By Yaromir Steiner
“The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly. And the least that a person in the dominant caste can do is not make the pain any worse.”
― Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
In her book Caste, Isabel Wilkerson points to the entire U.S. social structure as an unrecognized caste system, in which it was necessary to give Blacks the lowest possible status to maintain a social order rooted in slavery. The recent strife among many in the Black community is only the latest reaction to a long history of prejudice perpetuated by governmental and societal authorities.
Under the present circumstances, as both a European immigrant and a business leader who employs minorities, I consider it a moral responsibility to educate myself on the long history of violence and injustice against minorities in America. Justice, fairness and inclusion are issues I care deeply about, and furthermore, feel I must take action on when it comes to how I run my business.
After some readings, including Wilkerson’s book, I realized that the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” that I came seeking in the United States, and that we all enjoy today, was based on many who had sacrificed their own “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”
The people who sacrificed were the Indigenous Americans that were exterminated or driven off their lands (the Shawnees in Ohio). They were also the African Americans imported as slaves to fuel the economic boom of the early years of our nation. We must remember that these coerced sacrifices, along with the mostly voluntary sacrifices of our military, are the foundation of our “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” today.
I believe the first step we need to take collectively is to understand and acknowledge the sacrifices imposed on Indigenous Americans and African Americans in order to build the United States.
We have a debt of gratitude to our soldiers that gave their lives for this nation, and we celebrate and remember them on Memorial Day. Showing the same respect and honoring the sacrifices of Indigenous Americans and African Americans should be just as important.
At Steiner + Associates, we have only just begun to create actionable change toward a more educated, understanding and supportive work culture. To start, the company has made Juneteenth and American Indigenous Day paid holidays. We’ve started a library filled with books for employees to educate themselves on the topics of racism and racial inequality. At our properties, we continue to make it a priority to represent minorities in the communities we serve through commissioned murals, sculptures and other forms of art.
While change is long overdue, action must be taken by every American to question the society they live in and learn its history—to say and do nothing only exacerbates the issues.
Steiner + Associates stands against racism, hatred and injustice. We decry a society built on structural racism and white supremacy. More can, will, and must be done as we think about ways to be a force of change in our communities. We are only just getting started.