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  • I was on a long road trip this summer,

  • and I was having a wonderful time listening

  • to the amazing Isabel Wilkerson's "The Warmth of Other Suns."

  • It documents six million black folks fleeing the South from 1915 to 1970

  • looking for a respite from all the brutality

  • and trying to get to a better opportunity up North,

  • and it was filled with stories of the resilience and the brilliance

  • of African-Americans,

  • and it was also really hard to hear all the stories of the horrors

  • and the humility, and all the humiliations.

  • It was especially hard to hear about the beatings and the burnings

  • and the lynchings of black men.

  • And I said, "You know, this is a little deep.

  • I need a break. I'm going to turn on the radio."

  • I turned it on, and there it was:

  • Ferguson, Missouri,

  • Michael Brown,

  • 18-year-old black man,

  • unarmed, shot by a white police officer, laid on the ground dead,

  • blood running for four hours

  • while his grandmother and little children and his neighbors watched in horror,

  • and I thought,

  • here it is again.

  • This violence, this brutality against black men

  • has been going on for centuries.

  • I mean, it's the same story. It's just different names.

  • It could have been Amadou Diallo.

  • It could have been Sean Bell.

  • It could have been Oscar Grant.

  • It could have been Trayvon Martin.

  • This violence, this brutality,

  • is really something that's part of our national psyche.

  • It's part of our collective history.

  • What are we going to do about it?

  • You know that part of us that still crosses the street,

  • locks the doors,

  • clutches the purses,

  • when we see young black men?

  • That part.

  • I mean, I know we're not shooting people down in the street,

  • but I'm saying that the same stereotypes and prejudices

  • that fuel those kinds of tragic incidents

  • are in us.

  • We've been schooled in them as well.

  • I believe that we can stop these types of incidents,

  • these Fergusons from happening,

  • by looking within and being willing to change ourselves.

  • So I have a call to action for you.

  • There are three things that I want to offer us today to think about

  • as ways to stop Ferguson from happening again;

  • three things that I think will help us

  • reform our images of young black men;

  • three things that I'm hoping will not only protect them

  • but will open the world so that they can thrive.

  • Can you imagine that?

  • Can you imagine our country embracing young black men,

  • seeing them as part of our future, giving them that kind of openness,

  • that kind of grace we give to people we love?

  • How much better would our lives be? How much better would our country be?

  • Let me just start with number one.

  • We gotta get out of denial.

  • Stop trying to be good people.

  • We need real people.

  • You know, I do a lot of diversity work,

  • and people will come up to me at the beginning of the workshop.

  • They're like, "Oh, Ms. Diversity Lady, we're so glad you're here" --

  • (Laughter) --

  • "but we don't have a biased bone in our body."

  • And I'm like, "Really?

  • Because I do this work every day, and I see all my biases."

  • I mean, not too long ago, I was on a plane

  • and I heard the voice of a woman pilot coming over the P.A. system,

  • and I was just so excited, so thrilled.

  • I was like, "Yes, women, we are rocking it.

  • We are now in the stratosphere."

  • It was all good, and then it started getting turbulent and bumpy,

  • and I was like,

  • "I hope she can drive."

  • (Laughter)

  • I know. Right.

  • But it's not even like I knew that was a bias

  • until I was coming back on the other leg and there's always a guy driving

  • and it's often turbulent and bumpy,

  • and I've never questioned the confidence of the male driver.

  • The pilot is good.

  • Now, here's the problem.

  • If you ask me explicitly, I would say, "Female pilot: awesome."

  • But it appears that when things get funky and a little troublesome, a little risky,

  • I lean on a bias that I didn't even know that I had.

  • You know, fast-moving planes in the sky,

  • I want a guy.

  • That's my default.

  • Men are my default.

  • Who is your default?

  • Who do you trust?

  • Who are you afraid of?

  • Who do you implicitly feel connected to?

  • Who do you run away from?

  • I'm going to tell you what we have learned.

  • The implicit association test, which measures unconscious bias,

  • you can go online and take it.

  • Five million people have taken it.

  • Turns out, our default is white. We like white people.

  • We prefer white. What do I mean by that?

  • When people are shown images of black men and white men,

  • we are more quickly able to associate

  • that picture with a positive word, that white person with a positive word,

  • than we are when we are trying to associate

  • positive with a black face, and vice versa.

  • When we see a black face,

  • it is easier for us to connect black with negative

  • than it is white with negative.

  • Seventy percent of white people taking that test prefer white.

  • Fifty percent of black people taking that test prefer white.

  • You see, we were all outside when the contamination came down.

  • What do we do about the fact that our brain automatically associates?

  • You know, one of the things that you probably are thinking about,

  • and you're probably like, you know what,

  • I'm just going to double down on my color blindness.

  • Yes, I'm going to recommit to that.

  • I'm going to suggest to you, no.

  • We've gone about as far as we can go trying to make a difference

  • trying to not see color.

  • The problem was never that we saw color. It was what we did when we saw the color.

  • It's a false ideal.

  • And while we're busy pretending not to see,

  • we are not being aware of the ways in which racial difference

  • is changing people's possibilities, that's keeping them from thriving,

  • and sometimes it's causing them an early death.

  • So in fact, what the scientists are telling us is, no way.

  • Don't even think about color blindness.

  • In fact, what they're suggesting is,

  • stare at awesome black people.

  • (Laughter)

  • Look at them directly in their faces and memorize them,

  • because when we look at awesome folks who are black,

  • it helps to dissociate

  • the association that happens automatically in our brain.

  • Why do you think I'm showing you these beautiful black men behind me?

  • There were so many, I had to cut them.

  • Okay, so here's the thing:

  • I'm trying to reset your automatic associations about who black men are.

  • I'm trying to remind you

  • that young black men grow up to be amazing human beings

  • who have changed our lives and made them better.

  • So here's the thing.

  • The other possibility in science,

  • and it's only temporarily changing our automatic assumptions,

  • but one thing we know

  • is that if you take a white person who is odious that you know,

  • and stick it up next to a person of color,

  • a black person, who is fabulous,

  • then that sometimes actually causes us to disassociate too.

  • So think Jeffrey Dahmer and Colin Powell.

  • Just stare at them, right? (Laughter)

  • But these are the things. So go looking for your bias.

  • Please, please, just get out of denial and go looking for disconfirming data

  • that will prove that in fact your old stereotypes are wrong.

  • Okay, so that's number one: number two,

  • what I'm going to say is move toward young black men instead of away from them.

  • It's not the hardest thing to do,

  • but it's also one of these things

  • where you have to be conscious and intentional about it.

  • You know, I was in a Wall Street area one time several years ago

  • when I was with a colleague of mine, and she's really wonderful

  • and she does diversity work with me and she's a woman of color, she's Korean.

  • And we were outside, it was late at night,

  • and we were sort of wondering where we were going, we were lost.

  • And I saw this person across the street, and I was thinking, "Oh great, black guy."

  • I was going toward him without even thinking about it.

  • And she was like, "Oh, that's interesting."

  • The guy across the street, he was a black guy.

  • I think black guys generally know where they're going.

  • I don't know why exactly I think that, but that's what I think.

  • So she was saying, "Oh, you were going, 'Yay, a black guy'?"

  • She said, "I was going, 'Ooh, a black guy.'"

  • Other direction. Same need, same guy, same clothes,

  • same time, same street, different reaction.

  • And she said, "I feel so bad. I'm a diversity consultant.

  • I did the black guy thing. I'm a woman of color. Oh my God!"

  • And I said, "You know what? Please. We really need to relax about this."

  • I mean, you've got to realize I go way back with black guys.

  • (Laughter)

  • My dad is a black guy. You see what I'm saying?

  • I've got a 6'5" black guy son. I was married to a black guy.

  • My black guy thing is so wide and so deep

  • that I can pretty much sort and figure out who that black guy is,

  • and he was my black guy.

  • He said, "Yes, ladies, I know where you're going. I'll take you there."

  • You know, biases are the stories we make up about people

  • before we know who they actually are.

  • But how are we going to know who they are

  • when we've been told to avoid and be afraid of them?

  • So I'm going to tell you to walk toward your discomfort.

  • And I'm not asking you to take any crazy risks.

  • I'm saying, just do an inventory,

  • expand your social and professional circles.

  • Who's in your circle?

  • Who's missing?

  • How many authentic relationships

  • do you have with young black people, folks, men, women?

  • Or any other major difference from who you are

  • and how you roll, so to speak?

  • Because, you know what? Just look around your periphery.

  • There may be somebody at work, in your classroom,

  • in your house of worship, somewhere, there's some black young guy there.

  • And you're nice. You say hi.

  • I'm saying go deeper, closer, further, and build the kinds of relationships,

  • the kinds of friendships that actually cause you to see the holistic person

  • and to really go against the stereotypes.

  • I know some of you are out there,

  • I know because I have some white friends in particular that will say,

  • "You have no idea how awkward I am.

  • Like, I don't think this is going to work for me.

  • I'm sure I'm going to blow this."

  • Okay, maybe, but this thing is not about perfection. It's about connection.

  • And you're not going to get comfortable before you get uncomfortable.

  • I mean, you just have to do it.

  • And young black men, what I'm saying is

  • if someone comes your way, genuinely and authentically, take the invitation.

  • Not everyone is out to get you.

  • Go looking for those people who can see your humanity.

  • You know, it's the empathy and the compassion

  • that comes out of having relationships with people who are different from you.

  • Something really powerful and beautiful happens:

  • you start to realize that they are you,

  • that they are part of you, that they are you in your family,

  • and then we cease to be bystanders

  • and we become actors, we become advocates,

  • and we become allies.

  • So go away from your comfort into a bigger, brighter thing,

  • because that is how we will stop another Ferguson from happening.

  • That's how we create a community

  • where everybody, especially young black men, can thrive.

  • So this last thing is going to be harder,

  • and I know it, but I'm just going to put it out there anyway.

  • When we see something, we have to have the courage to say something,

  • even to the people we love.

  • You know, it's holidays and it's going to be a time

  • when we're sitting around the table and having a good time.

  • Many of us, anyways, will be in holidays,

  • and you've got to listen to the conversations around the table.

  • You start to say things like, "Grandma's a bigot."