. When you call someone a racist (who isn’t actively beating a member of a non-dominant culture) you are doing an equal disservice to the collective journey of equality. Before you call someone racist or attempt to point out how they are wrong try this:

  1. Reflect inward. How might your pre-understanding, your story, be influencing your interpretation of what this other person is saying.

  2. Reflect inward. How does what they are saying make you feel?

How might a person of the marginalized individual or group feel? How can you change your reactions and responses to not cause the same feelings?

  1. Listen to other people’s stories. Listen with an open heart. Listen with the desire to understand. Don’t speak.

  2. Reflect on other’s stories and once you can engage with an open, compassionate heart try to have a loving conversation.

  3. Understand that you don’t have moral absolutism. Most people have the desire to do good and be good. Just because that looks different to you doesn’t mean they are wrong, bad, or willfully hurting others.

Love. Listen. Reflect inward. If you want to help equality start with yourself first. Learn, listen, and practice engaging with an open heart. The moment you sling the arrow against the racist, bigot, sexist, Nazi remember you’re just as much a part of the problem as they are.




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