Most Americans today have never experienced the state of physical and mental unrest instigated by the simultaneous presence of Covid-19 and protests for social justice. While millions of diverse people peacefully participate in Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, others have curfews layered on top of sheltering-in-place and social distancing. The protesters sensible calls for an end to police brutality are near universally supported but they contrast with lines winding around gun stores from self-defense minded TV viewers witnessing looting and destruction unchecked by police. White privilege has become a protest rallying cry, confusing millions of impoverished, unemployed, and clinically depressed white people. Latino’s too are protesting police brutality, while others protest their support for police, and Asians are lamenting new forms of discrimination from China’s suspect handling of Covid-19. Meanwhile women and girls are facing skyrocketing domestic violence and working mothers of every ethnicity are wondering what will become of their children with diminished or missing classroom educations, tighter budgets due to job losses, and career aspirations being traded for new domestic priorities.
Politicians, business leaders, and professional athletes, are unified in their support for the BLM protests and initiatives to end police brutality and systemic discrimination against blacks. Meanwhile, others quietly ask, what about us? There is no shortage of marginalized groups in America, and Americans know that. According to a poll by Monmouth University 76 percent of Americans, including 71 percent of whites, see racism and discrimination as a big problem. It seems odd that a nation externally storied as a land of equal opportunity, internally tells a different story. A story of misguided hopes and lost dreams. But it is also a story that can change and needs to change. America counts among the few countries in the world where there is a legal foundation for equality of opportunity, and where the population believes in this premise. Indeed, when asked, there would be a confirmation of a steadfast belief in equality of opportunity and most will unequivocally state they are neither racist nor sexist. But, according to Project Implicit 70-75 percent of Americans are biased against people of color and 77 percent are biased against women. So, most Americans see discrimination as a problem, and most are also racists and sexists. This is a giant problem. Hundreds of millions of “unbiased” Americans discriminate and they don’t know it because 90 percent of biases (discrimination) are unconscious.
This explains a lot. Like, why do police reflexively target some groups, but not others, while professing unbiased policing? People of all colors support the BLM protests while discrimination against blacks is systemic. Why are impoverished whites branded with white privilege? Why are Asian-Americans facing discrimination due to the actions of Chinese officials? Why have the unique challenges of women been an asterisk in how the pandemic was managed and the plans for reopening? These are all manifestations of unconscious bias. The question becomes how do we stop them? Unconscious biases are near impossible to legislate or regulate, and if it were possible, enforcement would be impossible.
The root causes of unconscious biases are harmful stereotypes, like whites are privileged, blacks are dangerous, Latinos are job stealers, and women are submissive. They need to dissipate, and women are in a unique position to be a perpetual catalyst to do this. Women are the 50% of the population that embraces inclusion, perhaps a reflection of one more group that has faced systemic discrimination in America (and the world). But for women to succeed they must be united on a mission to deliver America’s commitment to equality of opportunity. Being united means ending intra-gender discrimination. Blacks, Asians, Latina and White women discriminate against one another in the workplace (and beyond). Explaining the reasons would be another article, but is it unreasonable to think women can agree to be the role models for equality? Role models for their children, their students, their husbands, their friends, and their employees and colleagues. As role models, they must treat everyone equally. Diversity initiatives are key to ending discrimination because they permit widespread personal exposure to different people and this is a great formula for dispelling harmful stereotypes. All over the United States diversity initiatives have failed because they have been seen as discriminatory against white men. White men deserve equality too, and because they hold most of the power in the United States, it’s especially important to have them as engaged supporters. Facing discrimination, or its perception, won’t do that.
Role models are most effective when they are leaders, and those at the top are the most influential. This means we need women, lots of women to take the leadership challenge. Any woman that knows that fewer than 6 percent of CEOs of S&P 500 companies and heads of government are women, also knows that targeting the top is a career path for intrepid women committed to making a difference. These women will face discrimination that increases at every hierarchical level, just because they are women. But they do it for a great cause, and so can you. America can become the first nation that is the storied land of equality of opportunity. Positive outcomes for BLM is a great outcome, but discrimination against anyone is wrong, and ending is not only the right thing to do, it will lead to a higher quality of life for all Americans. When all Americans have equal opportunities, incomes rise and that’s great for individuals, families, communities, the nation and the world. Mind you, ending discrimination is a bear of a problem to solve. As a student of discrimination throughout history in America and across the world, I can say that discrimination has proven to be really stubborn. Some may say like many a stubborn woman, which makes women perfect for this extraordinary challenge. To borrow a phrase from Rosie the Riveter, women, we can do this. So, let’s do it. Take the leadership challenge and let’s start the process of ending discrimination in the United States.