23 Apr “It is Exhausting Living and Being Black”
I just received an email from my friend with the subject line: “It is Exhausting Living and Being Black” in which he shared the following:
“Watching the news, I was tired of watching the trauma of the Derek Chauvin trial or seeing replays of the video of the former Minneapolis police officer killing George Floyd. Then, seeing Daunte Wright being shot by a Brooklyn Center, Minn., police officer after being pulled over because of an air freshener dangling from his rearview mirror, as his mother has said. Or because of expired tags, as the police said.
Whenever I would go out, my wife … would ask, where are you going? And I would say going for a walk. She would then say, be careful (and) my son, would then ask, where are you walking and do you want me to go with you? There is no one way to be Black in America, but there is one way we live while Black in America. No matter our gender, age, or socioeconomic status, we are viewed as threats, violent, and not trustworthy.
Well, I do a good job of hiding the stress of it all. But know this, I am exhausted. I feel like I am a five-year-old child. Every time I go out, I have to answer a series of questions and be reminded of how black men are being shot. I remember in 1999 when Amadou Diallo was killed by plainclothes New York City police officers in a hail of 41 bullets. They thought he had a gun. Instead, it was his wallet. I watched another incident on the news where a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in uniform pulled over by the police in Virginia, pepper-sprayed, thrown to the ground, and handcuffed.
Driving back (home, my wife) continues to remind me of the speed while driving until I just pulled over and asked her to drive. You have the feeling that people always look at you as suspicious because you are Black. Then, I noticed all the little indignities, such as shopping for our granddaughters where the store clerk would follow us, pretending to straighten the shelves, going out to dinner, and being seated with other blacks, of course. There are so many more I now ignore the indignities.
The one comfort I take in this harrowing time is that some people will write off what I listed above as petty or paranoid. All of us have seen the videos, heard the wails of distraught families and angry communities, and the pain is genuine. Back to work on Monday while constantly thinking about staying safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, mass shootings, racial and social injustices, the political polarization in the U.S., and being safe while living and being black.”
As a white man, I know that no matter how hard I might try, I cannot fully appreciate having to lead one’s life being justifiably paranoid about going out in public and praying that I and/or my family will come back alive. Learning that so many black people routinely experience these is absolutely horrifying, dehumanizing, and just plain disgraceful to me. The more I learn, the more ashamed I am about what our society not only tolerates but continues to perpetuate systemically.
I do believe that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. As I learn more, I’m not willing to sit back and wait for everyone else to take the initiative and to step up and finally do the right things for what I consider to be the right reasons. The real question is not if, but how can I help?
As I shared in the initial “A White Mans’s Journey to a Better Understanding” blog https://synergyorg.com/diversity-equity-inclusion/, my goal is to create a community of open-minded colleagues interested in both broadening our understanding and challenging our assumptions about the system and structures that have brought us to this moment in our country’s history.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve read several articles, taken and learned more about Harvard’s Implicit Association Test, talked with others, and watched many excellent programs, including Netflix’s Amend and Stacey A. Gordon’s LinkedIn training modules on Unconscious Bias (see link below).
What stands out to me as some of my primary takeaways is that if we don’t intentionally open our eyes, ears, and minds, we (and our organizations) will never benefit from whatever new and potentially different experiences are available. What I can share in addition to the new knowledge I’ve acquired are the proven approaches I’ve used to help me absorb and benefit from what others have to offer.
Rather than misrepresent me as a content expert on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, I am offering the following suggestions to help others “walk a mile in others’ shoes”. I am confident that most others who try on others’ shoes will find that they’re walking cautiously yet blindfolded in a minefield… never knowing what’s going to hit them next and from what direction!
Here are some of my suggestions to those who might be willing to take off their comfortable slippers and to try on others’ shoes.
- Set the stage for candid and productive conversations by asking others for permission to broach some issues to improve my understanding and to help me to deal better with these matters when I experience them.
- Ask them to share Specific Examples of their experiences.
- Stick to a “Diagnosis Before Treatment” approach. Don’t assume that I understand the deeper message and why that is so important. Ask follow-up questions, restate and paraphrase what they share, and ensure that I receive the deeper message as it is intended.
- Ask questions of others not to challenge their perspectives and/or to reinforce the correctness of my views, but to more fully appreciate their own experiences, shared stories, and why these are so important to them.
- Don’t be surprised when I get emotional responses to my questions. Rather, I should expect these! I need to be sensitive to the fact that these issues might hit others’ raw nerves, no matter how well-intentioned my questions may be.
- I must not assume that I fully understand others’ reactions to situations. After they have experienced a repeated series of events over time, they may have learned adaptive ways to handle their genuine reactions to these to minimize negative consequences to themselves (i.e. thinking through their initial responses to others’ comments three times before responding whereas I may not feel it necessary to deliberate as much before responding).
- One of my most important lessons learned is that what I don’t know can hurt me and others whom I care about. That is why learning more about our own Unconscious Biases is so important.
- Improving my level of Self-Awareness (through educational programs and objective measures) listed below can help me to better understand why I react to certain situations as I do.
- Our unconscious biases limit our ability to read situations accurately and often cause us to pay Selective Attention to critical details.
- Unfortunately, formal research studies have found that many people are willing to go along with terrible ideas to “get along” with others, not disrupt the status quo, and put themselves at risk.
- Abundant financial data exists that builds a strong business case for establishing more structured, objective, and standardized processes for recruiting, selecting, developing, and retaining employees.
I’d appreciate your sharing your questions and reactions to these. I’ll be pleased to address them in follow-up blogs. I’ll also share some more, evidence-based best practices as I progress along my journey. For now, I’d suggest that you click on the following link to enjoy Stacey A. Gordon’s LinkedIn training on Unconscious Bias https://www.linkedin.com/learning/unconscious-bias/welcome