Social Injustice and the Gift of Crisis - 5 Steps for Your Company
A horrible murder was committed on May 25, 2020 on an ordinary street in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The victim was an African American man named George Floyd. The murderer was a police officer. Normally, such an event might have gone unnoticed, but the whole world saw because of a smart phone video. The murder took 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
It’s often said that a crisis is unpredictable. This isn’t true. In my book, The Gift of Crisis, I list social injustice/inequality as the third fundamental cause of crisis. Where social injustice is rampant, crisis awaits. The only uncertainty is the specific event that will be the catalyst.
In 2011, the Arab Spring uprising swept through the Middle East and brought revolution to Egypt and civil war to Syria. That crisis began in December 2010 when a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the corruption and harassment of local government officials.
On June 11, 1963, a Buddhist monk named Thích Quảng Đức lit himself on fire in Saigon to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. US President John F. Kennedy said, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” The incident led to the escalation of the Vietnam War.
On December 1, 1955, a civil rights activist in Montgomery, Alabama named Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus where African American riders were legally supposed to sit. Her defiance galvanized the American civil rights movement and a wave of desegregation.
America is admired around the world as a beacon of democracy, freedom, innovation, opportunity, openness and justice. Many of my friends and relatives in Eastern and Central Europe, especially those who lived under Soviet and Russian rule, see America as a dream.
Yet, no one should be surprised that America is now experiencing a new uprising calling for justice for African Americans. Though more than 50 years have passed since the Civil Rights movement, injustice is rampant. African Americans are much poorer, less healthy, less educated and imprisoned at higher numbers than white Americans. That disparity has become all the more visible with the COVID-19 pandemic, as African American communities have suffered more in terms of deaths and economic hardship.
In recent years, there have been many inexplicable attacks on and deaths of African Americans at the hands of police or vigilantes. In some cases, riots resulted, but nothing at the scale we are seeing now. It took a confluence of factors to spark this crisis, including the horrible nature of the murder, the ongoing pandemic, the severe economic downturn, and the inability of President Trump to inspire feelings of national unity or make believable calls for justice and reform.
The riots, looting and police crackdowns are frightening, even from Europe. The protests are inspiring and moving. Where will the crisis lead? There is reason for optimism and pessimism. Tragically, the Arab Spring, despite a sense of hope in the early stages, led only to war and more oppression. The Civil Rights movement moved the needle significantly on social justice for African Americans, though it still has far to go.
We must hope that this uprising inspires widespread systemic change – better policing, better healthcare, better education, more economic opportunity, a color-blind justice system. But this will not happen without a sustained social movement and committed leadership at many levels.