NewYork-Presbyterian CXO's message for white colleagues: We need to be allies

I imagine it would be hard to find an American right now who has not been part of conversations about race these last few weeks. We've watched black men and women die at the hands of law enforcement and seen other racist incidents. The list of names is painfully long. And, we've seen our streets filled with protests. 

At NewYork-Presbyterian, we've been deeply and deliberately engaging each other in dialogue. We are seeking to understand each other and standing up for what we believe in — equality, inclusion and justice. We are tired from addressing the pandemic, but not nearly as tired as our colleagues of color who have lived with the realities of racism for generations.

I feel a special obligation to speak out about this, not only as a person who has always cared about these issues, but also as a parent who has something very personal at stake. 

My partner and I are parents to a brilliant black son. We adopted him at birth, and we love him to the moon and back! He brings us joy every day, and is such a great gift to us and the world. But, please understand, when we see a knee on George Floyd's throat, we see our son ⁠— like every other parent of a black boy in America. While we had anticipated some of the challenges of adopting a black child, being his parent has also opened our eyes in new ways.

As a white man, I grew up with privilege of which I wasn't even aware. I didn't have to think about my race — at home, at school or in my community. I was never singled out for my race or pulled over when driving like so many of my black friends. Now I agonize about what my son might face. I struggle with when and how to introduce some of the world’s realities. I search for ways to both protect and prepare him. I'm late to the game, but I see and feel at a visceral level what many of my black friends and neighbors have felt since birth. It's heartbreaking, but it's also an opportunity to act and make a difference. 

Given everything I have shared above, I want to convey a strong message to my white colleagues. Racism in America won't change until we change. White people need to be true allies to our friends, neighbors and colleagues of color. 

What does it mean to be an ally? Please allow me to make five suggestions:

1. Don't merely strive to not be racist ⁠— strive to be anti-racist. That means to actively stand against policies and structures that are inequitable. It means speaking up when we hear racist comments ⁠— even when they come from loved ones. It means calling for justice during this very difficult time. It means acknowledging and questioning our own biases and the bias embedded in our financial, educational, religious and social organizations and striving to overcome them. Being anti-racist means moving from passive sympathy to deliberate action. Don't take my word for it — there are amazing books and resources out there. Just peruse the current New York Times bestseller list and you will find them. Take the time to read and learn and be open. For example, I am currently reading "How to Be an Antiracist" by Ibram X. Kendi and learning a great deal.

2. Don't be "colorblind." I'm always uncomfortable when some of my very well-meaning white friends say "I don't see color." But, there are differences between all of us in color, background and other characteristics! Being colorblind can be a way to avoid real conversations. Seeing differences not only allows us to advocate for equality and equity, but also allows us to lift up and affirm the value and beauty of all humanity – especially those different from us. This is especially important to do for our children! It signifies that our diversity is one of our greatest assets in this country.

3. Listen to the experiences and views of black friends and colleagues. For many of us white people, this is hard and uncomfortable. It means suspending our own viewpoint and trying not to be defensive. It means hearing things we may not want to hear. It may often mean bearing another's pain. But, listening is a sign of respect. Ultimately, it opens the space for understanding through conversation and transparency and to becoming a true ally. 

4. Have conversations about race at home and at work. I would especially level this challenge to my colleagues in healthcare leadership positions. This can be really intimidating. Many of us want to, but are sometimes hesitant. What if we say the wrong thing? I have found that a great way to start these conversations is to express our trepidation, and ask our colleagues — especially those of color — for patience. It means being open and allowing ourselves to be taught. I am amazed and inspired by what we have learned doing this at NewYork-Presbyterian. 

5. Get involved. March if you can. Advocate where you work. Donate to organizations that advocate for equal rights and justice. We're all tired of the "thoughts and prayers approach" to these crises. Yes, I believe in prayer, but we must also act with our words, actions and wallets.

These last few weeks, the protests have come right by our front door in Manhattan. The other night, my son and I stood at the window and watched them peacefully pass as chants of "Black Lives Matter!" wafted up to our window. He turned and looked up into my eyes and said, "My life matters dad!" That sums it all up for me.   

Many of us with black family members are watching ⁠— wanting to have hope, but also feeling skeptical. Perhaps the diversity of the marchers that have walked by our apartment is a hopeful sign that we may finally be crossing lines to unite for more permanent and lasting change.

I implore my white colleagues and all white Americansto consider the above suggestions. We cannot achieve the American vision of true justice and equality without each other. If we want this time to be different, we have to step up in a new way. We all need to be allies! 

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