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Language Is the Gateway to the Gemba of the Mind

There is no reason for anyone to guess what another person might be thinking. People tell you exactly what they think each time they speak.

It's likely you've heard someone say, “I don’t see color.” When I hear that phrase, I immediately think two things. First, that person must see color. Otherwise, why bring it up? The second is more subtle, but just as important. When said, I believe that phrase hints at a skin color that is inferior or less than. Is that considered racist thinking? In my humble opinion, it is indeed racist thinking.

Our culture is full of racist thinking that gets reinforced by the language we use. To the untrained ear, that language may not seem all that harmful or offensive. However, I want you to go on a journey with me. Be honest with yourself. What images pop into your mind when you read the following statements? · The restaurant is in an “urban” neighborhood. · There are a lot of "at risk," underprivileged students who attend that school. · That is a “high crime” area. · You are very articulate. · All lives matter. All these phrases illustrate and send signals which maintain the status-quo thinking of racism. They are often referred to as microaggressions, and they happen all the time. The question we should now ask ourselves is "What can we do about racist language and thinking?" Here are some practical steps you can take to combat racist language and thinking.

The first step is to make racism visible. You can do this by asking clarifying questions. For example, anytime I hear someone say, “I don’t see color,” I follow up with an honest question. I'll ask them "Did you notice that I'm Black?"

In the case of some of the other microaggressions, I've even asked questions to redirect their thinking. For example, I've asked "Who exactly lives in these “urban” neighborhoods?" Most well-meaning people self-correct their behavior when challenged with these clarifying questions. When using these tactics, you will not be able to reach everyone. Carefully choose your battles. Focus on the people who are open-minded. Find ways to have honest and adult conversations by encouraging them to reflect on the racist language they've been using. With awareness, their thinking may change.

I'd like to share a real-life experience to illustrate this point. I have a colleague named “Jim.” Through conversation, I discovered that “Jim” is a devout Christian. He grew up in the northern part of the United States as the son of a police officer.

“Jim” and I have worked for the same company for over 10 years and we often take business trips together. One of our past trips required us to drive a seven-hour journey across the state of Ohio. On this particular trip, “Jim” asked me what I thought about football players kneeling during the national anthem. Since this was during the time that Collin Kaepernick made headlines during his silent protest, I immediately knew what “Jim” was referencing.

I asked “Jim” if he knew exactly why Kaepernick took a knee at the start of NFL games. Unsurprisingly, “Jim” stated that Kaepernick's action was in protest of the military.

I quickly realized this was a perfect opportunity to have some quality dialogue with my respected colleague. I began our conversation with some qualifiers. First, I reminded “Jim” that I am a veteran. A veteran who returned to the Army to support my country and fellow service members during the Iraq War (Operation Desert Storm). I actually fought for Kaepernick's right to peacefully protest. I went on to inform “Jim” that Kaepernick would kneel to protest unwarranted police brutality against Black people. “Jim” asked if there was something less offensive NFL players could do instead of kneeling. I explain that Kaepernick's original form of protest was to sit during the anthem. However, he switched to kneeling, based on the advice of a retired Army Green Beret. Still, “Jim” didn't buy it.

While we didn't make much headway during that particular conversation, years later “Jim” approached me about another racial incident that made the national headlines. “Jim” wanted to discuss the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. I could tell he was horrified. My opening response to “Jim”: "If only we'd listened to Colin Kaepernick.". “Jim’s” eyes got wide and I saw the light bulb go off.

You see, seeds do not grow overnight. I encourage you to continue to have those difficult conversations. It is only through these type interactions that thinking does indeed change!


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Michael Crawford serves as the President of Business Operations with EnovaPremier. EnovaPremier is one of the largest tire and wheel assemblers in North America. Mr. Crawford’s experience in the automotive industry spans more than two decades. Some of the customer’s Mr. Crawford worked with are Toyota, General Motors, Ford, BMW, Hyundai, Navistar, and FCA. He held positions in logistics, quality, production, human resources, and

maintenance. Mr. Crawford built his reputation on succeeding in the most challenging assignments.

Mr. Crawford graduated from Franklin University with a degree in B.S. in Business Administration (Magna Cum Lada. He is a green belt in Six Sigma, a blue belt in Innovation Engineering, and completed the True Lean course at the University of Kentucky. Mr. Crawford is a TPS for Executives certified trainer. He is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated.

Mr. Crawford serves on the Board of Directors of the Blue Grass Manufacturing Association, where he is also held positions are Region 3 and Educational Committee Chair.

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