Racism is a learned set of beliefs and behaviors. We weren’t born believing that people with darker or different skin colors have less worth than those of lighter skin tones. We were taught that. It’s not true, but the false belief is driving horrific behaviors that have led to systemic racism in our culture and our lives. The result of which is playing out on the national stage convulsing an already frayed society.
Values drive beliefs, beliefs drive behaviors, and behaviors drive results. I talk about this concept in my book, “The Great Culture Disconnect,” attributed to Simon Sinek. So, if behaviors are based on a false belief, can they be unlearned? The short answer is “yes.” Is it easy? NO. We must stop believing racism is inevitable – the clashes, the strife – and realize that all of it is based on a false premise. If it’s false, then my current behavior – blatant or unconscious racism – is also wrong. So, what do we replace this false belief with? The truth. Skin color does not make anyone a better or worse human being.
Can’t we look at each and every human being as different, unique, and beautiful? Can we replace the false belief of “better than/worse than” with the truth? How many repetitions of the true belief will it take for us to actually change behavior? 30. Research shows that any behavior, which has become a habit, can be changed by 30 repetitions, and catching the false belief we have that drives the behavior. Obviously, it may take a lot more than 30 repetitions – and you will need to believe it’s possible.
As leaders, we also need to take a look inside of our organizations. What conscious or unconscious beliefs may be inside our companies and teams that are contributing to systemic racism? A good place to start would be to open dialogues with your employees who are people of color. What is their perspective? What do they want? Can you build a plan of action for change collaboratively with them? Do you need to reach out to outside resources for help? What can you do as a collective to be agents for change? And if you don’t have any employees who are people of color, start by examining that.
Everyone can be a leader in this behavioral change – in fact, all of us will need to change in order for racism to be extinguished. It won’t happen quickly, and it will take one person at a time to lead the change. The cop who kneels with the protestor. The bystander who hugs the aggrieved victim and feels their pain. Peaceful protesters who ask for what they want changed, one leader at a time. We can only be truly responsible for our own behavior. Start with changing your own beliefs about racism and reframe anything that is false. Replace it with the truth. One by one we can all lead each other out of the horrific behaviors that have been created by our false beliefs.
Ending racism is possible and it’s up to each of us to work on ourselves and work collaboratively with people of color to make the changes that must happen. I know we will be there when no mother has to tell her children to behave differently because of these false beliefs. Black children will not be warned to keep their hands out of their pockets and to keep their hoodies down. Black men and boys will not be told to put their ID and registration in their car visors, so they are reaching up vs. down in a glove box when stopped by the police. Black and brown people will not have to worry about being shot in their own homes by police because of the assumption that they are in the wrong simply because of their skin color.
We all need to change our behavior. Start by reflecting on and recognizing your own false beliefs and start today.