I have been on an intensive travel schedule this year. Part of my work includes speaking and educating about racial issues. When speaking to and connecting with predominately white audiences, I find that the same issues arise which can hinder understanding and forward movement.
Therefore, in honor of Black History Month and in no particular order, I have drafted these ten commandments for white advocates:
- THOU SHALL NOT USE THE NAME OR INVOKE THE TEACHINGS OF MLK AGAINST A PERSON OF COLOR (POC).
The real Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cannot be summarized into one speech or our modern holiday celebrations. He was a deeply spiritual, intellectual, and complicated man of justice. He cared about America; he loved black people, and he was also a global citizen. Because there were a lot of people who did not like or understand his calling, he was murdered like many of the faithful prophets who went on before him. Don’t be content with the sound bite versions of what we think we know of Dr. King. Take another look. Study his life, writings, speeches, and sermons to get a better understanding of the man, while also understanding that POC have a lived experience and history that embodies the pain and suffering of his words.
2. THOU SHALL NOT SPEAK ON BEHALF OF POC WITHOUT GIVING PROPER CREDIT OR REFERENCE TO THE PERSON(S) OF COLOR THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM TO GAIN A BETTER UNDERSTANDING.
When I ask white people about what they are learning from POC, I often find that they are comfortable learning from those who share their same opinions (if they are taking this posture of learning at all). People of color are not a monolithic group. We must have some cross-cultural understanding if we want to become professionally successful.
Asian and Latinx Americans can come from various countries and can speak different languages, indigenous people are from different tribes, and like them, African American experiences and opinions can vary greatly depending on where they grew up, their levels of education, work or entertainment communities, or socioeconomic class. We all have so much more to learn.
3. THOU SHALL BE QUICK TO HEAR, SLOW TO SPEAK, AND SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY.
This is straight up good Bible teaching. Reference: James 1:19. Enough said.
4. THOU SHALL PAY POC AN EQUITABLE WAGE TO EDUCATE YOU ON RACIAL, ETHNIC, AND CULTURAL ISSUES.
First, consider what you would pay a white male who has the same level of expertise as your invited speaker, consultant, coach, or educator (very few will have the same level of expertise), and then add a 10% hardship fee or reparations tax.
5. THOU SHALL INTENTIONALLY SEEK AT LEAST ONE AREA IN YOUR LIFE WHERE YOU ARE CHOOSING TO SUBMIT TO THE LEADERSHIP OF A PERSON OF COLOR.
Again, this action is rare. It can go a very long way towards bringing about unity and understanding, healing, and education. Quite frankly, taking this action with a pure heart will make the learner an overall better human being. This is the stuff that shapes our character.
6. THOU SHALL NOT USE PEOPLE OF COLOR OR THEIR CHILDREN AS PERSONAL PROJECTS TO EASE A GUILTY CONSCIENCE, OR MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOURSELF.
Charity work does not automatically equal justice work. Charity addresses symptoms. Justice confronts systems. Compassion and empathy are the calls of the first; while a deeper, uncompromising and sacrificial love is the posture of the second. As an act of justice, consistently support the work, churches, nonprofits, and organizations that are led by people of color.
7. THOU SHALL EDUCATE ONESELF BY READING WELL AND BROADLY.
Review the second commandment, and support books that are written by people of color.
8. THOU SHALL NOT INVOKE EXPERT STATUS IN RACIAL RELATIONS BECAUSE OF ONE’S INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE, ADOPTED MINORITY CHILD, BLACK FRIEND FROM COLLEGE, OR BLACK BFF THAT SITS NEXT TO YOUR CUBICLE AT WORK.
Be an ally, not an expert. Seeking expert status centers conversations around whiteness, and therefore, perpetuates the power dynamics that feed racial sin in America. When asked, humbly share your personal experience and what you are learning, then always be ready to recommend or introduce a POC into the conversation or space. Ask questions and listen more than you make statements.
9. THOU SHALL INSIST THAT 20% OF THE HIRING CANDIDATE POOL INCLUDES QUALIFIED PEOPLE OF COLOR AND INSIST THAT THE FINAL SELECTIONS INCLUDE A PERSON OF COLOR.
Resumes and networks (rarely in that order) get people to the interview table. By the time candidates are interviewed, nearly everyone is qualified. The interview is set-up for the simple purpose of confirming the candidate’s credentials, but mostly it determines whether people in the industry want to work with the candidate. Therefore, if the leaders in your workspace are consistently deciding that they do not want to work with a diverse team, then you should consistently ask the question, “Why not?” Call people to account for their bad behavior.
10. THOU SHALL REQUIRE CULTURAL COMPETENCY AS A PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT REQUIREMENT.
Be better, then do better.
What have you learned on this journey towards cultural competence and understanding?