Have you talked about Charlottesville at work yet?
No? That’s understandable. Maybe you aren’t sure how. Maybe you don’t feel like it’s your place. Maybe you were going to, but now you think the moment might have passed. Maybe you hope that the moment has passed, that soonCharlottesville will recede from the headlines, and then things will kind of go back to ‘normal.’
It’s true, Charlottesville will eventually recede from the headlines.
But then something new and awful will come along to take its place.
Will you talk about that at work when it happens?
No, talking about these things at work is not easy, and no, technically, Charlottesville wasn’t about the workplace, at least not as blatantly and obviously as the Google manifesto that dominated the headlines just a couple weeks ago — until Charlottesville happened.
But to not talk about these things — about race, about racism, about anti-Semitism, about the shameful treatment of other human beings that is inextricably interwoven into American history — is to ensure that they will continue to haunt us.
We have to talk about them.
“We haven’t engaged in the narrative conversation that we need to have,” said Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. On The Daily Show this week, he told Trevor Noah, “The North won the Civil War, but the South won the narrative war. This idea that white supremacy — racial apartheid — was unacceptable, was not something we ever embraced. That’s why we have this era of terror, and that’s why we have this era of segregation….
“In this country, we don’t talk about slavery. We don’t talk about lynching, we don’t talk about segregation … we’re preoccupied with the 19th century in [the South], hundreds of confederate memorials and statues, but nothing about slavery or lynching. I don’t think we’re going to get free, we will not overcome these problems, until we confront this history.
“We want truth and reconciliation, we want unity, but we don’t realize, those … things are not simultaneous. You’ve got to have truth before reconciliation — they’re sequential — and we haven’t done truth-telling in this country, and we won’t get where we’re trying to go until we do.”
You may not be in the position to lead a national dialogue about these issues — but you can start a dialogue within your sphere of influence.
So … how do you talk about it at work?
You could start with a simple question: In response to Charlottesville, what can we do to make our workplace more inclusive?
You could make the question a little more personal, and ask: I’m still thinking about what happened in Charlottesville, and I know we have haven’t talked about it as an organization. In light of what happened there, what can we do to make our workplace more inclusive?
If you are in a leadership role, you could pose the question to your fellow leaders at a meeting of team or organizational leadership, and encourage them to expand the conversation across the organization.
You could pose the question as an open invitation to an informal lunchtime discussion to talk about it.
If you’re not in a leadership position, you could ask the question one-on-one to your manager, to someone in Human Resources, or simply someone you respect on the leadership team. You could ask it to one of your co-workers who you think might be thinking about these issues, too.
Is there risk in bringing it up? Of course there is.
Is the conversation you start going to stop systemic racism? Of course it’s not.
But talking about it can interrupt the ways racism operates to maintain the status quo. And not talking about it, not taking that risk, is missing an opportunity to make your workplace more inclusive.
This originally appeared in The Mouse and the Elephant Weekly. Read the full email, explore other resources, and subscribe at https://tinyletter.com/mouseandelephant/.