Pearls of Leadership (Part 2)

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As a white male what can I do to help?”

It is Friday evening and I’m meeting 40 college freshman from Texas A&M gathered in a conference room of a Fortune 500 company in downtown Dallas. Selected through a competitive process to participate in the Gilbert Leadership Conference, they traveled several hours by bus earlier this day for a weekend of activities in the Big D.

Going overtime, we evolve from a robust discussion about leadership into a respectful dialogue regarding individual responsibilities to address racism and social equity.

Nearing the conclusion of the Q&A, an attendee asks, with all sincerity, “As a white male what can I do to help?”  For a moment I silently contemplate how to answer.   

Mind you, it is not the first time I have been asked this question. However, it is the first time someone so young has asked.

I say this not to disparage his maturity or social awareness, but to share the depth of impression that struck me. Truth be told, I admire his courage and am equally inspired by this group of young adults whose thoughtful and challenging questions belie their age.

However, it is one thing for me to connect with a middle-aged white male, who has decades of life experience upon which to draw. It is quite another responding to an inquisitive college freshman.

Sensing an opportunity, I want to get this right. For both of us. Actually, for everyone in the room.

After a moment, I step forward to answer his question:

  1. Acknowledge we live in a racialized society.  This does not mean that everyone has racist intent, but it does mean that race is the lens through which much of our society is viewed and shaped – from entertainment media to our criminal justice system.
  2. Acknowledge your own bias. Introspection and self-awareness are necessary to understand the prevalence and impact of unconscious racial bias.
  3. Speak up. Those with the power must speak on behalf of those without.

Now I ask, what will you do to help?

Your call to action:

Take the Harvard Race Implicit Association Test. Although it has come under criticism as of late, judge for yourself whether it can be an enlightening tool to give insight into your unconscious racial bias.

And check back Thursday for the “Top 10” list I promised in Part 1.

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Thank you.

Brian H. Williams, MD