At this very moment our society is grappling with two ugly pandemics that impact us all, but disproportionately, people of color: the novel coronavirus and racism. History shows epidemics are powerful engines for social change because they expose existing inequalities, and what we are experiencing now is no different.
The horrific murder of George Floyd sparked calls for justice and change because his life-ending but unaddressed cries for help, “I can’t breathe”, resonates on two levels, especially in the black community. As a direct result of our nation’s concurrent and ongoing history of systemic, societal and institutional oppression, African Americans are experiencing life taken from them at a disproportionate rate through COVID-19 and our storied past with policing.
When COVID-19 first ground our world to a halt, everyone sought ways to adapt to our rapidly changing environment. From rallying financial community support, adopting new systems, developing unorthodox strategies and implementing different tactics, our industry flew into action to remain relevant and to survive. Just as these quick on-going changes are occurring in face of the coronavirus, so too must swift action take place to address issues of inequity. So where can we start? What’s practical for individual and organizational change in these uncertain times?
First, we can center communities of color in recovery and response. How can we do that? While there are innumerable ways to take the next step and move beyond words, here are a few ideas. Consider establishing racial equity committees; reviewing and revising hiring and HR policies through a racial equity lens; addressing unspoken norms and values; diversifying board, executive leadership, and senior management; participating in on-going racial equity, implicit bias, and anti-racism training; adopting a reflective practice that includes and implements the ideas and feedback of staff and volunteers; reinforcing a zero tolerance policy on discrimination and committing to take action against offenders when necessary. And the list goes on.
When battling these two pandemics we must operationalize our practice to combat racial inequality and our business to inhibit the spread of COVID-19. In both cases we must focus on the big picture to stay true to mission and serve our community. Across the county, we have seen statements issued from our creative sector in support and solidarity with communities, patrons, artists, scholars, and administrators of color in the face of injustice. However, we must acknowledge that long-lasting change cannot occur with words alone but requires brave actions and intentions. To make real strides toward racial equity, we cannot continue to operate business as usual. Now is the time to create the change we wish to see in the world.
The virtual communities created by the arts and humanities are the very lifelines the world needs to keep us connected and remind us we are not alone. Persistence and intention will guide us through as we move forward. Resolving these pandemics overnight is not possible but by continuing to choose to improve at every choice point, right now today, tomorrow, next month, next year we can evolve into a more just and unbiased world.
My urgent request, dear colleagues and friends, is that you take at least this one action to make this world a more equitable and humane place. Please make it your priority, in November 2020, to vote.
Your voice matters. Now is the time for those in positions of power to hear it.