If you’re a person of color in the United States, you’ve been living out the racism issue every single day of your life. But if you’re white, and especially if you’re too young to remember the 1960’s, events of the last several months may be prodding you to dig a bit deeper into what’s going on. This being the 21stcentury, the age of social media, there’s a virtual mountain of material a few key clicks away. It’s expanding every day.
The problem is where to start.
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve heard of Ed Maibach. Maibach is Director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. He’s a leading expert in the field; in fact, he and Tony Leiserowitz just won Climate One’s Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication, given to a natural or social scientist “who has made extraordinary scientific contributions and communicated that knowledge to a broad public in a clear and compelling fashion.”
No, Ed Maibach has not begun writing on racism per se. But he knows a thing or two about communication. He advises climate scientists this way: “to effectively share what we know, we need simple, clear messages, repeated often, by a variety of trusted sources… To help people convert their good intentions into effective actions, we need to do everything we can to make the actions we are promoting easy, fun, and popular.”
Hmm. The word “climate” doesn’t appear anywhere in these instructions, suggesting these aren’t mere specialized tactics, but rather general principles, equally applicable to communicating on racism or any other topic.
Perhaps the advice might guide seekers as well as speakers.
Where can meteorologists find a trusted source on the problems posed by racism and its impacts? Well it turns out that as in many other professional fields, especially the sciences, we have a number – but not nearly enough. Fortunately, one of these has made the effort share his experience and perspective through a small book on the subject – Marshall Shepherd, in The Race Awakening of 2020: A 6-Step Guide for Moving Forward.
A former NASA scientist, Marshall Shepherd is currently a professor of atmospheric science and geography at the University of Georgia. Unusually for a scientist, he’s well-known to the general public, through his television work and through his regular science contributions to Forbes. (Full disclosure: he’s also a former president of the American Meteorological Society where I work.)
His message blends personal narrative and suggestions for action. Early on in the book, he provides a definition. Citing Bill Jones, one of his college professors, he frames racism as a power imbalance: when a certain racial group holds the majority of political, economic, and societal power, they can explicitly, implicitly or systematically discriminate against others or suppress equality to maintain the balance of power.
The rest of this stage-setting material is equally accessible – simple and clear.
Then he segues to his six proposed actions:
- See color
- Shatter flawed narratives
- Stop using code words
- Analyze use of microaggressions
- Speak to your kids
- Lean on unbiased faith.
Each action is a chapter heading, and as titled contains a bit of mystery, draws the reader in. Each is fleshed out in crisp language.
The book closes with a checklist of other actionable steps:
- Complete the census
- Register to vote
- Know your state and federal Congressional districts
- Know your local school board, county commission, and district attorney representatives
- Engage in school activities, PTSA meetings and parent teacher conferences
- Support legislation that makes voting easier
- Have lunch or dinner with someone of a different race, culture, or faith
- Seek ways to build community bridges between law enforcement agencies and your community
- Review hate crime laws where you live and advocate for stronger ones where needed
- Volunteer with organizations helping youth or fighting for civil rights
- Start a race-focused small group in your church
- Read other books on racial conciliation
- Work to eradicate poverty
- Review your friends group. Are there some that constantly promote or say racist things?
- Vote (local, state, and national elections)
- Fervent prayer
- Keep those cell phones charged
To sum up, Marshall Shepherd, one of the most trusted voices in our community, has provided a simple message. He’s proposed actions that are easy, fun, and popular (chances are the lists above include some measures the reader will find more affirming than new).
Ed Maibach would give him an A+.
(Oh, yeah, you might ask. Where’s the repeated part? And the variety of sources?)
Glad you asked. Did I say the book was short? It’s a mere 70 pages plus change. And cheap (in fact, free to your Kindle)? So “buy” it. Read it more than once. That’ll take care of the repeated part.
And in the fine print, you’ll find he proposes this action: read other books on racial conciliation. In fact, Marshall Shepherd succeeds in making his readers more accepting/trusting of other voices. His book can be used as a portal to that more extensive conversation, which has been going on for almost as long as there’s been a printed word. There’s your variety of sources.
Want a suggestion for your next step? How about Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-racist? Another, equally engaging view of the world – itself a powerful blend of personal narrative and polemic against racism.
[A tip of the hat here to (my AMS boss) Paul Higgins. Kendi’s book is well-known, but I probably wouldn’t have read it had it not been for Paul’s repeated, enthusiastic references to it over these past months. Thanks, Paul!]