The Foreign Service Journal, November 2020

24 NOVEMBER 2020 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Speaking Out is the Journal ’s opinion forum, a place for lively discussion of issues affecting the U.S. Foreign Service and American diplomacy. The views expressed are those of the author; their publication here does not imply endorse- ment by the American Foreign Service Association. Responses are welcome; send them to such revolutionary ideals and values and an inspiration to peoples from all around the world—not be able to reconcile with one of our earliest and foremost wrong- doings? When will we finally and wholly live up to our professed ideals? When will we reckon? I believe our time of reckoning is now, and always will be now. I hope we can all do the work that is needed to expand our individual worldviews, leverage and embrace the diversity around us, and be part of a community and organization that is truly committed to equal opportu- nity for all, not just in word but through equitable and anti-racist internal policies. Over to you, Tessa… Tessa Henry Tessa Henry, a Harvard alumna, is a man- agement officer, currently learning Spanish for her next assignment in Buenos Aires. “You are brave to wear your hair like that to work.” I looked up, and the woman was smiling at me. It wasn’t the first time I’d experienced unconscious bias regarding my natural curls. Still, I couldn’t help but pause. Why was my natural hair, in its natural state, “brave”? And, where do these associations for black hair come from? This incident is exemplary of the many racist and discriminatory incidents that happen in the United States every day. Unconscious biases based on social stereo- types about certain groups are formed by individuals outside their own awareness. To truly appreciate the implications of that woman’s comment, one has to deal with a broader problem in American culture: history, and our failure to under- stand it. As James Baldwin said: “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” Many Americans were shocked by the killing of George Floyd and police brutality. However, if you understand history, you would not be surprised. Dur- ing Reconstruction, the role of the police was to terrorize Black communities. The targeting of Black communities continued through the Jim Crow era. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and we see the serious implications this had for housing, educa- tional opportunities, the justice system and access to equal employment. Like skin color, black hair is often associated with negative connotations— “kinky” or “rebellious.” As I stared back at this woman, I realized she did not even understand the historical implications of her discriminatory remarks. Black hair is often the target in misconceptions of beauty in America. This was nothing new. The State Department took a step to address racism and discrimination in its workplace with the Foreign Service Institute course, “Mitigating Unconscious Bias.” Take it. However, I encourage my friends, colleagues and family members to go deeper. Explore the why. Why is police brutality ongoing? Why are micro- aggressions so common? Why are only four of the 189 U.S. ambassadors serving overseas Black? The effects of history and racism are still present today. We need to understand the why to fully address these challenges moving forward. HAIR (HERE) TO STAY. n