We have a deep disconnect on the topic of racism in America. And for far too many of us, the understanding gap continues to widen.
To effectively address the intricacies of race-related bias and its impact on people of color, and to create a game plan to overcome it, we must first understand that racism is simply one of many forms of bias.
The mainstream approach to battling bias is largely geared toward pressuring White people and large corporations to take performative steps disguised as “confronting biases” to eliminate racist tendencies. If it feels like this method is not producing noticeable results, that’s because it isn’t.
The diversity and inclusion technique used by public companies is largely aimed at long-term, marginal progress across all visible minority groups. While a noticeable decrease in societal bias 100 years from now is a virtuous endeavor, it does nothing to help ambitious Blacks and other professionals of color succeed today.
There’s a dichotomy here—the pressure to include versus the reality of how that looks during recruitment and on the job.
The hiring process has gotten a lot better, and public companies and global law firms are taking serious steps to improve their diversity. Yet recruiting efforts still fall short.
If the majority of hires year-over-year come from the same eight Ivy League schools, how can we make progress? There are certainly highly talented, highly skilled Black job candidates at state schools and historically Black colleges and universities.
Despite our objective merit, we’re often perceived as receiving employment opportunities only as a result of a diversity initiative. This is almost always wrong, and almost always racist.
If our colleagues and superiors perceive us this way, how can we prove ourselves valuable? How do we show others that we are worthy not only of our current position but of a promotion?
Getting in the door is only the first step, and being hired isn’t enough. To succeed, we must cultivate relationships with people who can help us develop, learn, and grow.
We need strong friendships with our colleagues and mentors in high places. And we need sponsors, partnerships, and alliances. Plans, strategies, and the right skill sets are crucial to ensuring our coworkers respect us and recognize our value.
Where DEI Falls Short
Most of the world’s largest companies have implemented diversity and inclusion initiatives over the past 20 years. Unfortunately, these initiatives continue to be embarrassingly ineffective for everyone, especially those of us who can be categorized by the color of our skin.
These methods fail because trying to avoid implicit stereotyping naturally causes people to inappropriately project their biases. People respond by either overcompensating or attempting to suppress their biased thoughts.
If I ask you to avoid thinking of a gray dog or a red car, you will almost certainly think of a gray dog or a red car. If I ask you to try to ignore that the job candidate you are interviewing is a Black female, you will almost certainly focus on nothing else.
Highlight Success and Achievement
We must begin to look at different forms of success among people of color and highlight nontraditional paths to achievement within those communities. This helps to dispel negative stereotypes and promotes a more diverse and inclusive representation of Black excellence.
Celebrating Black success, and progress in other minority groups of color, can have a positive impact on the community and helps to foster a sense of pride and motivation.
On the other hand, constantly exposing and focusing on narratives that depict Black pain and trauma can contribute to learned helplessness and has shown to not be effective in promoting change.
A Pew Research poll found nearly 70% of Black Americans don’t believe that the increased attention on racism in connection with the Black Lives Matter movement had any positive impact on their lives.
By promoting and amplifying stories of Black success, as opposed to Black trauma, we can help create a more hopeful and inspiring narrative for future generations.
To overcome bias and succeed today, aspiring Black professionals, business leaders, and other professionals of color should be prepared to set anger aside and commit to the process of developing a proactive game plan rooted in empathy, kindness, and thoughtful dialogue. I can’t promise that this process will be easy—it may be very difficult—but it will work.
To Blacks and other people of color—I hope the world changes, but I’m not going to bet my life on it, and neither should you. Instead, bet your life on your resiliency. Emboldened by the strength of our heritage, we possess an unshakable fortitude to conquer adversity and attain success in the face of any obstacle.
It is time to cast aside the notion of waiting for a shift in societal attitudes, and seize control of our own destinies. To simply rely on the hope of a brighter future is a gamble we can’t afford.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Write for Us: Author Guidelines
K. Braeden Anderson is a litigation attorney at Kirkland & Ellis’ government, regulatory, and internal investigations practice and author of “Black Resilience: The Blueprint for Black Triumph in the Face of Racism.”