Mindset and Social Injustice

black white matters protester with BLM banner

Mindset and Social Injustice

Reading time: about 3 minutes.

Usually in this blog, I write about mindset from a business perspective. Events around the world since the killing of George Floyd have shone a light on the need for our societies to respond to injustice. In that frame, I’d like to dedicate this blog to exploring why injustice is hard to break, and why at this cross-roads in humanity, the extent to which we’re willing to flex our mindset will determine how much change we achieve.

All Lives Matter – A Mindset Reflection

Black Lives Matter is a mindset challenge for some. And that challenge is best summed up in the refrain all lives matter. Because what that refrain is doing is intentionally ignoring a system designed to disadvantage a group of people.

Racial injustice results from a mindset that began during colonialism. It’s a mindset that characterized indigenous people and people of color all across the world as less than, and white people as more than. To do so made it easier to carry out the atrocities of colonialism. Atrocities that became enshrined in modern western institutions in the form of Jim Crow laws, racial covenants, stop and frisk, and the murder of people of color at the hands of the police the world over.

So of course all lives matter. But to acknowledge black lives matter is to acknowledge that black lives, and the lives of all people of color, have mattered less for too long.

That acknowledgement is only possible with a shift in thinking.

The Worldview Block

That shift in thinking isn’t an easy one to make.

When a group of people are marginalized, using that group’s failure to prosper under those disadvantages as evidence of their inferiority is a comforting argument. All it takes is a willingness to put on blinders.

Those blinders are our worldview. If you’re white, it may be a worldview that doesn’t experience racism so can’t believe it exists. If you’re in law enforcement it may be a worldview that sees people of color as shifty, up to no good, or more likely to resist. As a result you may treat minorities differently when you interact with them.

The thing about our worldview is we rarely look to contradict it. Most people believe their worldview isn’t a view of the world, it’s the only view of the world. And that certainty in the rightness of our worldview is what makes overcoming a mindset difficult.

If someone challenges our worldview it provokes anger—both overtly or passively. The latter is why we might respond to black lives matter with all lives matter. The 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma massacre offers an example of overt anger. There, when whites saw African Americans prospering on “Black Wall Street”, all it took was a minor event to justify a killing spree that left three hundred dead, over eight hundred injured, and the complete destruction of the affluent black neighborhood of Greenwood.

Some people respond to cognitive incongruence by wiping out the challenge to their worldview.

Cherished Ideas

If addressing injustice is what we want, examining our own mindset is a good place to start. If we want to create a just society, it’s important we understand that our attempts to do that will be hampered by how we think.

At Innate Leaders we encounter a lot of cherished ideas—ways of thinking and doing things that people return to time and again. People don’t hold cherished ideas because they’re the best ways of doing things, they hold them because the idea is all they know. A cherished idea doesn’t challenge a worldview, it reinforces it.

In business we know we’re holding a cherished idea when we’re unable to see another way of doing something. If someone tells us our process could be improved, let’s say, holding a cherished idea about it means listing out all the reasons the process is perfect as it is. Perhaps fuelled by that certainty, our cherished idea makes us unwilling to listen to how the process can be changed. If our cherished idea hasn’t yet been implemented, we’ll bring it up every chance we get, convinced that when people see the wisdom of our idea they’ll adopt it.

It’ll come as no surprise that we hold cherished ideas about our societies too.

If we’re the majority in society those cherished ideas are harder to see because they’re supported by the wider society. Dr. Robin DiAngelo, in her book White Fragility, exposes just some of the cherished ideas white people may hold on race: things like nice people can’t be racist; if I can’t see it (or don’t experience it), it can’t be legitimate. These days a cherished idea we might add to the list is, the police are here to protect me.

Creating a Just Society

If we want solutions to social and racial injustice, it begins with humility that our way of seeing the world isn’t an accurate reflection of the world, but a product of our social and racial background.

It begins when we see our cherished ideas for what they are. It takes shape when we become willing to challenge those cherished ideas. And it turns into meaningful change when we look beyond our worldview to see solutions that aren’t comfortable.

One of the six attributes is enterprise thinking. In business I define it as a mindset which sees our individual fortunes as tied to the success of the business. We help ourselves when we do what’s best for our business.

In our everyday lives we work in the interests of whatever we believe the enterprise to be. Our families are an obvious example, with each of us working to benefit our whole family. Even if that means personal sacrifice.

I wonder what might happen if we expanded our enterprise thinking? What might happen if we saw humanity as the enterprise and worked in the best interests of us all?

We’d do so because we’d come to see that society defines itself by how it treats all its citizens, not by how it treats its most privileged. We’d take that step because we’d recognize that all humanity is diminished when we fail to see that black lives matter.


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What to dive deeper?

Check out The Six Attributes of a Leadership Mindset by Joe Britto

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