Welcome to my monthly leadership blog. Here you will find thought-provoking questions to help you evaluate your leadership presence. May 31 – June 1, 2021, marks the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre in America. For those unfamiliar, please see other information referenced at the end of this blog. We will focus on muted leaders' symptoms and the adverse complexities that often result because today, some leaders are still muted 100 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Why are people are just learning and talking about this tragedy? Why is it not listed in the grade school history books in America? The answer is simple. America's political, business, and community leaders have often been muted. Why? Were they muted due to fear? Were they muted due to misunderstood justice? Lastly, were they muted due to race or greed? While I don't have all the answers, I do recognize a common symptom – muted leaders. One salient truth seems clear. There were muted leaders who were perpetrators and muted leaders who were victims 100 years ago in Tulsa. Fear of exposure and consequences held a community and indeed a nation silenced for almost a century. To better understand this, we must first define the term: muted. According to Merriam Webster, muted means being mute: silent or toned down. Synonyms for muted are hushed, quieted, silenced or soundless. When applying this to leadership, one might consider an organization or a specific leader as silent on given issues. While it is possible, few may see leaders as being quiet. Yet, we have seen that muted leaders have been prominent in many historical circumstances.
Sadly, we see semblances of this today in 2021. We have persons in authority taking the lives of others who don't look like them, often out of fear or unconscious bias. We have persons in power taking advantage of those of the opposite sex. We have persons in positions of power with a national platform attempting to undermine a primary tenet of American democracy, the right to vote. The marginalized and underserved voters have a well-documented history of exclusions. But today, these voters are not the ones questioning "fairness." It's those losing positions of power that are fighting by any means necessary to keep it.
Honestly, you, I, and every other leader are muted at some point in our careers. I once heard that a lie could not live forever because the truth will one day surface. As a leader, where does your leadership stand concerning witnessing or participating in injustices? Are you a muted leader that allows injustices to prevail? Do you attempt to avoid, hide, and deny knowledge of injustice? I appeal to each of you to unmute yourselves…now! You do not need permission to unmute. You do not even need courage to unmute. You simply need to be present and ready to show up and stand up in the essence of who you claim to be… a leader.
Recently, I read an article about an Asian American being mocked by a co-worker as they mimicked her native tongue. As she expressed how hurtful it was, the perpetrator claimed it was just a joke. While she made a formal HR complaint with her organization, her leadership made her the victim once again by suggesting she get over it. Let me rephrase, the perpetrator's leadership decided to stay silent and not address the issue resulting in the receiver feeling victimized further by insinuating that she get over it. Ultimately, the leaders chose to be mute.
Another story speaks of a young African American girl pulled over by authorities while driving. All passengers were asked to get out of the vehicle. Her male passenger was thrown to the ground to provoke a response. Personal belongings were pulled from the car and thrown to the ground, and her purse was also emptied to the ground. After not being able to provoke a reaction from the victims, the officers left them humiliated with their belongings on the ground. Since no contraband was found and no laws were broken, the authorities quickly left the scene without apologizing. Leaders who are aware of these tactics but say nothing are muted. Indeed, we all can find story after story with similarities or even more significant consequences such as life or death. But as long as leaders are muted, racism, bullying, crime, sexism, exploitation, and other adverse "isms"… will continue to exist.
So, again the question to you, the leader, is this – "Are you muted?" Let us all stop victim shaming or gaslighting. There is no honor in waiting for victim counts and accounts to rise before you unmute. See something…say something, seems to be an innocuous expression, but it is more important than ever. Do not allow persons in politics, communities, companies, or in your family to make you fear speaking up and speaking out. While a lie might not live forever, silence will forever be just that… silent. And silence can be as harmful as violence. Leaders, are you muted? Find your voice, go forth, and #LEADPerpetually.
Additional reading about the Tulsa massacre can be found in the links below.
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