As I write this, it is Martin Luther King Day. On this holiday (schools closed, no mail), I generally give some thought to what Dr. King did. I may tune into a radio interview or see a documentary. This year I gave more thought to what he did. I had picked up my five-year-old granddaughter from kindergarten and was starting out on a long drive with her and her two-year old brother. She began telling him about “Dr. Martin Luther King” and Coretta Scott King.
When I asked her what his work was, she hesitated. I prompted her that it was about equal rights for people with brown skin. Refreshed, she told her brother that people with brown skin used to be treated differently than people with white skin. They used to have to sit in the back of a bus!
I told her that my mother experienced those times – and that I had seen them myself. She asked me if my mother had white skin (she hasn’t studied genetics yet). She reflected on her classmates with brown skin. It was clearly news to her that they might be treated or viewed differently from her own family.
I was impressed with the child’s comprehension– and moved. As a result, I listened with renewed admiration to clips of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. He dreamed that his children would be judged, not on the color of their skin, but on their character. I reflected on how far we have come (from Jim Crow) – and on how far we have to go.
I work primarily in the area of gender diversity and inclusion. Even in 2015, there continue to be unconscious mind-sets and barriers based on gender. That is why achieving gender diversity in leadership is so slow in coming. Unconscious (and conscious) bias surely creates even greater obstacles for people of color – obstacles that are lower than they once were but still very real.
I have a dream, too! My vision is of a world where leadership and success are based on talent and contribution, not on how we look or on gendered definitions of leadership. My work is to help people see and acknowledge our deeply rooted but (generally) unconscious biases so we can uproot them.
Thanks to my granddaughter, I reflected more deeply than usual on the contributions of Dr. King. I am renewed in my commitment to make a difference in lowering the biases that still block the way for many.