By Dr. Kristin Williams-Washington, PsyD, PMP
Faculty Member, Psychology, American Public University and President and CEO, W2 Consulting Corporation
Due to the current state of race relations in the United States, we are living through the largest civil rights movement since the 1960s.
National protests have occurred fueled by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, at the hands of police officers within the Minneapolis Police Department. These protests continue to occur across the entire world in response to race-based discrimination, and we can no longer turn a blind eye.
Allies Can Help to Fix Race Relations
Many allies have acknowledged their privilege and empathy, but they feel stagnant in what to do next to help improve race relations. Here’s a start:
1. Teach your children about what is going on, so that we don’t have to continue reliving the past but instead learn from it. You can also buy your children dolls of other races, and encourage them to advocate for others. I have always taught my children to find the kid who is alone and ask that child to join your group, because that’s the person who could use a friend.
2. Educate yourself on the past so that you can better understand how people of color feel. There are mixed feelings over the looting, riots and fires being set, but take the time to become better acquainted with African-American history and literature. Read about what happened during the 1921 Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or read the poem “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Also, learn about the double consciousness that EVERY black person has to possess in order to survive in this world. Read about “African-American Historical Trauma” and study historic African-American traumatic events to understand how the effects of a multigenerational history of slavery, race-based segregation, racism, prejudice, and discrimination impact us currently.
3. If you see something, say something. In a time when your voice is heard while ours is discredited and silenced, please step up and say something about the injustices you see.
4. See people of other races and ethnicities as people and not as a threat. There’s enough room for all of us to succeed together, and the notion that there isn’t was bred on hatred and divisiveness. A funny thing happens when people are seen. They like it; they step up and do a great job because of it.
5. Please don’t say that you don’t see color. That statement is extremely invalidating. We are different and have vastly differing experiences, and that’s what makes us all great. When you say you don’t see color, it means that you aren’t acknowledging all we’ve had to overcome to be where we are today.
6. Please don’t tell us how to grieve our oppression. I do not agree with the looting and fires that are occurring during current riots, but I do deeply understand the anger and helplessness some people feel. Some will punch a wall, and some will march. And sometimes when a dream is deferred, it explodes, as poet Langston Hughes once said.
7. Vote. Hold our elected officials accountable to accurately represent what the people want and how they feel. At some point, we forgot that they work for us and not the other way around. Take the time to research candidates, rather than just continuing to vote for the same person because he or she held the seat forever. Bring about change for the better so that a day will come when we aren’t consistently reliving the shameful past of this country.
8. Step up and help, because we are exhausted. People of color are exhausted from having to explain why we deserve to have a seat at the table, why our lives matter, and why institutionalized, systemic racism is alive and well. Every person who steps up lessens our load and makes it easier for us to live in peace together.
Above all else, practice humanity and civility. Say hello to your colleagues of color, get to know them, and treat them as you would any other colleague, neighbor, or friend.
Please don’t assume that you have nothing in common with us, because we are all more alike than we are different.
For example, I am an African-American woman, wife, mother, Army veteran, psychologist, adjunct professor and entrepreneur. I’m also a puzzle aficionado, Jeopardy enthusiast and a closeted (not so much anymore) Harry Potter fan.
But over and above all these things, I am a person. Surely you can identify at least one quality we have in common.
In closing, I leave you with a phrase that I say whenever I feel helpless with the state of the world, and I have to pick myself up: there’s good stuff here. There’s good stuff in processes, good stuff in policies and good stuff in people. Yes, we’re experiencing a grim time, but find solace in knowing that there’s good stuff here and we will persevere…together.
About the Author
Dr. Kristin Williams-Washington is an adjunct professor at American Public University, where she teaches courses on the psychology of disasters, psychology of terrorism, psychology of combat, and deployment psychology. She has a B.A. in experimental psychology, a B.S. in criminology and criminal justice, and a master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology. She is also a certified Project Management Professional.
Dr. Williams-Washington’s experience in psychological health and traumatic brain injury was acquired within multiple military treatment facilities as an active-duty psychologist in the U.S. Army. She has received the Army Commendation Medal for her contributions.
Dr. Kristin Williams-Washington is the President and CEO of W2 Consulting Corporation which is a management consulting firm focused on delivering program and project management, research and evaluation, and strategic communications and branding services. Her subject matter expertise includes behavioral health, military and veterans’ issues, health and healthcare disparities, cultural competence, evaluation, and public policy.
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