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Saying Something, Even When It's Not Enough

My son was about to have his first in-person, life parkour practice in months. There would be only 10 kids. They would work out in the gym’s parking lot, never closer together than 6 feet and with an ample supply of Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. At 4:30, the coach emailed to say the practice was cancelled because there had been riots the day before in the nearby shopping mall and the town had imposed a 3 pm curfew. I had seen the news. Someone had been killed in the riot. I struggled with how to talk to my son about what is going on, but I had to explain why he would not be seeing his teammates after months of waiting. I said that a man named George Floyd had been killed by police in an awful way. I said that it was very wrong for the police to kill him. I said that George Floyd was black, and the police were not. I said that some of the police involved had done wrong things before, but had suffered no consequences. I explained that this made people distressed and very angry, particularly because this had happened before to people of color. I said that many police people are good and do their jobs well, but some take advantage of their power. I explained that people across the country were protesting George Floyd’s death and other violence against people of color. Many of the protests are peaceful as they should be, but some people take advantage of the situation to break and steal things and hurt other people and this is very wrong, too.

We live in a predominantly white neighborhood, but my son has schoolmates, teammates, fellow parishioners, neighbors, and friends who are black, Latinex and Asian, some of whom have disabilities and some of whom are LGBTQ. His Montessori school learns about different cultures and different religions. He knows that I work with people with disabilities and he has visited L’Arche, a community where people with and without disabilities and from a broad spectrum of backgrounds share life together. We have talked about the role immigrants play in building our country and why it is important that we offer hospitality to people who have to flee their homes because of war, violence or poverty. I am trying to model for him an acceptance of people for who they are and a recognition that everyone has valuable contributions to make and to teach him that nobody should suffer discrimination or violence because of what the look like or where they come from. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Henderson, via Unsplash).

I was hesitant to write a blog at all this week because I am at a loss for what to say. I am not a person of color, so no matter how diverse my friends, co-workers and clients are, I cannot say I know what people of color experience. What is happening now is heartbreaking. It has roots not only in history, but in a status quo that I do not think about often enough. We are a country of immense resources, wealth, and possibilities. But everyone does not have equal opportunity to access these resources, wealth, and possibilities. We are a country that professes that “all men [sic] are created equal” but in which one group has felt threated by another simply because the other is different. The objects of disinterest, distrust, fear and sometimes violence have been people of color most notably, but also people who are immigrants, especially undocumented, or refugees, people who hold certain religious traditions and people who move outside what were once accepted as traditional gender norms. People with disabilities, have been ignored and pitied by turns, but seldom recognized for their full capacity to contribute. And some have also ended up the victims of violence because they behaved differently. I recognize all this, but what can I do?

I can work to understand and then work to oppose the unconscious racial and other biases that I hold. I can continue to make sure that my son interacts with people of all backgrounds and can number people who are different from him among those he trusts and relies on. I can take my family to parts of town other than my own. I can help my son understand how much he has, that other people do not have life as easy as he does and that he should not feel sorry for people but rather work for change. I can balance out and correct the false or biased perceptions of a group of people that my son may find in the media or on the internet. I can vote not on sentiment or along party lines but according to the way a candidate treats or proposes to treat people who are not from “my” group. I can learn about legislation and contact my legislators to take action for proposals that increase equitable access to opportunities and against proposals that limit that access. I can see the broader picture and remember that being a person of faith means way more than attending a service once a week, that being “pro-life” is incompatible with remaining silent in the face of neglect or violence towards anyone for any reason and that the “greatness” of this country is grounded in a diversity that nurtures innovation and strength. I can have the courage to speak up and speak out for justice and against discrimination.

In my professional life, I can take clients from every background and provide them not just an equal level of service but an equitable one that allocates more time and effort to those that have more challenges to overcome. I can recognize the dearth of diversity in the financial services industry and contribute to efforts to change that. Because my background and passion is disability work, I can focus my financial planning practice on helping clients with disabilities from all backgrounds to envision a full life that includes a job, relationships, personal interests and a home of their choosing rather than a “bed” at a “group home” and a “day program” both limited by what an agency has to offer taking into account its many other clients. I can use my experience running small, faith-based supported living homes to help families plan and realize affordable, sustainable self-directed supported living situations for their loved ones with disabilities. I can continue to build the resources and skills I have to help clients with disabilities from all backgrounds begin or return to work, particularly those that face additional barriers due to their race or ethnicity and the neighborhoods in which they live. It is a not enough, but may it be at least a start.

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