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12 Ways to Help Make MLK’s Dream a Reality

12 Ways to Help Make MLK’s Dream a Reality
MLK - I Have a Dream

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States, a federal holiday. We remember Dr. King as a civil rights leader, a rousing speaker,and an advocate of non-violent resistance. Best remembered of all his works, though, is his “I have a dream” speech. King dreamed that one day, race would be irrelevant to an individual’s opportunities in life.

That hasn’t happened, not in the United States, and not anywhere else. Although the blatant racism of the past — the lynchings, the Klan rallies,the pogroms, the concentration camps — are no longer acceptable in most societies (though they keep rearing up with troubling regularity — consider Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Guantanamo Bay), race and racism are still factors in most people’s lives, and still create barriers to many people’s ability to succeed.

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This affects us all. When a child is denied access to a top-notch education because she belongs to a despised minority, or because it’s assumed that his group just isn’t smart enough, or even that it’s pointless to waste resources on children who will not be able to make use of it because of racism, we as a society lose out on the particular talents and strengths that child might have had to offer if given a chance to develop them. When leadership is associated with the qualities of one group, we as a society limit the possibilities for innovation and new direction. (Take a look at the US Senate if you want to see how Americans think of leadership. Ask yourself what innovation you expect of these 88 white men, 11 white women, and 1 black man.)

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Race and racism affect our personal lives, as well, even if we’re not in the minority. Take a look around you next time you go to a place where people socialize. Chances are you’ll see little clumps of similarly-colored people — whites with whites, blacks with blacks, Asians with Asians, and so on. Even today, it’s rare for a person to have more than one or two people of differing race (if any) in their circle of friends.

When I ask my students why this is, they tend to say something like, “It’s natural for people to want to be with people who are like them.” They’re probably right — but why do we think people of our race are the most like us, instead of, say, people who share our values, or people who share our profession, or people who share our taste in books? And why are certain kinds of music, movies, literature, clothes, and so on still associated with people of specific races?

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Was this Dr. King’s dream?

I say, we still have a long way to go to make the dream a reality. While some change will have to be legislated, there are lots of things each of us as individuals can do to minimize the amount and effect of racism in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

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  1. Stop lying to yourself: People like to say they’re “colorblind” when it comes to race. This is not only dishonest, but it wouldn’t solve anything even if it were true. There are real differences between people; denying those differences means dismissing a person’s culture, heritage, and experience — the very things that make them a unique person instead of a representative of their race. Pretending to deny it is even worse, because not only are you refusing to see someone as a whole person, but you’re also refusing to claim responsibility for addressing the real injustices that still cause people harm.
  2. Engage people directly: Approach each person as an individual, not as an instance of their race. Even well-intentioned people seem to find it easier to read books, watch movies, and attend classes about minority people than to actually get to know them in person. It makes us vulnerable to interact with someone in a real, genuine way and to really get to know them; instead, we retreat into stereotypes that act as a shield between us.
  3. Don’t wait for others to educate you: Take responsibility for understanding the world around you and the forces that shape less privileged peoples’ lives — and your own role in it. If you’re a member of a privileged group, few people are going to tell you that your words or actions are hurtful to them; take the initiative and think about the possible effect of your actions before you carry them out.
  4. Forget about categories: Knowing what race, ethnicity, gender, age, class, or any other category a person fits into tells you nothing about that person’s life — and may lead you badly astray. Recognize that “race” is a part of someone’s identity, but not the whole of it.
  5. Learn and respect history: Americans, especially, like to “let go” of the past and pretend that historical forces can be easily overcome. But the events of 30, 75, even 200 years ago still shape people’s lives today. Consider: the most common source of wealth in the United States is home ownership. Practices such as restrictive covenants (which forbid the sale of homes to blacks, and sometimes to Jews and other minorities), mortgage redlining (where mortgages are denied to people who live in neighborhoods regarded as risky, regardless of the borrower’s ability to repay the loan), and steering (the practice of showing minority house buyers homes only in minority neighborhoods) have severely limited home ownership — and thus wealth — among minorities. These practices were still legal in my lifetime (and some, like steering, are still widely practiced even though illegal). As a consequence, home ownership is still greatly imbalanced among the various ethnicities that make up American society. Denying that this history has an effect might feel more comfortable, but that doesn’t make it true, and it certainly doesn’t help those whose lives have been affected by it.
  6. Don’t be a bystander: Stand up for minorities when you hear others making disparaging remarks, when you see people discriminating against them, or when you see someone targeted for their color. It can be scary to risk offending people by standing up against them, but it’s the only way real change is going to come about — even if that change is only that people are less willing to be openly racist when you’re around. (If you still aren’t convinced that racism is alive and well, ask why people feel so uncomfortable confronting racist behavior when they come across it.)
  7. Re-examine what you “know”: It turns out our minds are full of racist stereotypes, even among the most saintly people. We act every day on things we “know” are true, without realizing that those “facts” are grounded only in stereotypes, not reality. Consider:
    • The lowest violent crime rates in the US are found in Hispanic neighborhoods.
    • White teens are more likely to use and sell drugs than any other teenagers — even drugs like crack that we associate with minorities.
    • Almost all school shootings have been carried out by white students.

    None of these facts conforms to our expectations, which are shaped more by the stereotypes we’ve internalized and the sensationalist media than by actual experience.

  8. Think community: Kant’s Categorical Imperative states: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”. What he meant in a nutshell was that you should act the way you wish everyone would act. Don’t just ask yourself if your behavior is in your own best interest, but if it also makes your community better (which, if you think about it, is also in your best interest).
  9. Question racist jokes: Confront people with the assumptions behind their racist jokes. One strategy is to simply ask them to explain why it’s funny: “I don’t understand, are you saying black people are stupid?” or “Is that funny because Jews are supposed to be stingy?” We tend to think that jokes don’t mean much, but ask yourself how comfortable you’d feel in, say, a workplace where, every day or so, you heard someone make a joke at your group’s expense.

    And by the way: just because it’s funny when Chris Rock (or Carlos Mencia, or some other comedian) says it, doesn’t mean it’s harmless when you say it. For one thing, Chris Rock doesn’t represent all black people any more than anyone else does; for another, Chris Rock is a professional satirist of people’s racist assumptions. Comedians force us to confront uncomfortable truths about ourselves, and one uncomfortable truth is that racial divides are still quite wide in our society. That kind of skill and talent isn’t as common as your racist office joker thinks it is.

  10. Watch your language: For some reason people feel put upon when someone suggests that phrases like “Indian giver” might be offensive and hurtful. Standing up for your right to be offensive and hurtful isn’t really very heroic; why not just try to avoid saying things that offend. Humans are born with an amazing capacity for creative language use — I’m sure you can figure out a way to say what you mean without perpetuating stereotypes.
  11. Forget local news: Local news coverage thrives on the use of simple-minded racial stereotypes and sensationalist violence. We deserve better — but we’re not going to get it so long as we keep watching.
  12. Avoid positive stereotypes, too: Stereotypes like “Asians are good at science”, “black people are great athletes”, and “Jews are super smart” might not seem harmful, but they do the same thing negative stereotypes do: they reduce living, breathing individuals to images imposed by others, preventing us from seeing and interacting with them as individuals. Most of them have roots in racism, too: black athleticism is tied to the idea that black people were strong, violent brutes; Jewish cleverness was seen as destructive and dangerous to civilized communities. The idea that Asians are good at math and science is not rooted in racism, but is tied to a specific wave of highly educated, affluent immigrants that came to the US in the ’60s and ’70s — and prevents later waves of immigrants such as Southeast Asian refugees, some of whom make up the poorest groups in the US population, from being seen for who they really are.

The problem of racism is a big one, but it’s not an impossible one. Here are 12 things you can do — not always easy things, but ultimately doable things — to start making a difference in your the world around you. In the end, they boil down to “respect others” and “know thyself”, good advice for most situations. It doesn’t take a huge number of people to start making a difference — after all, Martin Luther King made a difference and he was just one person. Just like you are.

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

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Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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