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Addressing systemic racial inequality requires listening without judging and turning privilege into courage by standing up for others.
By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Rice is a man of faith, a man of principle, a man of peace. It is those qualities that guide him as he grieves the loss of someone he didn’t know.
Rice, an IU Health Academic Health Center police lieutenant, doesn’t want to focus on the violence that took George Floyd’s life at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis or the violence taking place in America’s streets, as much as it pains him.
He wants to share a message of hope and some advice for people who want to help.
Talk to each other. Listen to each other. Make space for others’ pain.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends of color and your co-workers and allow them to know that you see that this is not right,” Rice said. “You want to be heard as an African-American, and you want to be valued in our country.”
While some may struggle with what to say, silence suggests indifference or worse.
“The big thing is it is forcing us to talk and think about our message,” he said. “The more we talk, the more we can bridge the gap.”
That’s exactly what Andre Goodlett, a senior consultant with IU Health’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, suggests. But first, he says, understand how we got here.
“What we have seen play out in Indianapolis and elsewhere is an explosion of anger that has been building for years. We’ve accepted that (policing) is a stressful, difficult job and there will be mistakes,” Goodlett said.
“But one of the things that hurts people the most … is the lack of accountability for things that happen. Inequity leads to fear. That fear becomes anger … and it needs an outlet. It’s like a pressure valve has built up and it needs to be released.”
As much as people of color want to make sure the brutality they have endured doesn’t happen again, at their core it is about wanting those around them to take what’s happening seriously, he said.
“I am a human being. I am entitled to not fear for myself in interactions with the police. I am entitled for you to believe me when I tell you that situations where I have been abused are real,” Goodlett said. “Depending on your age, you may have experienced this for decades and it is soul-crushing and dehumanizing to think that this can happen to you and there is no recourse.”
FINDING HIS PURPOSE
As a black youth growing up in a poor neighborhood on the west side of Indianapolis, Charles Rice wanted to see the police as someone kids ran to and not from. But it was hard. He attended a magnet high school across town to pull away from the forces that threatened to drag him down.
He decided at an early age that he wanted to go into law enforcement because he was looking for a way to make a difference.
“I feel like I’ve always been a natural leader and protector, and when you’re given gifts from the man upstairs, you either use them or waste them,” he said.
As a former mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters and other organizations, and a longtime Marion County Sheriff’s deputy, Rice has worked to show youth that he can be their ally, not their enemy.
In his work at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, he prides himself and his fellow officers on making the hospital a place of community and inclusion.
“We want to help. … We all got into this line of work because we want to help,” he said.
And as a person of faith, he believes in always trying to do the right thing.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
What exactly is the right thing in this situation? How can we begin to talk through the racial inequality that has been part of our nation’s fabric since its founding and make progress toward a better IU Health, a better city and a better America?
It begins in small, sometimes uncomfortable, ways, says Goodlett.
“From a minority perspective, what people are feeling is anger, frustration, fear, a desire to be heard and understood. The genesis of a lot of the anger is borne in a feeling of not being taken seriously,” he said. “Now the eyes of the world are on us, and people don’t want to lose this opportunity to be heard.”
If you are white in America, you might be confused by the idea of racism, Goodlett said. It is hard to see a racist system when you benefit from a racist system.
“It’s not as if most white people in their heart of hearts are trying to be racist, but all white people benefit from a racist system; it’s the way the system is set up,” he said.
“You’re in a position of power and influence, and because of that, laws are written that benefit you, processes are put into place that benefit people who look like you, and the entire system is built to make sure that you stay in that comfortable bubble insulated from what happens to those who aren’t white.”
CAN’T LOOK AWAY
But when confronted with situations we cannot attempt to justify – like the killing of George Floyd and so many black men and women at the hands of authorities – the bubble of comfort is pierced and people of good will can no longer look away. They want to do something, but what?
Many have chosen to join the protests, to raise their voices in public ways, to better educate themselves and to talk with friends and co-workers.
IU Health President and CEO Dennis Murphy addressed the issue in an email to all employees Monday. Following are excerpts:
“I have never been mistreated or viewed with suspicion or contempt due to the color of my skin. But I can still be outraged at the injustice and racism that continue to be a stain on our nation,” he wrote. “And I can still be deeply saddened that in 2020 we have still not overcome the prejudice, hate and fear that allow people to treat other human beings with callous disregard not just for their feelings, but for their physical lives. …
“It hurts my heart to realize that many of our friends and colleagues worry that today they or their children could die as they live their lives in society. … We must all look deeply into our hearts and souls and ask ourselves what we can do to change this endemic pattern of racism and injustice. Every American ‘owns’ this and must be part of the change that our society needs.”
We can start by having conversations and arming ourselves with understanding, Goodlett said.
“It will require deep reflection by people of themselves and their personal beliefs that they don’t want to shine in the light, but that discomfort is necessary for growth.”
EMPATHIZE, EDUCATE AND ENGAGE
Most people have lived their entire lives segregated from people of different backgrounds, cultures and experiences, he said. They may have cursory relationships with people different from themselves, but those relationships tend to be one-dimensional.
“They don’t have a lot of deep meaningful relationships with people of great differences; therefore they don’t have a lot of understanding,” Goodlett said.
As a result, they do not feel responsible or accountable for the positions that other people are put in. For the most part, “nobody is trying to do this; it’s not a conscious effort,” he said.
So what can white allies do to break down the barriers that divide us?
Empathize, educate and engage, Goodlett suggests.
Empathize: Start by listening to people whose perspective is different from yours. Don’t listen in an attempt to pick holes in their argument; rather, listen with the intent to understand their reality, he said. That’s where empathy is born. That’s where you start.
“If we’re not trying to diminish their story and instead truly listening, we learn about the things they face. With empathy, you don’t judge.”
Educate: Humans are multidimensional creatures. We are not just black or white, male or female, rich or poor, young or old. We are a combination of our experiences, neither all good nor all bad. Diversify your circle of friends and broaden your experiences. Stereotypes have power when we don’t know people as individuals, he said.
IU Health offers affinity groups for minorities, women, the LGBTQ community and young professionals. But they are open to everyone, Goodlett said. In fact, he encourages team members to join any group to learn more about one another.
“We encourage groups to actively recruit people who are not of that affinity,” he said. “Part of what they’re designed to do is to educate the masses about what it is like to be a member of that group. We want it to be a place where honest discussions can be had without fear of retribution.”
There is great value in having people participating who just want to learn because they can help keep members honest about the messages they send out, Goodlett said.
IU Health team members who want to learn more about any of the affinity groups mentioned above can email Goodlett at email@example.com. If you have an idea for a group, let him know.
In addition, the organization hosts a diversity 101 course for large groups and is exploring additional training opportunities encouraging cross-cultural conversations. By early next year, a civility course is expected to be offered for team members to deal with patients who express racist views.
Engage: While the first two points are key, this is where we can start to make a difference, he said. For a white audience, engagement is different because it requires you to challenge things. If you hear other folks like yourself making disparaging remarks, showing racist behaviors, you are the one who has the most impact on challenging those individuals, Goodlett said.
Turn your privilege into courage and stand up for people.
“It’s expected for me to challenge, it’s impactful if you challenge,” he said. “That is a burden, a responsibility you have as being a part of this racist system. You are the ones who can tear it down. I can’t tear it down.”
He is heartened by seeing this done on a person-to-person basis now more than ever. That’s where a lot of the change has to happen, he said.
“I have seen a lot more systemic racism being challenged recently than I’ve ever seen before coming out of the white population. Sometimes the political and governmental entities are the last to recognize the need for change.”
What comes out of the unrest could be a blueprint for future positive growth, Goodlett said.
“I have seen different racial and ethnic groups working together for a peaceful resolution. Although there’s great anger with police, I have seen great strides on both sides to engage each other in meaningful conversation and to work for positive change.
“I have seen in these dark times the glimmer of some positive movement forward.”
Story to come: A Riley music therapist talks about addressing racism with our children, coping with first- or second-hand injustice and trauma, and being part of the change we want to see.
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org