Martin Luther King, Jr. once said:
“… a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” (“The Other America,” 1968).
Confession: I’m not generally a person who acts out when angry. I’m not violent. I’ve never been called a bully. I’ve never gotten in a physical fight or intentionally hurt someone. In fact, I scored in the lowest percentile for aggression on the Caliper personality and leadership test. But here it is: I have destroyed property to make a point.
I once was so furious with a man I was dating that while sitting in the passenger seat, I kicked out the windshield of the car as he was driving it. Why? Because he thought nothing of hurting me and as hard as I tried to communicate, he would not hear me. He minimized my complaint, thinking I was wrong, misinterpreting, and overreacting. He continued to do the very thing I had repeatedly asked him to stop doing. And finally, I was pushed to my limit. I did something that showed him how angry I was, to force my point (which by the way had nothing to do with the car). It got his attention.
Another time that I didn’t adhere to social constraints was when my baby nephew, who I had been caring for since birth, was choking in an older relative’s arms. We were at a reception and he had been crying a long time so she took over his care. Shortly after she started pushing him around in his stroller, he stopped crying but I noticed something did not seem right with the sound he was making. I kept telling her that something sounded wrong but all she did was take the baby out of the stroller and hold him over her shoulder. She smiled to appease me, said he was fine and started walking away with him.
She was in a position of matriarchal authority and I was taught to respect elders. However, her refusal to listen to my concern could have cost him his life. I elevated the situation by screaming at her to get her attention (I’d never done that before). It worked. She froze in shock. Then I forcefully took my nephew from her arms and pushed her out of the way so that I could turn him upside down and perform the Heimlich. I was right. He was choking on a watermelon ball that one of his well-meaning siblings had given him while he was in the stroller and no one was looking.
Do I want to see an end to riots, violence, looting, or any other form of dangerous lawlessness? Yes. As a risk manager, I’ve dedicated my career to promoting safety, preventing losses, avoiding harmful situations and protecting the people and organizations in my care. However, sometimes people feel they have no other choice than to resort to actions that serve as a wake up call.
This is my advice: LISTEN.
Don’t minimize complaints. Don’t discount issues. Don’t go along thinking that your colleagues of color are okay and nothing is wrong. It’s time to really listen deeply. Listen to understand, not to react, so people can be heard. Set your own opinions aside, and listen for the safety and well-being of yourself and those you love. Listen like lives depend on it. Sometimes they do.