“I have been doing organizational diversity consulting for practically my entire professional life, and I was very much convinced that our racial divide would heal through organizations, because that is where we see diverse populations. But I don’t believe that is true anymore,” said Deborah Plummer, PhD, vice chancellor and chief diversity officer, University of Massachusetts Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care. “Until we change what we do outside of our 9-to-5, we won’t move the mountains of racism.”

Plummer – who spoke at the MGH Stand Against Racism event April 2 – discussed the importance of cross-racial friendships as a way to move toward a more equitable society and to improve race relations. It is not only the strides made by organizations to recruit a more diverse workforce, to promote more diverse candidates to leadership positions or educate employees, she said, it also is fostering deep cross-racial friendships – of which Americans have few – to provide insight into modern racism.

“We are all, to some extent, racial isolationists,” said Plummer. Some obstacles to cross-racial friendships may include demographic challenges, cultural encapsulation, a preference for those who look and think like us, parental influence, education and gender.

“Research shows that cross-racial friendship makes you happier,” said Plummer, “but it also makes you more aware of racial discrimination. But that in itself is not a bad thing.”

Some societal benefits of cross-racial friendships she shared include a reduction of prejudice and stereotyping, changes to cultural beliefs, and an expanded understanding of global citizenship. Plummer explained the competencies learned in cross-racial friendships can improve organizations through enhanced team performance and innovation.

“We all have a job to look at ourselves around racial identity and what that means in our lives,” she said. “We still have this dominance framework, but we have to change that dominance model to a more relational model. That is why cross-racial friendships are so important – we can move those mountains of racism one cross-racial friend at a time.”

The Stand Against Racism event is a nationwide YWCA movement that aims to bring people together and empower action toward eliminating racism. Another part of the series at the MGH, “Safely Comfortable: Let’s Share Stories about Race in our Lives,” will take place April 26 in the O’Keeffe Auditorium from 1-4 pm. 

Read more articles from the 04/19/19 Hotline issue.