Diversity Means More: Today’s issues are result of 400-year-old generational trauma

August 3, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

“When my mom was 10, my grandmother had to explain racism, the civil rights movement and the killings of Emmitt Till and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I was 10, my Mom had to explain racism, the civil rights movement, police brutality and apartheid in South Africa.

When my daughter was 8, I had to explain racism, the civil rights movement and the police beating or killing of Rodney King and Amadou Diallo.

When my son was 8, I had to explain racism, the civil rights movement and the police killing of Oscar Grant, then Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor and now George Floyd.

Black moms and black people are exhausted, saddened and angry that we are still having to have these conversations with our children, tired of the racism and tired of the police brutality that continues to happen disproportionately to our people … unfortunately.”

– Submission from anonymous employee

“I am a black male that works at U-M. My mom had ‘the talk’ with me. ‘The talk’ can happen at different times in the black community, but ultimately this talk is what a parent or family member has with you in order to make sure you stay safe outside of the confines of the home.

One thing my mom always told me during one of the talks is to make sure I am always smiling so that people don’t perceive me — as a black male — as being threatening. This has always been in my mind, especially professionally. I still make sure I smile despite how I may be feeling that day.”

– Submission from anonymous employee

These are just two anonymous submissions of many that highlight the impact that systematic racism has triggered generational trauma for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Many of the issues and experiences that plague friends and colleagues today are similar to those experienced by previous generations. 

Take action

How can you play a role in helping overcome this generational trauma? There are a number of steps you can take that will allow you to become an ally to those who need it:

First, become informed

Slavery officially began on American soil in 1619. However, slavery could never have survived without racist ideology, which was strengthened throughout our nation’s history by injustices such as the Black Codes, Jim Crow laws and early slave patrols. 

Many resources explain the nation’s historic journey to systemic racism. Here are just a few:

  • 1619, a podcast seriesfrom The New York Times chronicles the long shadow of slavery.
  • The documentary 13th connects the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws and the current mass incarceration of people of color.
  • I Am Not Your Negro connects the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter.

Second, remain hopeful

Arguing about, fighting against and living with systemic racism leaves many exhausted (as discussed in this essay by U-M Chief Diversity Officer Robert Sellers).

It’s important to remain resilient during these times. Read Congressman and civil right activist John Lewis’ last words of hope shared in the July 30 NY Times Op-ed, Together we can redeem the soul of our nation, on the day of his funeral.  

Third, start with one step: VOTE

It’s ok to begin with just one step, as long as you recognize it will take many more, by all of us, to make an impact on centuries of systemic racism.

Considering Michigan’s primary is tomorrow, Aug. 4, voting with a thoughtful, inclusive approach is an important step.

It is too close to the primary to vote by absentee ballot, but you can register and vote in person on election day. First, check if you’re already registered to vote here and search for your polling place here.

Diversity Means More will continue to share the stories of you and your colleagues. You are encouraged to submit your own experiences.

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