Focusing on Our Shared Humanity

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Focusing on Our Shared Humanity

Posted by Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Kenya Hobbs

Recently, I was listening to a podcast from Dr. Dominic Rollins, a noted diversity, equity and inclusion speaker, facilitator and consultant. During the broadcast, he made a statement that struck me profoundly. 

He said, “We don’t get through our shared humanity without redress of things that are heavy and hard.” Let me explain why I was so moved by Rollins’ words. 

First, the statement addresses “our shared humanity” — something that I do not feel we are conscious enough of in our daily interactions with one another. We are, in fact, interdependent; what affects one, affects us all. 

We all should be affected by what took place shortly after Buffalo Bills fans joyously celebrated the team’s resounding win over the Kansas City Chiefs to avenge last season’s loss in the American Football Conference (AFC) Championship. The following day, a representative from a local restaurant decided to take those good vibes and stomp on them with vile, divisive, racist tropes meant to denigrate our Indigenous brothers and sisters. 

Here is the quote that was posted on Facebook and then taken down before the whole page of the restaurant was ultimately deleted:

“Happy Indigenous People’s Day! Let’s celebrate a Bills victory over the Indigenous People’s Chiefs. Isn’t it great we beat down those Chiefs, and stomped on their Arrowhead. Nothing like silencing those silly little war drums the Chiefs fans were beating at Arrowhead Stadium. Christopher Columbus would be proud! #BillsMafia”

After my wife Dianna brought this abhorrent message to my attention, I was reminded of an adage that says, “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” The foolish commentary demonstrates that when it comes to addressing matters across difference, if you don’t have anything good to say, then it’s time for some silent self-reflection. 

Our shared humanity ought to compel us to be more conscious and intentional about how things are said and done in our community for the benefit of us all.  

This horrible incident is another indicator that more, not less, education about diversity, equity and inclusion is needed to combat the ignorance that exists. Too often, we turn away from those things that make us uncomfortable, as if ignoring them will make it all better. That approach clearly is not working, so it is time to deal with things that are heavy and hard. This is the only way to address and solve a long-term problem. 

Imagine where we would be if we treated finding a cure for cancer like we treat finding a cure for racism. To illustrate the point, let us create a hypothetical response to what the CDC calls the second leading cause of death in the U.S. “Oh, so and so got cancer. Don’t worry about it. It’s just an isolated incident. If those people would just take care of themselves better, they’d be fine. They wouldn’t have cancer in the first place if they would just stop being lazy, quit taking all those drugs and get a better education.”

That logic sounds ridiculous when applied to a disease like cancer. But racism is a disease, too — one that requires focus, resources and increased awareness to fight. Racism is not the victim’s fault. Blame should never be laid at the feet of a group of people experiencing disparate and unjust treatment caused by prejudice. Until we can accept and address the fact that racism is institutional and inherent in our systems, those in denial will continually be surprised when racist incidents, like this latest one, occur. However, those who are aware or “woke” so to speak, will be off to the side saying, “See, I told you so.”

Our friend and Medaille colleague, Assistant Professor Hugh Burnam, Mohawk, Wolf Clan from the Onondaga Nation, was interviewed and quoted in the Buffalo News regarding the racist commentary and why the post was so hurtful.  

“Right away, it conveys that Indigenous people are the enemy,” he explained. “We’ve defeated them, they’re no longer here: the settler myth. Too often, it’s part of school curricula with the narrative of brave settlers taming the wilderness. This ignores the genocide of Indigenous people during the development of this nation, which, among other things, lets people feel fine to make it a punchline… So here we are feeling like we’re not at home, in our own home. That’s really a disappointment.” 

Medaille stands in solidarity with our Indigenous community that has been targeted by hate, which is fueled by racism. Incidents like this, though they will never be eliminated, can be reduced in frequency if we band together, fight injustice, redress wrongs, and address hard and heavy issues. This is the only way to progress.

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