In all my years of doing diversity work, there are many topics that I can easily write and talk about. But today I’m stumped.
I want to write about the swirl of stories that have come out of Ferguson, Mo. But I can’t.
I want to be the voice of blacks in the workplace who want to speak up and out about why this impacts so many. But I can’t.
I want to find a way to explain how hard-working, professional black Americans don’t like how criminal looters and passionate protesters are treated as interchangeable. But I don’t know how.
I want to express the frustration of seeing how, according to Pew Research, there was a 33 point differential on how whites and black view how the issue of race affected the events in Ferguson. But I don’t know how to effectively convey that.
The list of what I can’t do with Ferguson is far longer than the list of what I can do.
Too many people are have conversations about Ferguson with others who think just like them. And that doesn’t advance understanding. Yet, I get it.
Too many people are locked in emotional spaces and places that don’t leave much room for seeing the events through different lenses. That, too, doesn’t advance understanding.
Here’s what I can say: The events of Ferguson are a tipping point.
If you, for example, are one of the 53 percent of white Americans who think that Ferguson is not about race, how does that reconcile with the 80 percent of black Americans who think that it is?
You know, the people you work with. The people who are your co-workers, subordinates, supervisors, customers, clients, vendors.
Even if in your workplace you haven’t talked about Ferguson, do you think the silence promotes greater trust or more authentic peace?
Last week, in line to renew my car tags, I got into an interesting conversation with a white law enforcement officer. Inevitably, the events of Ferguson came up. I don’t think we agreed on any of it — the causes, the responses, who should speak up more, who should speak up less, the solutions or the history behind it.
But what struck me most is that I found it easier to have a talk with this stranger about this powderkeg of an issue than I found it to talk to most of my friends.
One of the reasons that we have trouble talking about these issues is that some of us don’t want to be uncomfortable, and others of us don’t want to be disappointed.
This is one column where I’m not advising people to talk in the workplace about Ferguson as a discussion point for moving toward greater understanding. I think it would be irresponsible of me to encourage a talk on a topic that I’m still stuggling with.
I don’t know how to tell people that it’s OK to be uncomfortable, and I don’t know how to comfort the people who are disappointed by the people unwilling to better understand.
I do know this: These issues, and this divide, won’t go away just because we struggle with how to talk about it.