I am no stranger to a good debate. In fact, I quite enjoy a healthy conversation comprised of fact, experience and well-placed opinion every once and again. The operative word here is healthy and by healthy I mean all parties in the debate are allowed their perspective and are illustrating a unique perspective rooted in actual facts.
I have often heard from colleagues, friends, and family that having conversations about inequality and racism are difficult. They have said it is an argument you can’t win and so they just don’t touch for any reason. Conversely, I have taken a different stance. I have an extremely difficult time seeing society run amuck with incorrect narratives about groups of people. I have an even harder time seeing how injustice doesn’t just stop at narratives and propaganda but extend to gross violations of civil liberties.
I have been increasingly outspoken about how we are all participating in this matrix of social constructs that oppress and label groups of people so we can perpetuate the lie that one group is more superior to another. After countless conversations, some solicited and many more not, I have come to a few conclusions about why it isn’t necessarily a good use of my time to engage in racial conversations.
Here are my conclusions:
- Most people have made up their mind about the history of events that led us here and why racism and inequality remain pervasive. In making up their minds, they have actively absolved themselves of any wrongdoing while making the assertion that every man has free will to overcome these significant obstacles that they intentionally created to have an enduring and lasting impact on the socioeconomic status of specific groups.
- I’m a black woman which makes almost anything I say dangerous and aggressive. If I sat around spewing fake news all day that would be simple, people would simply say my ignorance is just another example of why black people have found it difficult to reach the upper echelons of society. That I pride myself on being well-versed in the issues, history, complete with reasonable explanations for the usual rebuttals makes me a threat.
- Being a credible activist for what is right and just is exhausting. I’m not nearly close to fighting the good fight in the way that civil rights leaders did in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, yet there is a soul-deep lethargy that sets in when I find myself having to explain basic tenets of human decency, empathy, and fairness to people who see themselves as reasonably intelligent avatars.
I can’t help someone see beyond my color and the threat of my presence if they have decided that black means bad and white means right. It’s not always in my best interest to dialogue even superficially if you can’t separate fact from lies you have been indoctrinated with to preserve your social status. I am not your Racism 101 professor that you get to tap into because I appear to be tempered in my approach to the subjects at hand. I’m likely consumed by fire on the inside every time a white person finds my perspective unfortunate which is really code for I really wanted to like you Janine, but your desire to be forthright makes me uncomfortable.
As I mentioned in the last #BlackBlogsMatter post, my north star is peace. Don’t be shocked if my chatter sometimes goes quiet. I am tired for myself and for my ancestors. I have tried my best with some of you. Preserving me and addressing what I can fix among my own is starting to look like the best thing I can do for us all. Sometimes the loudest thing you can say is to say nothing at all.
As I continue on my journey of life, I find the one thing I consistently seek is peace. I enjoy peace in my relationships, peace of mind, peace in matters of the heart, and just general equilibrium as much as possible with most things in my life. Please do not discount the effort it takes for me to create my little oasis of life. I do so amidst a country in civil and moral upheaval. I keep the faith alongside increasing numbers of reports where white people are beating up, shooting at or intimidating women, elders, men, and children who are otherwise seen as colored, unwelcome, and useless portals of life they have to live among.
I have never been one to argue with someone who doesn’t like me. If you don’t care for how I present or who I am, I see this as a matter of personal choice. I have absolutely no reason or right to convince you to feel otherwise. That I operate from a place of allowing others the latitude to exercise their free-will as it pertains to my existence brings up a conflict of interest for me regarding my work and interest in all things diversity, inclusion, and equity. How have I become a part of the D, I, & E movement which stands in stark opposition to allowing people to act as they choose?
Let’s examine. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity say I, as a woman of color, should be accepted as a whole person regardless of my physical and unalienable attributes. It tells white people that I should be included in everything from employment to society equally when they can manage it. It also says that when white people think it is reasonable, they should do their “best” to see that I am treated equitably by ensuring I receive not only what I earn, but what would be offered to anyone similarly-situated. Even if I could convince white people that I am worthy of such treatment I have to also prove that I positively impact their bottom-line. If my presence and contribution don’t make dollars and cents this whole diversity and inclusion thing is nothing more than charity and we all know you’d much rather make a charitable donation than contribute to real and sustainable change.
Can we be honest with one another? The issues as it pertains to people of color and white people aren’t human issues, they are hate issues. It was fear and hate that had white people enslave, kill, torture countless groups of humans throughout our history and it is still fear and hate that causes them to want to thwart even our best efforts to elevate ourselves now. It sounds nice to say we are better together and that the problems we have would be better solved diplomatically in unison. The reality is separatism is what many white people want. They want access to us, our ideas, our culture, and labor, but it ends there. Sadly, I think it is people of color who are pining for white people to love and include us, not the other way around. From a conditioning standpoint, it is hard to break free from a group of people who pride themselves on the fact that they somehow liberated the heathens of us from the animus of the wild and primitive living to the so-called free, societally-acceptable, unequal, and semi-liberated lifestyles so many of us cling to today. We people of color need to get right about why we so love the very same people who wouldn’t think twice to kill us in cold blood or to harm us. It’s kind of masochistic this relationship we have with one another.
Honestly, I could take some time away from having to fit my aesthetic into an overall narrative that was never meant to include me. I would be immensely happy to live among my own in peace never having to explain to another white person why they are racist or how they can stop their own lab-made disease. Nothing would make me happier to live among my own, thriving with lucrative businesses, education for our children that was designed for them to succeed rather than to fail, and a return to our spirituality that is rooted in existential truths rather than man-made rules created to scare and control people. We could celebrate each other and create an agenda for our people to thrive. Future generations would have a blueprint for success. Our skin color would be praised and looked upon in the streets with love and adoration instead of contempt or met with questions masked as insults.
I can think of no better existence than to live among my own in peace if it means I never have to explain why my existence matters to another white person for as long as I live. White people are humans. They bleed, defecate, pee, die, and dare I say sin like anyone else. I will take being separate from them happily if it means we as black people and other people of color never degrade ourselves again by proving our worthiness or take instruction on how to be a human from a group of imperfect mortals.
Let’s separate for peace sake. You go your way and we will go ours. I’d rather you live freely as you wish than to convince you of the universal truth that all humans are one and better together. You can hire whomever you want. You would never have to worry about our social welfare or us infringing on your ability to amass all the riches. Separate works for us, just know we get to take all the inventions, art, music, medical advances, entertainment, agriculture, and more we have contributed willingly throughout the ages. This is a fair dissolution of toxicity don’t you think? Our ancestors deserve to see us bring another Black Wall Street to fruition. Truthfully, it’s not you, it’s us. We’re just kind of tired being in this toxic relationship with you. Our issues are beyond therapy and reconciliation, it might just be best; for peace sake.
Let’s start by defining what a “coon” is. A “coon” is a black person who values what white people think of them more than they care to honor their culture and the suffrage of the racial group they identify with. A “coon” seeks to be accepted and praised by white people while seemingly enjoying any and all humiliation, marginalization, bias, prejudice or mistreatment expressed towards them by white people.
“Coons” are the bud of innumerable jokes within the black community and at the same time equally loathed by others in the community. For the purpose of providing an example, Omarosa Manigault is widely known as a “coon”. She is a black woman who despite what everyone else sees as an ego-maniacal racist in our current president (who I will not name) decided to join his cabinet as Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison for the White House. To some, it just looks like she had a previous relationship with 45 and as a result of their friendship – she took a job she was offered. Sounds simple? Except, there is a little more to it if we dig deeper. I cannot say with any certainty what her specific motivations were for taking a job with the devil himself.
However, if I am to use the data that I have available, I will wager that she took the position to further her waning notoriety and influence. The fact that she did that knowing many of the disgusting views her former boss held is why she gets labeled a “coon”. Like a good “coon” she also thought as many of them do – that it would be different for her because she has presented herself as a supportive, non-threatening black woman. She was willing to sacrifice her own self-worth and maybe even some of her natural self-serving ways of being to be associated with a white supremacist. This is seen as self-hatred in the black community and while it has often been reduced to the derogatory nomenclature of “coon” this is the existential problem we are dealing with as it pertains to individuals who follow this pedigree.
In communities of color, individuals are never standing for themselves alone. As a person of color, you represent yourself and your community. It is a heavy burden to bear, but still, it is a fact-of-life we all assume and understand from an early age. There is a myriad of reasons why black people become “coons” a few examples are:
1) You grew up around white people your entire life and were taught that they are vehicles to progress your social status making your mere association with them a positive catalyst for your existence.
2) You grew up being taught “white is right” and that black people are in a constant state of striving towards learning and knowing more, but never achieve mastery when juxtaposed against white people.
3) You were taught that “white people” are trustworthy over people of color in every situation and always have your best interest at heart. Note: This is synonymous with the messaging and positioning of slavery times that Massa was beating you for your own good in an effort to refine your heathen and innate ways.
4) They secretly or unknowingly hate everything about being black or (more generally a person of color) because their conditioning tells them that everything from their religion to cultural norms lies well outside of what white people think is normal, so they choose to manufacture a representative of themselves that they think is more socially-appealing.
Being deemed a “coon” is the extreme of self-hatred black people harbor towards themselves stemming back to slavery times. However, I would wager that all of us whether we are deemed a “coon” or not sacrifice a little of our existence every day in ways that make us cry ourselves to sleep or pray for a “better” way of living. My entire career has included opportunities, trade-offs, and circumstances in which I had to assess whether being loyal to my culture and people was more important than a paycheck. Personally, I have always chosen the people over the perceived losses I may incur. I’m not ignorant to the fear that is attached to walking that road of choosing values, ethics, and community over livelihood and prestige.
Sometimes you have to bite your tongue and get to a certain place before you can exude the bravery. It takes a lot more self-exploration and integrity to honor yourself above self-serving activities that serve to forward a white agenda shrouded as an opportunity for progression for your career, life etc. Trust me, I get it.
Thankfully, I have the courage and license to confidently decline opportunities especially when they are in gross misalignment with who I am and what I stand for. That means if you ask me to take lesser roles on a project or in curating an event where white people who are less qualified than me have the spotlight, the answer will be “no”. If I have to sign-on to do any work that will adversely impact my community in any way, the answer is: “no”. Unfortunately, money and influence are everything to some so much so that they have absolutely nothing without it. That is an existential crisis of epic proportions. Money and influence are great, but at what cost? In Omarosa’s case, she thought she was making a power move and ending up coming up short in the end. How you start is how you end.
When we talk about diversity, inclusion, and equity in the HR world, do not stop short of understanding whether your policies, rules, and culture create cultural pitfalls designed to make people of various marginalized groups choose “white” over choosing themselves. It is a dangerous pitfall and one that breeds resentment. There aren’t enough town halls, focus groups, culture days or employment branding to save your retention efforts if you continue to make people of color choose your agendas over what is important to them. A word of caution.
It must be a hell of a feeling when your skin, ideas, and presence become a golden ticket of Willy Wonka proportions in life. It must be nice to not only create the rules, systems, and standards but to actually be “the standard”. It is utterly astonishing when you can be given the space and grace to be both tone-deaf, ignorant, a disaster, and human all while stumbling towards what seems to most of your counterparts as you “trying to be a better person”. The memo I missed in all of the years I have spent explaining everything from my disposition to why I was worthy of equal treatment is the people; white people in specific did not care. We don’t even penetrate their aura even slightly.
We (people of color) have spent every waking hour of our existence trying to be perfectly-packaged and poised for a people who don’t really care one way or another about us. Yes, there are a few who genuinely care, but at scale, most white people are happily trotting along in their very monochromatic world where they get to choose amnesia daily about the way they choose to participate and show up in the world. This is the same world and society where being a person of color is synonymous with responsibility, accountability and being of moral character 24/7/365 or at least that is the expectation. There was a time that I wished for a single day where I could have white powers, the kind that gave me the license to screw people over, engage boldly in a debate over the black experience and then play the victim when I realize I am in over my head, create laws and systems that enslaved (and currently enslave) people, the ability to appear smarter and more capable (even though on paper I wasn’t worth a damn) and still get ahead anyway, the audacity to tell people how to feel, speak, and present such that they would do anything from applying harmful chemicals to their hair to make it more presentable to suffocating entire cultures of people so their language reverberated in just the right frequency that could only please my senses. I realized after evaluating these “white powers” that there was absolutely no honor in that life, so black power it was for me and it has served me quite well.
I stopped caring what white people thought the day I realized it would serve me better to preserve myself and my community. Why bother teaching or preaching to someone who has a “but” for every story you have about being disenfranchised or oppressed? Why should I bother giving space and grace to someone who would prefer to play the victim every time I challenge their thinking or perspective? What is the point of debating someone who is not only ignorant of my experiences but isn’t humble enough to simply listen and if applicable offer a genuine apology?
Newsflash: White people are not better or greater than anyone else walking this earth. Judging by the past year and a half there are white people along with people of color that will vehemently agree with that assertion. That said, it turns out black people and people of color, in general, are great, strong, resilient, valuable, capable, smarter, and so much more. This is a shift of consciousness, not a perspective meant for you to cry oppression and whine as if someone stole your IRA money. From the boardroom to online, I have experienced white people puffing their chest out to correct me when I was actually right all to make sure I know my place. I have had white people make lame excuses for their bigotry while simultaneously likening me to a bully for merely stating the truth and holding their asses to the fire they lit. How sway!
In business and HR, we speak a lot about ROI, what exactly is my return on investment when I am encountered with unabashed ignorance and bigotry and the expectation in return is that I overextend myself to help shift the other person’s opinion?
As I know it from my background in Psychology, shifts in behaviors and beliefs happen as a result of these examples:
- People shift behavior when they are ready for a change
- Real shifts in behavior and thinking are intrinsic jobs. Extrinsic elements may be catalysts to people shifting, but ultimately the act of shifting is within the individual
- If extrinsic variables are minimal in impact, then it must be true that we are only ever able to change ourselves and never another person.
- It helps to understand that any person who only thinks of themselves and only believes their own perspectives are valid is still and will always be diagnosable as a “narcissist” among other things
Number #3 is what got me thinking. The only thing that I can change is me. If I focus inward and on my family, my people and stop worrying about white people at all maybe then things could change. Just maybe we have given this group of people too much credit for being the smartest, the best, the most ethical, moral, purest evidence of humanity. Isn’t it possible that white people as the shining example of everything we know is a farce or at a minimum a half-truth? Perhaps, there are different perspectives yet to be examined that aren’t grounded in any human developing debilitating and generational hate of themselves, spelling their names a certain way, losing their language, culture, identity, voice to please another human. Just maybe, it is plausible that we were all duped (white people included), into thinking that white people know what’s best in every situation. Maybe they don’t and maybe there is a better way yet to be discovered and tried.
By 2050, the world population is purported to be heavily focused in Asia and Africa. In other words, a quarter of the world’s population will be African. Times up! No one cares if you don’t think we speak the King’s English (especially when you play yourself speaking our slang in our presence). Language is changing every day and has always been a product of the times. No one cares if you don’t like the kinks in our hair, we like it and thank God we are finally wearing them proudly. We don’t care anymore if you don’t invest in us, we will invest in ourselves (just see what Richelieu Dennis did in buying Essence Magazine back). We already know you aren’t mourning the loss of our babies and men and only march when it suits you – we know our lives matter and continue to march and protect ourselves. A peer of mine in the online HR sphere is quoted as saying “For the first time in the history of the United States it’s not very comfortable to be a white dude…I’m seen as a really great replacement of Trump to pounce on”.
To that I say, talk to us in about 300 years after you process what it has meant to endure enslavement, systemic oppression, and racism, censoring, stealing of ideas, livelihoods, being robbed of your essence and life for no other reason than being a living, breathing thing of this planet and without barely a collective of humans with whom to share our woes authentically. Lucky for you no white man or woman will have to live that plight (unless of course aliens of the Independence Day variety finds your way equally disturbing and come for you). You know why you will never meet that very deserving era of reckoning? It is because with all of the hate that has been shown to us through the generations and even currently we always find a little more compassion, a little more empathy within ourselves to extend an olive branch of kindness or at a minimum a very tired ear to listen to you excruciatingly talk about how hard it is to face your privilege. Did I mention we are a compassionate people? It is worth repeating. Breathe in what you see as so-called white oppression and sit with it as we have our own. I trust you will find the answers you need and deserve whether you like them or not. Until then we will be living our best lives in color- happily and free as we were meant to be.
Today not only marks the first day of February, but it also marks my first official day back on the blog. It is also the beginning of Black History Month and the revered Black Blogs Matter Challenge. Today’s theme is Black Blogs Still Matter.
Black blogs still matter quite simply because our silence as black people can no longer stand. By now, many of us have built our respective brands and rapport in various lanes. Even with the prestige, accolades, and recognition that comes with blogging for some time, there remains ignorance of epic proportions. Plainly, there are still people who like what we write about, will greet you with a smile at an event, but still lack the ability to hold space for you to be authentically, culturally and aesthetically who you are as a human and in word. How disheartening it is to realize that your ancestors were silenced or shunned for speaking their truths and here we stand in 2018 where not much has changed? The key difference is we will no longer be silenced, we don’t care what it costs us and we will be heard.
In the last year, I have learned it is more important than ever to speak up about matters that affect the black community and the society-at-large. I cannot afford the silence any longer. I cannot afford the silence any longer not because it is costing me money; on the contrary, it is still costing me, my soul. I don’t want to work with your brand if you want to censor me. There are plenty of bloggers happy to scoop up every dollar and coin of yours so long as they can say they worked with Brand “X”. I don’t want you as a client if you hold bigoted views, there is a special kind of consultant or small business out there to serve not only your business but satisfy your insatiable craving for racist banter. I am not interested in being your friend, colleague or online buddy if I’m only palatable when I meet your white standards or threshold for political correctness. I don’t want to attend your swanky event if you haven’t awakened to the fact that your speaker rosters and blogger teams need to be diverse. Inclusion at such events needs to look like I don’t sit through your dinners or group outings feeling like a foreigner in my own body. You may find my position unfair, but it is unfair to be held to standards that others never have to consider reaching. Yet, I smile, do the work and blaze ahead accepting those circumstances in which I am subjected to less than equitable conditions.
Almost 7 years into blogging, the beauty is I have no cares of who I please. I have learned if I please myself first I will attract the right people, opportunities, and clients. I would be remiss if I didn’t say, this mantra is already in play as many of you have written to me over the years expressing how thankful you were for my candor on difficult subjects. Thank you for holding space for me.
It was never the intention of this blog to “go lightly”. Whenever I tackle a topic it is with precision and the truth. I expect callousness from celebrities, politicians, and others who permeate the upper echelons of society. What I hadn’t expected to see was the lack of empathy, privilege, blatant disrespect that I have witnessed within our own HR community. Nonetheless, it is when you see what is wrong in the world that you have choices to make.
1) Accept that this is what it is and what is going to be and remain silent.
2) You can see it all as an opportunity to share a different perspective.
I have chosen the latter. If you learn from me during the next 15 weeks, I have done your job for you. If I have shared my truth unabashedly in the next 15 weeks, I have freed myself and empowered others like me to do the same. This is not Racism 101 or Diversity and Inclusion 19 at some university or Continuing Ed. Black blogs still matter. My voice still matters and it for that reason alone that I will continue to do the work and share what is true. I hope you will hang in there with me.