Imagine if your best work went unnoticed.
Imagine if you wrote a report but someone else's name went on the cover.
Imagine if that same someone else was paid a great deal more than you were.
Imagine if they resented your presence in the office.
Imagine if everyone else in the office shared that opinion and made it obvious.
Imagine if you couldn't speak up about it because this was normal.
If you were an African American woman working at NASA in the early 1960s, you would not need any imagination. This would be your life.
A lot of progress has been made since the 60s, but friends of color tell me that we still have a long ways to go. Assumptions and stereotypes about aptitude, motivation, or immigration status plague these brothers and sisters. Guarded suspicion is more readily extended than friendship.
We are much closer now than we were then to equity and equality, but let's not imagine there is no work left to be done. 2016 made that painfully obvious. Perhaps President Trump's most lasting legacy will be bringing the blatantly racist attitudes that persist in America into the light of public discourse. As troubling as this was, we might as well know the truth about where we are as a nation. Maybe this truth will compel us to seek justice.
The flurry of executive actions in Donald Trump's first week as President underscores the urgent need for private citizens, churches, and non-profit organizations to champion the cause of justice. If in the past we have relied on governmental agencies to ensure a just society, we know now that such an approach is inadequate. This has always been true. But now it's undeniable.
Soong-Chan Rah's Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times, Rah urges his readers to cultivate "a personal connection to the corporate sin that has entered our culture." He says, "We must move from 'let's just get over it' to 'how do I personally continue to perpetuate systems of privilege?' Justice must move from the third person to the first person, from the abstract to the personal" (125–26). This is such timely advice.
Just this morning I heard about an African American PhD student in Chicago who was pulled over in 2015 and accosted harshly by police for suspected auto theft in spite of his respectful compliance with law enforcement officers. Friends, the man was beaten for driving his own car. Examples like these can be readily multiplied. As long as we live in a world where this can happen, we cannot rest.
The only great America will be the America where every human being — no matter their race or gender — is treated with dignity, compensated fairly, given credit for their work, and given a voice and a place at the table. If this is the America we want, we need to create it. Let's get to work!