Tolerance starts with a conversation.
“We have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s important for us to get to know other people better. That goes so far,” said Keith White, Gap Inc.'s senior vice president of loss prevention, during a discussion on breaking down racial barriers. “A lot of people want to stay in their cocoons, and what I’ve found is that if you can set those differences aside, it’s an unlock.”
The streets may be clear of protests now, but the nation continues to grapple with the state of race relations in the United States following the rash of racially tinged incidents involving police officers and African-American males in places such as Ferguson, Mo., and New York.
White was joined by San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr; Matthew Irwin, Gap Inc. associate general counsel for Real Estate; and 15-year-old Oakland student Amaris Canada in talking about the need to look past color in order to move forward together. The event was hosted by Gap Inc.'s employee resource group AANG (African-American Networking Group) and moderated by Tremayne Bass, AANG co-president.
“Race is a hard topic to discuss and it ends up being the elephant in the room,” Irwin said. “But the more you talk about the elephant in the room, the more comfortable you become with it.”
And it’s not just racial biases at play.
“It’s been a really hard time to be a police officer. But as hard as this situation has been on the force, it’s been even harder for those African-American cops wearing blue. They are being labeled as traitors and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Suhr said. “Just like all races, not all police officers are the same either. The best way to change the police department is to join the police department.”
A shift in attitude
The panel kicked off with a CNN clip of children discussing race in America. As they see it, perceptions shift with age.
As the youngest panel member, Canada talked about ways she tries to tweak perceptions through small changes. One way is how she chooses to address authorities. “Every time I see a police officer on the street, I usually smile and wave.”
Irwin said he refuses to let his race define his day-to-day experiences. "The one thing I think that's critical to being a black male is not allowing myself to be stereotyped."
At the very least, it comes down to beginning a dialogue.
“I celebrate the fact that we are having an important conversation,” CEO Art Peck said at the event. “As I often quote, ‘We are better at being imperfect together.’”