If you have watched the YouTube series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” then I expect you will find it to be as impactful as I do.
Mad, sad, angry, embarrassed, disappointed, guilty, confused, defensive, and at times … hopeless.
My friends, co-workers and clients know me for my old school real talk and sincere conviction to real action. But I here I sit … I got nothing to add. After watching 3 episodes, I’m still just "hear to listen and learn." Let’s go to work.
1. We need to be anti-racist.
It simply isn’t enough to NOT be a racist. We gotta be anti-racist. I hear this. #Heard.
BUT … and I say this with caution, in 1978 I was a member of the fastest “all white” high school track team in North Carolina. We were terrible. Our football team was MUCH worse. It takes 4 high school football seasons to get beat 33 times in a row. We were poor, white, country people who lived in the mountains of WNC who farmed tobacco, cows and produce on our small hillside patches of rocky land. Our diversity was defined by kids who had shoes and those who didn’t.
Having the responsibility to be anti-racist is a new concept for me, but after seeing Bubba Wallace at Talladega and NASCAR’s response...
I damn sure get it now.
2. We must build trust.
It’s an amazing concept … creating a “safe environment” to have uncomfortable conversations.
Historically, as management consultants, we spend our professional days trying to make conversations as comfortable as possible for co-workers and clients. Set the project scope, manage expectations, and deliver on promises. Engineering 101. To my way of thinking, “real talk” requires being able and willing to hear and say things that are normally avoided. It’s gonna take both commitment and courage. People are going to make mistakes. It’s going to take time. But without trust, real culture change cannot happen.
“To earn trust, money and power are not enough; you have to show some concern for others. You can’t buy trust in the supermarket.”
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama
3. We need to invest at home.
It starts around the break room table and conference room. More is “caught then taught.” We must document, live, and celebrate our values around diversity and inclusion. We absolutely need to put our “money where our mouths are” but the interesting learning is that we got to start at home. If we got $100 or $1m to invest in #BLM … before we spread it thinly over a wide variety of external organizations … we should invest it in OUR TEAMS. OUR EMPLOYEES. OUR FAMILIES.
If we can’t evolve inside the firm, then we’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of thriving and connecting outside the firm.
4. Desire is what turns potential into reality.
I’m sure most folks haven't had the “desire” to attack embedded racism because … well … it is embedded. Most of us don’t think of ourselves a racist. BUT, what if we really didn’t/don't have the full optics of our culture, society, and/or nation. Maybe this painful moment in history will convert the potential for equality into a shared reality … through a shared desire for a new normal.
Let me take a risk and explain just how unthinking I can be. Last Halloween, we dressed up as Sonny & Cher for a costume party. I look like a complete idiot in skin tight bell bottoms. Kelli wore a white headdress and mimicked Cher’s costume from the 1960’s. We couldn’t walk two feet without someone saying, “Ya’ll look just like Sonny & Cher.” It never occurred to us how racially insensitive our choice of costumes might be to millions of Native Americans. We were just being Sonny & Cher from the 1960s.
Now, for any reader who is currently mumbling, “Here Tony goes again with his politically correct bullshit” … I need you to stop and be in this moment.
Just because you don’t think it’s insensitive doesn’t mean it’s not.
Insensitivity is deeply embedded in our American culture. For example, what could possibly be wrong with the name Washington Redskins?
It seems fairly logical to suggest racial insensitivity and European entitlement is embedded in every city named after President Andrew Jackson. #trailoftears Is that taking this real conversation too far? I’m very uncomfortable right now … you? We must do better, be better, and create a new normal.
5. We need an “agile” approach to #BLM.
We have been building systems for years with a very traditional approach. The basic assumptions include: knowing “all the business requirements,” defining relational databases, and conforming to an IBM-like rigorous project management approach. Result were expensive, slow, and impossible to evolve. So in the 1990s when folks just couldn't take it anymore, a new “agile” methodology became popular and is still widely employed around the globe.
Rapid feedback and willingness to change turned out to be the key features of the agile movement.
The change that needs to happen in American culture will take time. We know that ”one size fits all” will not work. As we find our way, folks will make mistakes and have new learnings. But just like old times in system development, we can’t afford so wait for years to start seeing results. We need “sprints” of improvement to fuel the “hope” for healing and a shared growth mindset.
Again, none of the above is original thinking. I am here to listen and learn. I wanna be part of the solution. Thanks for being part of the process.
Here’s today’s vid clip:
Tony McLean Brown
A Western NC hillbilly through and through, Tony McLean Brown was born in the small town of Enka-Candler outside of Asheville. His parents re-named him when he was 3 years old to Tony (a nickname provided by his grandfather) McLean (middle name of his Uncle Michael) while retaining his legal surname Brown.
Throughout his career, Tony McLean Brown worked as a farmer, computer programmer, and management consultant – in his adventurous years – author, song-writer, bass player, poet, pilot, mountaineer, certified scuba diver, and competitor in professional bull riding, NASCAR late model racing, Toughman boxing, Crossfit Open, Ironman, pole vaulting, marathon and ultra-marathon running, as well as parenting.
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