Have you ever been a victim of racial profiling? As an adopted child, growing up my mother would get very offended when filing paperwork for my sister or I that tried to make her identify a racial demographic. She would create her own box and write HUMAN. As a kid, I was always so embarrassed by her actions but as an adult, I am now proud.
As I reflect back on my childhood, my awareness of what I used to think were silly questions were actually racial assumptions. In college an older Caucasian woman approached my sister and I and began talking to us. My initial impression was that she seemed like a sweet old lady until she ended the conversation with, "wow, I am impressed. You ladies, speak really good English." Or when my grandma was in the grocery store with my sister as an infant and a woman walked up her and pointed to my sister and said, "what is that?". My grandma, without hesitation said, "a baby!" and quickly walked away. Just last week I met a man who asked me, "how long have you been living in the states?" My response was, "all my life! How long have you been living in the states?" He looked offended by my response and did little to no introspection on how his question might have offended me!
Racial profiling is still a serious problem in our American culture. The Civil War ended over 150 years ago yet Blacks, Asians and Hispanics are still profiled more than ever. The person who created the old sang, "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me" must have never been a victim of racial profiling because it is not true. Words do hurt!
As leaders, it is crucial that we are aware that this is still very much a problem in our society. Not only do we profile against race but also sexuality: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. As the American workforce continues to diversify, we as leaders must create cultures within our teams that have a zero tolerance for this behavior. We need to become inclusive rather than exclusive. We are all humans first. The percentage of White, Black, Hispanic or Asian in our blood should not effect our ability to be treated equals and does not effect our ability to perform.
It is easy to be naive and say that racial profiling does not exist or is the responsibility of the human resources department but the truth is that change starts with you! Set the precedents for your team by having clear core values of inclusion and diversity for your team. Be the example and start the change by creating an environment where everyone feels welcomed!