January 24, 2010

Colorblind Leadership Starts Within Ourselves



Published in the Sun-Times on January 24, 2010

Over the past few weeks, there have been an influx of racial-related headlines in the news.

Our former governor declared in an interview that he is “blacker than President Obama.” In a frenzy of creative back peddling, Rod Blagojevich’s attorney offered that Rod merely meant to convey that he identifies with African-Americans. I’m still unsure what Blago’s comment actually meant. It’s such an interesting statement that I would really like to get inside Rod’s unbelievably hair-styled head to understand the idiocies that live in there.

This mea culpa came several days after it was reported that Senate President Harry Reid referred to President Obama in 2008 as a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one.”

These remarks seem more likely to have come from stereotypical bigots who are stuck in the 1950s rather than from modern-day elected officials and lawmakers that hold (or have held) positions of power and speak on behalf of entire states. Aside from the obvious fact that these “gaffs” made national headlines followed by vehement apologies from both men isn’t what troubles me. These gentlemen aren’t sorry about what they said. Rather, they are sorry that someone recorded them saying it.

Much like our politicians and lawmakers, it is just as important that police officers are colorblind. We see the world through lenses made up of our own experiences and values. If those values are askew, our line of sight will be, too, and it will affect the decisions we make. Police are given the power and authority to take away freedoms as a means of protecting society from harm. When exercising that power, they had better do it without bigotry or biases of any form. Best-selling author Dr. Stephen Covey said “service, justice and fundamental fairness are the foundational principles for which every police action must be grounded.” This epitomizes the demand for impartiality even when triggered by our own personal experiences.

From time to time, a citizen may feel as though he or she was targeted by the police because of race. These complaints are few, but they are taken very seriously by the Aurora Police Department and investigated thoroughly.

Each officer and civilian employed by APD has been through diversity training as a means of educating and preventing prejudice. But no formal training can ever take the place of the mirror we hold up to ourselves. Each of us (police and citizens alike) should look within and constantly challenge our own belief system. Sometimes we find that our systems are not centered in rational thought. Rather, we may realize that our beliefs originated from those who imposed their own views upon us.

Our children don’t seem to have a problem with diversity. Generation “Y” has grown up with social networking and instant messaging that bridges the communication gap and flattens their world so people don’t seem so far away. While I grew up writing and mailing letters to a pen pal, my children are e-mailing and video-chatting with kids who live across the divide. They don’t seem affected by different skin colors or different cultures. We could learn so much from their progression.

If we don’t constantly re-evaluate, we will go on seeing the world through distorted eyes.

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