The Professions: Complicity and Change

We, like you, are mourning the lives lost, and the lives unalterably changed, to COVID-19. We, like you, mourn, and are horrified and angered by, the death of George Floyd. We, like you, search for words just as we seek empathetic, thoughtful and effective leadership—without any diversion of partisanship.

FASPE alumni are exploring how to react effectively and powerfully to the past months—recognizing that the unifying tissue of COVID-19 and George Floyd (and the countless George Floyds before him) is an American original sin. Institutional and structural racism borne out of the fact of slavery and the reality of individualized racism. The result is a pandemic that for countless reasons disproportionately impacts people of color and a criminal justice system that produces repeated horrific acts of racially motivated injustice.

FASPE’s mission is to promote ethical leadership within the Professions and among Professionals—using a particular lens of history to learn by examining professionals who behaved badly.

FASPE, in its exploration of history, must also be vigilant in considering the role of the Professions in the design and implementation of racism in America. This is core to the FASPE approach of facing the present by studying the perpetrators of the past.

Shannon Prince, a 2016 FASPE Law Fellow who is now practicing law at a major international law firm implores:

“My own profession, law, created the legal fiction of whiteness to turn blacks into a subhuman economic resource and to convince poor European Americans not to identify or organize with the blacks who shared their class status but instead with privileged European Americans who shared their color. The society we have today and the crises we are witnessing have their provenance in this legal architecture.

“Professionals made the world we have today. And, when we entered the professions, we inherited our forebears’ sins.”

America’s professions embody all of the structures—law, medicine, commerce, religion,—that are racist in practice and, therefore, must be at the core of any solutions. And, to be clear, that racism is reflected as much by the visible acts of murder as by the less visible crimes of unequal access and discrimination caused by so-called blind profiling.

Over the next weeks and months, FASPE alumni will be working to identify and discuss areas of institutional racism within the structures of their Professions. This examination and recognition must be the starting point for an intentional discussion of redress through redesign.

Shannon continues with a commentary about recognition and redress:

“In America, society is not perceived to be unraveling just because a pandemic is even more devastating to non-white communities than white ones or a health crisis causes an economic crisis that unfurls along class lines or a white police officer kills a black man by kneeling on his neck—society is proceeding in the way it was deliberately designed to do. Instead, the perception is that society is unraveling when people try to make a country with injustice in its blueprint behave justly, whether through the abolitionist movement or the Civil Rights movement or present day activism.”

Under that definition, we must recognize that unraveling will be necessary. FASPE alumni will also be exploring over the next weeks and months how to think about, and how to implement, an effective redesign within the structures of the Professions.

The Professions must play a fundamental role in identifying the causes of the diseases and in seeking the vaccines that can heal America.

FASPE Fellows are continuing to explore the questions as they seek answers…We thank all of our supporters for making FASPE possible.

— David & Thorsten