The United States of America is a great country. A nation of immigrants, our founding documents espouse our core values of liberty, opportunity, and equal justice under the law. To fully appreciate this country’s beauty, we must also accept, examine, and work to correct its deep flaws. Namely, since the beginning, all people in this country have never been equal; in fact, our constitution fundamentally enshrined legal protection of the rights of a class of rich, white landowners to own black human beings—a purely racist, dehumanizing, and genocidal sin that was only rectified after a mobilization of millions to fight a bloody civil war.
While progress has been made—the passage of the 13th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and even the election of our first black president in 2008 as a few examples—America is still a fundamentally unequal nation where structural racism and racism among its top institutions result in disproportionately higher rates of infant mortality, child poverty, incarceration, and early death among black and brown people.
Progress must continue to be made, but how?
Actively Seek Change
When we examine instances of progress in our history: the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century, and our modern Civil Rights movement born out of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, there is one common thread: Progress is not made by being not racist, but instead is made through anti-racist action.
Being anti-racist means taking active measures to fight against racism at a structural, institutional, or interpersonal level. Anti-racism is a conscious choice. This choice requires individuals and organizations to understand and internalize how they can utilize their privilege for good. It also requires these entities to recognize the inequitable treatment of themselves and others.
To illustrate, take an example of interpersonal racism: a white person overhears a white co-worker tell a racist joke—maybe that co–worker thought that because she or he was white, it was okay to tell the joke to or around that person. If that person simply ignores the joke or doesn’t laugh (being not racist), they fail to actively combat racist behavior and fail to communicate to that individual that their behavior is unacceptable. The result? Maybe that coworker thinks the joke just needs some work or a better audience. Even without being racist, the individual who heard the joke has contributed to the perpetuation of racist behavior.
What does an anti-racist response look like? Let’s say that person hears the joke again—as a white person. This individual recognizes their privilege of whiteness and it allows them to directly confront the individual sharing the joke. He or she interrupts their coworker and tells them their behavior is unacceptable, and that they will report the issue. This individual has just engaged in anti-racist action—communicating to that coworker their racist behavior doesn’t align with his or her values or the organization’s. The co-worker who spoke up also communicates that he or she is an ally and advocate.
Both individuals and organizations—for-profit and not-for-profit— must play an active role in advancing the cause of racial equity in this country. However, to faithfully execute this active role, anti-racist mission, vision, and values are not enough. Such values must be practiced internally.
Give Values a Voice
Take our company, AMOpportunities, as an example. We founded our organization fundamentally to increase equity of opportunity among the next generation of physicians and healthcare workers. In the United States, medical school and higher education are mostly comprised of the upper classes. Racial disparities in medical school admissions, high tuition, and even MCAT scores show that structural racism builds barriers that keep U.S. medical school classes disproportionately white and from well-off backgrounds. While our nation becomes more diverse, non-white patient populations suffer from an acute lack of accessible, quality healthcare.
By enabling medical students who attend school in other countries—whether they are U.S. citizens choosing international schools due to lower tuition or non-U.S. citizens who want to live their American Dream—to obtain clinical experience training in the U.S.—our company works to actively break down the barriers that keep medicine a profession of the white and wealthy. Doing this is not only critical to fighting racism but is a net benefit even for groups of Americans who have historically benefitted from the structural racism of this nation; rural America is suffering from a critical lack of quality healthcare – and nearly 80 percent of rural America is white. The future physicians we help, international medical graduates are more likely to practice in rural areas and more likely to practice primary care—a practice area of specific need in rural America.
Adopt Committees for Accountability
While we believe our mission and actions as a company play a small part in the fight against the systemic racism in healthcare and institutional racism in its educational institutions, the murder of George Floyd brought a new recognition: We had neglected to look inward.
On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was murdered on camera. The video became public the following day. Being a healthcare company during a global pandemic that focuses on helping international trainees travel to the U.S., leadership was laser-focused on keeping the business afloat and our team intact. However, we made a mistake and did not discuss the murder and its effect on our team members internally, nor make a statement as a company for nearly a week.
What came of it was a frank and transparent discussion among our team. We discussed what was really required to embody the company values. We recognized that by not emphasizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in our team processes and roadmap, we were failing our team. This is a misstep that can affect productivity and hamper a company’s ability to fulfill its mission and vision.
Reflecting on that time, we realized that we needed to make DEI a pillar of our company strategy and mindset. We established a DEI committee, involving both management and non-management members, rotating placements yearly. Out of the committee, we took the company’s pulse—collecting quantitative and qualitative feedback on our strengths and weaknesses in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We quickly identified areas where our internal processes needed improvement: inclusivity in meetings, sourcing and hiring talent, and transparency around decision–making and compensation/promotion efforts. With that feedback in hand, we rolled out a DEI Roadmap. The roadmap translates our external mission, vision, and values into a culture and process that embodies those values.
Reflect and Recognize Room for Growth
If you’re reading this as a member of an organization that promotes an anti-racist vision, and you feel that your organization does not emphasize the same vision internally, advocate for it! From our own experience, an internal team reflection on how your company values Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, followed by the development and execution of a plan to strengthen those values, will only strengthen your team, your organization, and your efficacy in moving your organization’s anti-racist vision forward.
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