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The below narrative is directly from the book, The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias

Originally posted Aug 26, 2019.

The below narrative is directly from the book, The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias, by Dolly Chugh. Below is what I found most intriguing. Before you read on, remember that these are tough things to read about and tough conversations to have in life.

Reverse/Hypothetical theory

Colleen’s father was a regional sales manager and her mother was a nurse who stopped working outside the home after she had children. Colleen’s maternal grandparents were born into immigrant families and faced great struggles. They faced bias and discrimination, but as white Europeans, they blended easily into America. Colleen’s grandfather served in the US armed forces, so when he returned from WWII, his service qualified for the GI Bill (click on link for details).


When Colleen attended college, she had help from her parents as they knew the ins and outs of higher education. After college, Colleen was debt-free. She started her first job as a teacher in an underserved community. She was eager to learn but her mindset was about to pivot. She stated “I realized that the barriers facing these kids and families were ridiculous. Kids went to schools that lacked libraries and more likely knew someone incarcerated than a college graduate. Parents worked 2 or 3 minimum-wage jobs…”


Colleen wondered…What if I had been born black instead of white??


First, her black grandparents would have most likely lived in the South and would more than likely have been enslaved. Colleen’s black grandfather would have been far more likely to be rejected from the military than her white grandfather, as blacks were often deemed unsuitable for service. However, for arguments sake, let’s say her black grandfather would have been allowed to serve his country, survived and thus would have been eligible for veteran benefits when he returned home. The GI Bill offered full tuition for veterans, so he may have had the opportunity to attend college. Though, at the time, few colleges admitted black students. College attendance was a key component in the rise of middle-class white America. If her black grandfather was able to attend college, he would have faced restrictions on where he could walk or eat, taking on the expense and inconvenience of living off campus. College is already difficult for most people. He would have had to been far stronger than most people to adjust to life at a white college. Despite all the luck and hard work required to get him to this point, he would have still had very limited resources at the university level and very limited options of fields of study—mainly lower-paying fields like education, theology, and various trades would have been offered to him.


Maybe he would have tried to purchase a home which was a robust predictor of financial security and a widely used benefit by white veterans. However, the GI Bill was drafted to accommodate the Jim Crow (click link for details) system of segregation in the South. As a result of redlining, Colleen’s grandfather would have been unlikely to qualify for a loan to buy a home when he emerged from WWII. While his white veteran peers fast-tracked into the middle class via education and homeownership, Colleen’s black grandfather would have been excluded from those opportunities.


Colleen’s hypothetical black grandmother would not have fared any better. Like most black women of the time, she might have worked in either an agriculture-related or domestic-related job, the only positions open to her. Unfortunately, this meant that she would have been excluded from social security and minimum-wage laws. Colleen’s black parents would likely have had to spend some of their income supporting her grandparents as they aged; while at the same time, her actual white parents used that money to save for their children’s educations and their own retirement.


Colleen indicates, “I can’t imagine that a black version of my family would have been able to provide us materially in the same way that they did…”


Other items addressed in the book:

Rabbi Solomon, from Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh, NC, is known for building relationships with marginalized communities. For Rabbi Solomon, “the intersection of Judaism and social justice was a cornerstone of his leadership and that began with knowing “people’s stories, practices, and faith.” His approach, which was backed up by research, illustrates that interactions with people from a different group than our own can reduce prejudices. For instance, he welcomed Muslim leaders and community to an installation ceremony at his synagogue.


Studies show that bias has a significant health effect specifically towards blood pressure. It is important for us to remember the impact our questions have on another person and the true intentions of our questions.


It will take black families 228 years to amass the same amount of wealth that white families have now. (just think about that)


In Conclusion

In Chugh’s book, she indicates that “the key, though, is recognizing that silence is often heard as a lack of support. Words are less important that intentions, and if your intention is to be supportive, silence is rarely the way to go.” Colleen’s creation of a hypothetical situation is brilliant. Her hypothetical story enables the reader to understand the realness that surrounds race. Hence, we must have these conversations. While having these conversations, we are building relationships discussed by Rabbi Solomon.


Communicating with one another is key and understanding that the conversations we are going to have surrounding race, inclusion, diversity, and equity are not going to be easy. But, in order to move the needle, we must have these really difficult conversations. There are times we are going to disagree, but we also must realize that this is a very passionate topic for many. A topic which has evolved through time.


Listen to those individuals who have a story. Let’s build relationships by communicating and getting to know to one another.

  • Talk with people who are from different parts of the world.

  • Talk to people who look different from you.

  • Talk to people who you disagree with.

  • Talk about things that you fear.

We must remember that the above conversations are going to be tough but in order for us to move forward, we have to have an effective, open and honest dialogue similar to Colleen’s theory.

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