“We all have some degree of racism inside us – no matter what color we are. We are not talking about burning crosses and white sheets. We are talking about something that is not overt, it is subtle. We do not want to check the box. It will be painful… uncomfortable… but we must have honest conversations.
“A black friend shared that one of his former white colleagues reached out to him to see if he was OK in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing by a white police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25. I told him that was a great start, but the real question is: Is she OK? Until she’s not OK, we will never be able to move forward as a nation. We (people of color) want to have honest conversations about racism and inequality and not be looked at sideways the next day. We do not want to be thought of as angry black men or angry black women.”
This is what I said to a multiracial group of work colleagues on a recent conference call as we discussed racism in society and the workplace. As I was speaking, it all became a blur and the words gushed out like a broken fire hydrant – drenching everyone in their wake. My equilibrium was off, and it felt as if my brain and voice were not in sync.
I immediately texted a colleague, also on the call, to ask if I sounded like a crazy person. “Never, you are highly respected & your opinions valued,” she wrote. As my eyes focused on those words, the muscles in my body released imaginary weights and my furrowed brow began to relax. I breathed a sigh of relief. Until….
Colleagues, both black and white, emailed and texted that my words affected them deeply. The one adjective they all used to describe my words was “raw.” The feedback that struck me the most was from a black woman who wrote, “Oh, you were raw, raw. I felt it in my soul. It was real. I appreciated the rawness.” She shared that she even imagined the changes in my face as I spoke.
Oh no, I thought. Will I be embarrassed, disappointed in myself? There was a tornado swirling inside my brain, and I had no cover in sight. More than a week later, I am still afraid to listen to the recording. I do not have the courage. If I confirm what they said is true, hear it for myself, I may crumble into a million pieces like the shattered glass that lies in the roadway long after the damaged cars are removed from a collision scene.
Never let them see you sweat. Always appear to be calm, collected and in control. That is the code I follow in my professional life. Oftentimes I am successful, others I am not. It is a life-long journey that never ends. More than a decade ago, a white boss, whom I respect and still keep in contact with, shared during my annual performance evaluation that my internal clients said I do a great job, but they feel like they do not know me.
Why do they care?
Is it not enough that I get the job done and execute well-written communications with minimal corporate jargon… articulate appropriately and align with corporate strategy… provide my best counsel, deliver solutions to problems and overcome challenges? I wondered.
The message I received in her office that day was loud and clear: My internal clients are not comfortable with me. They cannot “read” me.
As I now reflect on the feedback on that recent call, I wonder if the effects of a lifetime of seeing, hearing, touching and breathing racial injustice came to a climax in that one moment? Did I let work colleagues finally “know” me in a way that I have never shared with anyone who does not look like me?
Will I ever listen to the recording? I do not know. However, I do believe that when the men and women representing all shapes, stripes, colors and religions disconnected from that call, they now have an inkling of who I am.
Who Am I?
I am not any one thing. None of us are. People of color are not monolithic in their beliefs, actions, opinions, religion or politics, neither are whites. There are good and bad people across the spectrum. I am a 3-dimensional, human being who is a Christian; an educated and experienced professional who happens to be female and black.
I have more than a candy jar full of stories of how I have been affected by the sexism and racism commonplace in U.S. culture and the workplace, in particular. I am not whining. For centuries, we, as people of color, have been taught from an early age to brush it off and keep moving forward. Jay Z and President Barack Obama just made it famous.
I am a fighter who will never give up or succumb to the tentacles of racism and social injustice that wrap our collective legs and neck in an attempt to draw the life out of us, kill our spirit, bring us down and make us believe we are less because of the color of our skin.
Early in my career, a wise woman told me perception is reality. I am fully aware that there may be those who heard my words or read them in this piece who are of the opinion that I am just an overwrought black woman, who is ungrateful and should just “shut up and dribble” in my chosen field, which happens to be communications.
When sharing how emotionally “constipated” I feel in this moment, a friend reminded me that I am a communicator, and the best thing I can do is to write. And that is exactly what I am doing.