Domestic Terrorism. Racism on 100 million. Fancy phrases for hate like “white supremacy”. All of this has been swimming in my brain for months but this weekend it hit me hard when the “protest” in Charlottesville, VA turned deadly. I mean…I should be used to it — right? This is becoming my new normal. A black women constantly assaulted with microaggressions at work, covert and overt racism in business circles, and years and years of being an “only” as a non-profit executive. I’m exhausted and bruised everywhere and I haven’t touched 40 yet. Plain ole dog ass tired. OKAY!?!
How do you get used to the pain? The hate? The bubbling brook below the surface of disdain for who I am…what I represent? What about the comments in presentations and meetings about how articulate I am? Or the surprise that I am both funny AND wickedly sharp. The heisman hands I get when folks try to tell me they have black friends, they don’t see color, or that I am judged on my own merit so it’s not “them I’m just being sensitive. How….Lawd HOW as a professional am I supposed to BREATHE at work when I feel like anyone of my co-workers at any time could be marching in a “protest” that fights for eradication of my very existence and come back to work on Monday to do my performance review?
It is scary as hell and yet…for many many of my contemporaries and maybe even for you…it is reality.
When I was a kid and I got a scrape my mom would put some ointment on it and tell me that the ointment (and time) would heal my wound. And she was always right. But what do I do now as an adult and a professional at work? What if the ointment doesn’t heal the wound?
I have lots of opinions on what you should do but I can’t tell you what to do. My friend and ally Chris Conroy, CEO of Conroy Talent & Associates, wrote an amazing piece on what you can do now that we are back at work this week and beyond. You can read about it here. Because if we are honest, this horrific twilight zone we are in is not anywhere near over.
A couple of things Chris said in his article really resonated with me because this is not a “problem we leave at home”. It follows us into our organizations, teams, senior management meetings, promotion conversations…all of it. It’s also not a problem I – as a woman of color – can solve by myself. Warren G said “REGULATORS MOUNT UP”. So it’s going to take some serious allyship to face this head on.
I’ve got three things you can do right now:
- Give your time, talent, and your treasure. Make a donation to an organization or two or three or all of them — whose mission is explicitly anti-racist. There are a lot of organizations and their approaches are all different. find one that you identify with and support their work. Click here to get started. Make this a habit and not just a one time thing where you toss the coin in the well and make a wish. Actually, put your hard earned time on the table (the currency you can’t get back) and volunteer. Do the WORK. It’s hard. It’s scary. But lemmetellyousumthin’….it’s the life I live every day; except mine is TURNT UP (as the young people say) so I need you to be there with me.
- Bring the conversation at home to work. I used to work at an organization and there was a crazy amount of killings of unarmed black men and women and CHILDREN at the hands of police in one year. And I would go to work the next day and it was as if nothing had happened. Silence. Team members couldn’t (or wouldn’t) look me in the eye and I felt angry and alone and craaaaaazy. I could barely function and it would be business as usual at work. STOP IT. Look around at your co-workers. Who is drowning in a sea of hurt, fear, anger, helplessness, and exhaustion? Have the conversation. Ask how I am feeling. I might say something that is unexpected but be fortified in knowing that at the end of the day I will appreciate that you stopped to ask and listen to what I said in response.
- Put the broom away and get out the hammer instead. What do you mean, Kishshana? I mean that there are so many organizations and companies that talk about diversity. But it’s talk. It’s not enough to invite me to the table to eat. What I need are a fork and knife AND food. I need to participate in the whole meal. I don’t want scraps. And this doesn’t just mean asking me to sit on a diversity task force (although important) or be the voice for all people of color (because I am not). It also means giving me the meaty stretch projects as well as the benefit of the doubt so that I can grow as a professional and as your colleague. It’s recognizing that having a few people of color in the initial pool of applicants in a new job search but not hiring anyone “because you couldn’t find good people” doesn’t mean you get an E for effort. And it means continually looking at practices and policies that marginalize me and my experience at work and changing that mess.
This is just a start. I can write a whole post just about each point separately. But we must have the conversation and then COMMIT to action. Regular ‘ole ointment won’t heal this wound. It’s going to take a special type of salve. And it starts with the balm of courage.
p.s. how are you feeling now that you are back to work and what can we do to elevate the conversation?