Yesterday I was shaken when I heard the cries of a woman mourning. Eventually I realized that the wailing wasn’t coming from any woman…those uncontrollable, inconsolable tears were coming from ME. Broken. Devastated. Tired. Me.
I am sad for the obvious reasons. No one wants to watch men of color being killed at the hands of law enforcement. No one wants to watch police officers being gunned down while working to protect the communities they serve. But I am more sad because I can actually understand how we got here…
There is still a serious lack of awareness in this country about how steep the incline is for someone to “make it” based on where they started. I know. I was born into one of those families. Filled with love and friends from “all backgrounds.” It never would have dawned on me that people would consider it taboo to bring home a black or Hispanic boy as my elementary school “boyfriend.” And I did. Without judgement. Colorblind.
I am grateful for my parents and grandparents who were the progressives of their day. But, just like we wouldn’t be satisfied with technology, automobiles, or trends of three decades past, we CANNOT be satisfied with a thirty year old expectation of equality.
As the child of a middle class, white, “colorblind,” family, what I didn’t understand is that I was socialized with the minority of minorities who had already made the trek out of societal expectations and, in many ways, abandoned their cultural norms to “fit in” to middle class neighborhoods. In some cases, they changed the way they spoke, celebrated, and carried themselves in public to satisfy my white privilege. I never remember my classmates of color voicing an issue when all the Barbie dolls at the store were white. I can’t recall a complaint about the characters in the cartoons that didn’t look like them. And guess what? I didn’t even notice. My white privilege was not evil or intentional. My white privilege was oblivious.
As parents, we talk about wanting our children to do better than us. To date, this belief has been predominately associated with economic and academic achievement.
But as a parent of this generation, I am urging and asserting that we expand our desire for progression to include our understanding and expression of EQUALITY.
It is no longer enough to be an empathetic white woman, mourning silently for my neighbors while hiding inside the four walls of my safe and secure home.
It is no longer enough to be “nice” to everyone in the community and feel badly when terrible things happen around me.
And as believers in equality we cannot allow this to become a battle of sides. Every time another police shooting happens involving a man of color, social media is quick to find a narrative about a white kid being slain by police. These stories are sad, but they do not help. They push us further apart, and become a distraction from the situation at hand. Simply put, there are incidents and there are patterns. When the black community makes up less than thirteen percent of the total population of this country and, according to the Washington Post, are seven times more likely to be victims of police shootings, we have clearly established a very disturbing pattern.
We cannot ignore when social injustices exist. We have to stand with our communities. Even when it is uncomfortable. Even when it is inconvenient. Even when it is makes us unpopular.
So what does that look like? Get into the conversation.
There are so many ways to do this. Let’s start with just a few small things that can make a powerful difference.
- If You See Something, Say Something: And I am not just talking about overreach by law enforcement. There are other instances of racial and cultural injustices happening before our eyes – EVERYDAY. If you see someone being mistreated by a convenience store clerk or waiter at a restaurant, SPEAK UP. This is textbook school yard bullying playing out with much greater, and in some cases deadly, consequences for people of color. Bullies do not stop until their behavior is no longer acceptable by their peer group; until their behavior has consequences.
- Show Up: There are rallies and events happening in communities across the country. The more bodies that show up and demonstrate (peacefully), the more media attention, awareness, and ultimately, progress, we will make. And because this is an open dialogue about race, to my white friends: Your presence is noticed and powerful. Let’s use white privilege for some positive and literally stand with our neighbors and friends of color.
- Ask Questions: When I went through the Accomplishment Coaching, leadership and coaches training program, I met some of the most powerful, well educated, and articulate women I have ever known. Three of these women happened to be women of color. One day at lunch, I decided to break the rules I had learned as a child. I could feel my stomach turning, my palms sweating, my neck flushing, when I finally asked, “What is it like to be a black woman in this community? What is it like to be the mother of a black son? What is it like to be a well educated black woman in your community?” I could literally feel my grandmother and my mother’s shock and horror as the words were leaving my mouth. “MICAELA – don’t be RUDE!! How DARE you ask such inappropriate questions. (We are colorBLIND after all).” After I asked, I waited for harsh words and anger that NEVER came. Instead, what happened next shocked me. Not only were these women willing and eager to share, they were delighted and grateful that I asked. This is a small example of how a new community of deep and meaningful friendship was born.
To my friends of color, I have some requests for you, too!
- Please Invite Me: I want to be with you, but sometimes I’m scared, too. When I am unfamiliar with something, it sometimes shows up as fear. And when I am afraid, it sometimes wears the mask of anger. Please be patient with me while I am working through this, and I promise I will keep showing up until I am not scared anymore.
- Please Correct Me: I am so grateful to be part of this conversation, but please remember that I am learning a new set of rules, too. If I don’t pick up on a social queue, please don’t assume I am judging. If I say something inappropriate, please don’t assume I am being disrespectful. Instead, please correct me immediately and directly.
- Ask Me Questions, Too: I would be happy to share my experiences and give you a better idea of how I see the world. I would love to share my perspective on raising a family, being a female leader in the world of business, and how I see my role as a member of this community. If we understand each other, we can learn from each other. If we learn from each other, we create a community.
The civil rights movement is far from over. We are simply entering the next phase. Standing for #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean that I don’t think all lives matter, and I do openly support other minorities (women, Muslims, the LGBTQ community) that suffer injustices. Today I am simply standing in the recognition that where we are today is shaped by a long history, that has made significant progress, but still has a lot to overcome. No problem has EVER been solved by ignoring it’s existence. My request is that we cross this field together, using our minds and our hearts to illuminate issues peacefully. Until all Americans are equal from a legal, cultural, academic standpoint, and otherwise – the bear has been poked. But make no mistake. Regardless of the color of my skin, I am the bear, too.