Last week I attended a lecture by Eddie Moore, Jr. at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, titled Inclusion, Equity, Privilege: Is Corporate America Making Progress in the 21st Century and held in conjunction with the current exhibition RACE: Are We So Different?
To begin his discussion, Moore appealed to the audience to find common ground in order to productively discuss race, whether in the workplace or in our personal lives, while acknowledging that each of us had had different life experiences. Moore led us through an exercise to find that starting place as a group.
First, he asked everyone in the audience to recall the preamble of the United States Constitution which begins with “We the People.” Keeping that in mind, he then asked the group what some common symbols are that represent America. The American flag, the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Bell were all called out.
Once everyone could picture the freedom associated with those images, Moore asked us to consider how far the United States had come in terms of equality for all. He reminded us that the social class, race, and gender of the authors of the Constitution was upper class, white, and male. Then, he asked everyone to assume that in 1787, after the Constitution was ratified, our country was at 0% for racial equality. “What would the percentage be in 2008?” Moore asked the crowd.
With our perceived number in mind, Moore instructed us to share it with those seated near us. My group, consisting of both African-Americans and White Americans closely mirrored the demographics of the entire audience.
The answers I heard were also as varied as the audience members. The African-American woman seated behind me said 50%, while the African-American women sitting in front of me both settled on 10%, and several White Americans, both men and women were in agreement at 65%.
When asked himself , Eddie Moore, Jr. paused and reflected before responding. As an African-American man, who grew up in the urban south and who later completed his schooling, including graduate work in a small Midwestern town, he thought that, on a good day, he gave the country as high as 3.9% on the progress of racial equality.
How do your life experiences shape the way you perceive racial equality in the United States? What about equality based upon other differences?