Words matter – I have built much of my career and my reputation on the truth of that fact. What we say and how we say it conveys so much, including what is in our heads and what is in our hearts. Part of the heartache of these past two weeks in my city, Minneapolis, is that it is clear there has been a great deal of talking, for a long time, that was not creating urgency for too many of us. “I can’t breathe” has created that urgency.
As I read black residents describe the reality of ‘parallel life experiences’ in our metropolitan area, their words are breaking through, as well. It is true that while we all live in the same place, we are not having the same experience. As a friend and fellow member of a community board on which I serve shared solemnly, ‘it could so easily have been me,’ I am devastated at the gap in my comprehension of racism’s corrosive reach. The videotaped murder of Mr. Floyd has laid bare something that has deeply traumatized each and everyone of us , whether we knew it or not.
So now what? I believe that once you know something, you cannot act as if you don’t know it. Call it ethics, or morality, or another construct for your integrity. But now I know that George Perry Floyd’s murder must serve as a mighty milestone in the centuries-long journey to equally value every human life, and specifically to value black lives in the United States of America. There is real potential in the evidence that thousands, maybe millions, of people around the world are also now declaring that they know, as well. The passion and energy of thousands of demonstrators, cheered on by thousands more, fed by volunteers and donations to keep going, is inspiring to watch, even more to be a part of. And so how do we pivot to designing a different future—because there is design work to be done, as well as dismantling of parts of our systemic foundations. Who leads in this work? Who follows? Who is willing and able to share power – and who is ready and capable of stepping into those powerful circles and shaping our shared fate?
I do worry that the effort to dismantle some aspects of systemic racism will prove so herculean that progress will be hard to measure, that good people will tire of the work and settle. Having provided communications support for ‘change management’ in myriad companies, communities and settings, I know we must expect that resistance, even defiance, will flare from sometimes surprising quarters. It won’t all be fueled by hate, though some may be. Some will be fueled by fear: of unknowns, or just of change. How best to support communities as they navigate this journey of replacing systemic racism with new norms that this nation has never experienced? I certainly don’t have the answers, but I am so grateful to be here at this moment, what I now know must be a historically significant milestone.
There is so much work to do – but so many hands now raised in the air. Count me in.