I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

–-- William Stafford, "A Ritual to Read to Each Other"

America’s Blind Spot

As a coach and con­sul­tant, the two most com­mon prob­lems I deal with are lead­er­ship blind spots and the chal­lenge of stand­ing up in one’s work and being real. Of course, there are many oth­er issues, but these are the biggest vec­tors in my practice. 

Since George Floyd was mur­dered, Amer­i­ca as a soci­ety once again has been up against both of these issues: the blind spot of police bru­tal­i­ty and all forms of sys­temic racism, and the will­ing­ness of us white peo­ple to stand up in real and mean­ing­ful ways to address the true depth of the prob­lem. The back­ground of this appalling blind spot and the inter­play of both real action and real fail­ure have gone on for hun­dreds of years. To me, it seems like the struc­ture of the prob­lem is the same whether we are deal­ing with it per­son­al­ly, insti­tu­tion­al­ly or as a whole society. 

Some­times to deal with my own grief, I build mod­els to try to describe the nature of the dynam­ics at work. It’s one way my brain deals with my heart. Here’s one mod­el I cre­at­ed today regard­ing blind spots:

Severity of Blind Spots

The point of the dia­gram is to show how there are gra­di­ents — scales — that dis­play on one hand the sever­i­ty of the behav­iors that we are blind to and on the oth­er the type of uncon­scious­ness we exhib­it. I hope it is clear how destruc­tive it is when the behav­iors are cru­el and there is a refusal to be aware of them and dis­miss their impact. The dia­gram also holds oth­er mes­sages, par­tic­u­lar­ly around the “mid­dle” lev­els of the scales — the places blind spots are char­ac­ter­ized by more sub­tle com­ments and behav­iors and we avoid look­ing at them. For exam­ple, in the “mid­dle box” you might see microa­gres­sions com­bined with var­i­ous denials that they are inten­tion­al, deroga­to­ry or even happened.

What we all saw (and con­tin­ue to see) is that the events sur­round­ing George Floy­d’s mur­der and reac­tions to it are not in this mid­dle ground at all. Rather it is the worst of the worst: act­ing out racial vio­lence, yes, but also ratio­nal­iz­ing it, con­don­ing it, dou­ble mes­sag­ing it, refram­ing it in covert and obvi­ous ways. In one thread on Twit­ter some­one com­ment­ed that “After all he was­n’t exact­ly a ster­ling cit­i­zen. He should­n’t be treat­ed as a hero” and the Pres­i­dent, chief among those with the worst cat­e­gories of blind spot, wants us to believe George Floyd is look­ing down from heav­en and that it’s a great day for him because of a jobs report. State­ments such as these are not “avoid­ance” but mak­ing a choice not to know, not to see, not to feel. They are a refusal to treat oth­ers as real and for this rea­son they hurt as deeply as hurt can flow. Oper­at­ing in such a way is noth­ing less than a con­temp­tu­ous way of being, a cyn­i­cal and malev­o­lent attack on the human spirit.

This is why it is impor­tant to do the the work of self-aware­ness, reflec­tion, and under­stand­ing our impacts, and more than any­thing else learn how to lead and guide change with­in our­selves. The blind spot of dis­crim­i­na­tion in all its ugly, trag­ic forms is exact­ly priv­i­lege, supe­ri­or­i­ty and vio­lence. We wit­nessed it live, again and again as the video tape rolled and con­tin­ues to roll in our memories.

We must be strong enough to be real and real in enough ways that we defeat con­scious igno­rance once and for all, remem­ber­ing, too, that beau­ty is also in us, care is in us, trust and good will are in us and that we are more than what we don’t know about ourselves.


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