In the summer of 2011, Eric Deggans, now NPR’s first full-time TV critic wrote an interesting piece in the St. Petersburg Times clarifying the difference between prejudice and racism.
I’ve often found Deggan’s view on prejudice and race simple and thought-provoking. According to him, prejudice is something that you observe in the moment. “You are walking home and cross the street to avoid an individual because you fear a mugging. Racism is internalizing as a core value the idea that some races are superior or subordinate to others,” he says.
We often use the word racism incorrectly when we prejudge someone because of their race or color. Someone might prejudge another individual but she/he may not believe that any race is superior to one another and cannot be called a racist.
“Many times when talk turns to a suspicion of prejudice, the word racism is used, incorrectly and unfairly,” Deggans says. We have our own prejudices and a single mistake doesn’t equal racism. However, a long history of prejudice will definitely make us a racist.
Prejudice is everywhere. The only way we can sort this out is by being vulnerable and engaging in honest conversations with one another.
In the second half of 2020, following the killing of George Floyd, we saw a global movement for racial equity. Companies pledged money, chief executives wrote heartfelt essays, millions of dollars were invested and many chief diversity officers were hired with over half of them starting last year. Has it yielded any systemic change? Not much, says a 2022 Workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Report from Culture Amp.
Culture Amp surveyed employees from over 2,000 global organizations and found that nothing much has changed in terms of systemic progress. Almost one in three DEI practitioners felt that they were under-equipped to perform their jobs even though perceptions of DEI are generally very positive. Only 40% of organizations had dedicated DEI roles and 80% of them were hired just in the last year.
The report added that “competing priorities, tight resources, inexperience in the field, and a lack of accountability can lead to deprioritizing DEI work in favor of core HR tasks, setting DEI initiatives to fail or have limited impact.”
DEI practitioners must first amplify their own voices among leadership before trying to create internal change. The report added that many lack the ability to collaborate and benchmark effective strategies on a companywide basis. The old silos haven’t gone anywhere!