ABOVE: America is a choking hazard. Shawn Thew/EPA
The fact that our cities are once again on fire, nearly sixty years after I first witnessed this cry of utter frustration and despair, expressed in anger and rage, reminds me vividly that we have yet to address the systemic oppression of African Americans that has existed since the very beginning of our nation. And it raises the question for me of whether, as a nation, we are capable of better. My work as President of the American Leadership Forum here in Houston tells me that we are. But perhaps the more important question is whether each of us as individuals is willing to do the long and incredibly hard work that will be required for us to truly become the land of the free and to finally fully live up to our stated value that all people are created equal.
I love and believe deeply in this country and in my neighbors and fellow Americans. I know that overwhelmingly we are good and decent human beings doing our best to live up to our values and to be good citizens and good neighbors. I also know that there continue to be individuals who hold and promote overtly racist, xenophobic and other exclusionary and discriminatory beliefs. But I know that is not who the vast majority of us are nor what the vast majority of us believe or want.
But the reality is that we live in a society that over centuries has built up systems, structures, customs, practices and narratives that trap us into seeing the world in certain ways and, more insidiously, blind us to the fundamental inequities that continue to exist. This unconscious or implicit bias is what holds us back and blocks the best intentions and efforts of so many of us to achieve meaningful change. And if we are to be better it is this invisible barrier within each of us, and consequently our society, that must be faced, understood and overcome.
We can no longer say that we do not know what is happening around us every day and in every community. We do not need any more books, posts or articles to be written thinking that somehow one of these will flip the switch of our collective consciousness. There are already many excellent resources that illuminate the problems we must face and offer the tools to begin to change ourselves and as a result, our nation. We do not need to see any more videos of people of color being beaten and killed to understand the horror and barbarity of these acts. What we need is the individual and collective courage and commitment to declare that this must stop, that things must change and that we will do whatever it takes to achieve that change.
I do not pretend to have the answers or the prescription to heal this terrible malady. But I am entirely confident that if we commit to and insist on change that we will find the ways to build the equitable and prosperous society for all of us that we desire. But we must be clear that the work is ours, for each and every one of us to take on. We will each need to get in touch with our most deeply held values and to determine what acts of moral courage we can each take that will contribute to the change we seek. We cannot put the responsibility on others to change us. To be clear, this is not a problem that can be solved by government or law enforcement alone or by other institutions. It will only be through changing ourselves, and consequently our society, that our systems, structures, customs, practices and narratives will begin to reflect this change as well. And, as stated earlier, I believe that it is exactly these things that must change for us to answer the question of whether as individuals, as human beings, as fellow Americans and ultimately as a country we are capable of better. I know that we can be. We must simply choose to be.