This past week I’ve felt angry, saddened, and frustrated. The recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, piss me off while at the same time make me deeply saddened for their families that are left behind. But the frustration I was feeling was with myself. How could I have sat here all these years watching racism happen before my very eyes and not have been part of the solution? Silence is not action! But I know dwelling on the past isn’t going to solve anything. I need to start with better educating myself on the injustice that exists in our society and look at what steps I can take to promote change. Change with intention.
The first step I’ve decided to take in this education process is understanding why I’m frustrated with myself and how I can move past it. My manager shared an interesting perspective on the card game that is life. Some of us were dealt cards in life filled with obstacles to overcome to attain success while others were lucky enough to drive down easy street. As unfair as it may be, that is the current state of America: if you are a straight, white male, the hurdles are almost non-existent in comparison to what people of color have faced for hundreds of years. I will not use the “P” word here in an effort to avoid defensiveness from anyone reading this post and instead hope to help others see the real problems that are out there so we know how we can make change happen. What if the future state of America became a place where leaders represented all of the populations in America, not only the folks who got lucky when they were dealt the cards of life?
In her work on “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, Peggy McIntosh clearly articulates one of the biggest problems: white men have tools and resources available that are not equitably available to others parts of our human population. This has created and perpetuated an uneven playing field that we call life. In my opinion, one of the most negative outcomes of this is people of color canNOT “ turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of [their] race widely represented.” There are not role models for Black Americans to look up to and know “I can be successful too” or “There are opportunities for me just like my fellow white colleagues”. This is messed up. It continues to keep people of color down as if they are second class citizens. This needs to change. NOW.
What can we do?
For one thing, we need to start and continue talking about racism. We must acknowledge the problems of social injustice that exist in our country and listen to the people who have been suffering so we can learn how to support them. I saw this video of a black flight attendant and her reaction to finally getting support from a white, male who happened to be the CEO of American Airlines. It’s critical everyone starts listening, especially those leaders in places of power who can accelerate change across the globe. My company’s Executive Leadership team, as well as my team’s, have opened their virtual doors and are talking about racism. They’re bringing in experts to educate us on how to talk about the problems and enable change.
That being said, it’s been hard for me. Talking about our racist culture has been taboo my entire life so now that these doors have been opened to discuss widely, I’m at a loss for words. What if I say something that makes things worse? What if I don’t say the right thing? But you know what I realized after chatting with a fellow member of our leadership team? This isn’t about me. It’s about the people who have not had a fair and equitable shot at life. I need to reach out and listen (thank you Brian if you’re reading this).
Taking the first step
Although nervous, I reached out to my friends of color. I extended my virtual hand of support and let them know where I was in the learning process. I let them know I’m there for them and if I see anyone being mistreated going forward, I would not tolerate it. My friends thanked me and my one good friend Kate began to share more of her stories about fighting racism. One of these stories included how she’s been called the N word and while it made me angry, it fueled me to not stand for this. Kate is an intelligent, strong, beautiful Black woman who has begun to help other black women. In a past blog post, I mentioned how important it is for women to lean on each other rather than fight their way to the top. Kate is an inspiring role model and I know she is starting to pave the way for other black women to reach success with fewer hurdles and become role models themselves. I hope that in the future, we see many more women of color like Kate showing Black young ladies they too can grow up to be powerful leaders and they’re not alone in this journey.
As much as I love to support other women, I also wanted to know how I could further support all people of color. I’ve been hearing for years about what it takes to be an ally but this is the first time I am making a conscious effort to use my voice. I may not be a CEO but I have the potential to influence our team, starting with how we hire. In particular, hiring more diverse team members to be cultural additions rather than fit and COVID-19 can actually be seen as a blessing in this regard. For example, the pandemic has shown the world that we can work remotely and in fact, do it really well. So let’s remove the barrier of work location, which often creates an obstacle for people of color to obtain career opportunities, and open up our roles to any location. This will enable us to build a better sourcing and hiring process that finds the best person for the role without discriminating against where someone lives.
In addition to improving our hiring practices, in my role I can also help better ensure everyone in our organization is starting to have these conversations about inequality and start seeing what role they can play in promoting positive change. But just as this is new to me, having these conversations is new to many. We need to equip managers with the resources about how and what they should be discussing with their teams so I began working with a coach that helps folks use their voice. I’ve been discussing with her about joining our team for a fireside chat and her first question to me was “What is your team’s intention?”. That is a very good question.
I cannot speak for my entire team but my intention is to have conversations about the racist things we’ve seen, the people we know who have been hurt by racist actions, and even moments of injustice that we may have been part of ourselves. If we cannot be honest, we cannot see the real problems. And if we cannot see the real problems, we will not be able to make changes that address said problems.
On that note, my intent and promise is to:
- Listen to anyone speaking about how they’ve been hurt and/or impacted by injustice. I’ve begun following Black activists on social media to look at where I can help promote positive change in my local community, such as signing the petition to defund the LAPD.
- Stand up and speak up for anyone being racially discriminated against. I’ve begun to keep my ears and eyes open for anyone who is not being treated fairly.
- Look at myself and see where I can make improvements in my own behaviors. I’ve started to look at how I can do this given my leadership role at work as well as what I can do on a more personal level.
- Never lose sight of injustice in America again. Even if the BLM protests end, my fight for equality will not.
- I have been ignorant but I will not sit here and dwell. It’s not about me. It’s about educating myself on the racism that exists in my country and how it’s hurt so many fellow Americans.
- I will no longer be part of the problem but rather look for ways to be part of how we can make change happen. It starts with listening and supporting each other, not fighting.
- Change is an ongoing process that requires intention. The first step is the hardest but if you have intention, you have a guide that can act as a compass to lead you to the next step.
I dedicate this post to Kate. I love you!