These last few weeks have been hard. I’ve been fired up. Anxious. Hopeful that perhaps this is the moment we all have been waiting for: for real change to occur.
As a disclaimer: I’m a brown person (I’m a first-generation Mexican-American) and I have experienced racism firsthand. Sometimes as micro-aggressions and jokes in the workplace; other times as more blatant attacks on the color of my skin. I write this because these experiences influence my perspective on the issue of racial healing. But this all came to the forefront when I saw for the first time George Floyd’s last moments, murdered before my very eyes, infuriating me.
How can they do that?!
The man is literally telling them he can’t breathe!
Someone, please help him!
Here was an act so egregious that it shocked my senses. “Could this happen to me too?” I thought to myself. If we have lost our humanity — when a man is screaming out for breath and no one does anything to stop it — who among us in the people of color category is safe? As a mediator and conflict resolution practitioner, I know firsthand what happens when a history of anger, hatred, and distrust is present between two people. I have discovered that the key to facilitating the conversation is by getting everyone together to work toward next steps, even if that means saying some unpleasant things. For racial justice to become a reality, we need radical collaborations that bring people together to work together toward a solution. That includes people from every creed and background: black, brown, white, Asian, Native, immigrant, LGBTQ, non-binary, Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc.
How can we create radical collaborations to create lasting structural reforms?
As I have seen the protests unfold, the above question has been at the back of my mind. Unbeknownst to me, I had signed up for a webinar-workshop put on through an organization known as Reboot. Their mission is to build and power coalitions for courageous, structural change, and they spoke about how courageous moments arrive within a political system that helps transform it. As the above graphic flashed on my screen, the proverbial lightbulb went off in my head. “Wow, this moment is pivotal, we really have to rethink how we can all contribute to this change.”
As the speakers continued, they presented their Arc of Alignment — a visual that illustrates the steps a community needs to take to create sustainable change. To me, it was telling. The successful stakeholders that we’re able to turn the mayhem into “magic” (i.e., getting their desired result) worked in concert with others; they collaborated with change-makers and politicians to get what they wanted. They were no longer outsiders to the political system but were given access and a voice.
Demonstrations of anger are justified, but you cannot do anything with it unless you start thinking like a politician; gaining sustaininable and scalable influence is key.
To create the change we so desperately need, we will need to design collaborations between people with a history of anger, hatred, and distrust between them. If not, history will only repeat itself. How we choose to work through the issue (whether in collaboration or fighting one another) will determine how we move through this chapter in our nation’s history. My hope is that we can write a new story. Here’s how:
Getting People to Feel Heard Is The First-Step
Truthfully, right now there’s still too much pain and hurt from both sides. As #blacklivesmatter continues putting pressure via protests, more videos pop up of police brutality and lynchings. The police, on the other hand, and their advocates are also voicing their own anger about feeling underappreciated and unseen. Both sides are frustrated and angry, fueling an Argument Spiral between them.
Anger is a tricky emotion. It masks a deeper emotion waiting to be felt. When it comes to arguments, it fuels the rapid escalation of disagreement and pushes people into a “Me versus Them” Mentality that makes the other side an enemy. When I’m mediating a conversation, I know I am dealing with a “Me versus Them” dynamic when one side has lost respect for the other and consistently demonizes the other side. The trick is to untangle the problem from the character of the person and get both sides to see why a win-win solution is in their best interests.
Currently, we’re at a Level 6, “Me vs. Them” Division when it comes to talking about racial justice. To address this, we need to de-escalate the rhetoric and humanize one another. The voices from the lower-power group need an outlet to feel heard and produce change. And those in the higher power-group need to challenge their own perspective while feeling safe to accept past mistakes. Making this possible will require some radical ideas.
Some Radical Ideas to Transform the System
As I read President Obama’s Medium post, “How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change,” the top highlight of the post caught my attention:
As I read this, it dawned on me, we need more direct representation than just what our political system currently can do. Because the fact of the matter is that our institutions, decision-makers, media, etc. are all disproportionally white.
The statistics above do not shock me. When the majority of decision-makers are white, how can we expect them to have empathy and appeal to black and brown voices when they do not have that lived experience? That’s why creating new lines of representation could drastically change things, such as:
A new form of representation in elected bodies that gives stakeholder groups “observer status” so they gain access
Bill write-up and policy-decisions being made with the consent of a civilian board
Transforming our systems and structures to achieve bottom-up feedback so those at the top aren’t insulated from those whose policies they enact
The introduction of direct democracy through technology-enabled voting, ensuring more transparency and participation
A national voting holiday so everyone has the opportunity to go out and vote
As we grapple with racial injustice, inter-generational trauma, and trying to heal and create systemic change, we need a re-balancing. We don’t have to destroy the entire system, instead, we need to augment it to accommodate new voices in the decision-making process. These ideas are practical in my opinion and create a new Government 2.0 paradigm. For this moment to matter, we need courageous leaders willing to push for these reforms. We need citizens rallying behind these ideas. And we need radical collaborations between public-private, grassroots to national, business-business, civil society, journalists, etc. to make it a reality.
Woody Allen at the end of “Annie Hall,” says: Love is like a shark: Unless it moves forward, it dies. The same actually is true of revolutions.
Transforming a system may be hard, but together, bold ideas are possible. We need to create new collaborations between groups because we can no longer afford to fight with one another. Keeping these cycles of racism and abuse alive serves no one. Our system needs an upgrade. Let’s work together to make it a reality.
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