The 15th Amendment in 1870. Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Voting Rights Act in 1965. President Barack Obama’s election in 2008.
In our nation’s slow and fitful progress in reckoning with the original sin of slavery, some years stand out as turning points. Could 2020 be a tipping point toward dismantling systemic racial injustice?
It must be. It is up to all of us—as individuals and as a profession—to do our part to make it so.
The fact that Mr. Floyd’s death occurred during a pandemic that is disproportionately killing African Americans only underscores the reality that American society is failing people of color—not sporadically, but systemically. Not incidentally, but existentially. Health, home, safety, education, economic opportunity, environmental quality—no aspect of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is free from inequality.
It is a failure that extends back 400 years and takes different forms in different eras. In a virtual town hall on June 3, President Obama emphasized that the injustices exposed in 2020 are the outcome of not just an immediate moment in time, but as the result of a long host of things—slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and institutional racism.” Noting that so many have been “awakened” to existing “structural problems,” Obama described this moment as “an opportunity to work together to tackle them and take them on and change America and make it live to its highest ideals.”
Our profession certainly has a role to play, and The American Institute of Architects is fully committed to action. AIA’s Board of Directors has made the decision to make addressing systemic racial injustice fundamental to the organization’s mission. Addressing systemic racial injustice and inequity will be an organization-wide focus in the same way leading the fight against climate change is a fundamental focus of the organization.
For instance, there is no question that housing policy is one of many factors impacting the epidemic of discriminatory policing and outright brutality that jeopardizes communities of color. Accordingly, AIA’s Board of Directors has committed to “address and work to correct the built world’s role in perpetuating systemic racial injustice” including “designing housing that marginalizes communities of color, helping to design communities that exclude people of color, and participating in municipal projects that destroyed or weaken thriving African American, Hispanic, and Native American communities.”
We’re also looking inward, actively working to create a more inclusive governance and leadership pipeline, as well as develop a more diverse slate of award recipients.
It all starts by listening. We know we don’t have all the answers. So we’re holding listening sessions with stakeholders, partner organizations, and affinity groups to find concrete ways to break down barriers and redouble efforts to ensure that the profession more closely reflects the diversity of society.
In his historic 1968 speech to AIA’s National Convention, National Urban League executive director Whitney M. Young Jr. challenged architects to “stand up and say something.”
Let’s make 2020 the pivotal year that we fully accept the challenge, not only to “stand up and say something” but to stand up and do something to help dismantle systemic racial injustice and inequity in AIA, in firm culture, and in communities in this country.