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.
This week’s theme for #BlackBlogsMatter is “The Tao of Woke”. As a result, I decided to speak about the state of “wokeness” and what it should mean for you as we continue to navigate difficult themes around race relations and society.
The word: “Awake” is defined as: “to stop sleeping or wake from sleep”. “Woke” being a derivative of “awake” must then be related to that definition. You are not “woke” if you wear kente cloth and are vegan. You are not woke if you wear ankhs and have changed your name back to something more tied to African culture. You are not “woke” if you are white and have 3 black friends, where faux locs, watch Good Times reruns in your free-time, listen to Jadakiss and act as a part-time activist on social media for black liberation. You may not even be “woke” if you are out there daily as a full-time activist for equal treatment across the spectrum of societal issues concerning people of color.
Please know there is nothing wrong with any of those things I mentioned. Full transparency, I have an ankh tattoo. What I am saying is that being “woke” is not a function of those things or evidence that you have your sights on seeking the truth. It is more often than not that people do a mashup of these things in an effort to be seen as culturally-aware or even culturally-sensitive.
To be “woke” you have to awaken. To awaken you have to stop sleeping. Being “woke” is a matter of consciousness and in that state of consciousness, you must also have a conscience. In other words, you have to care, be aware and open to seeing things as they are; not what you think they are. The state of our country is in a disarray not just because 45 is at the helm, it is in a disarray because of decades of neglect, discord, and greed among a few things I will not mention here. If you are awake and seeing things clearly, you understand that narratives like “black people are in dire straits and suffering” is not only not true, but you would know that if there were such an instance in being Black in America that it has more to do with the disproportionate ways we are educated, compensated, and treated legislatively that contributes to poverty in our communities and even crime.
There is a state of consciousness you have to be in to not merely accept the neatly-packaged narratives you are fed by the government, media and even loved ones. To be “woke” you have to be willing to discover the unabashed truth. You have to be willing to speak honestly about what you find. It is a state of being that will not allow you to turn a blind eye to the suffering and truths of others. Being woke means you lead with heart over head understanding that it was never in the plans for any human to suffer on their journey here.
To be woke is to explore yourself coming to a place of understanding for that which is most integral to your values and morality. Wokeness is having all of that knowledge in a world of representatives and boldly deciding to show up as yourself every day regardless of the consequences.
Is it easy? Not at all. Is it worth your time and effort to get there? Absolutely.
Let us not make the term “woke” another social banality that we get so tired of hearing that we missed the message and lesson it tried to teach us.
As humans and as professionals in a human-centric industry, we owe it to ourselves and to the people we serve to try a little more every day to awaken to the truth of other people’s experiences. You may not understand it fully, but exposing yourself to narratives that make you uncomfortable is a start.
I hope you will take the steps necessary to quiet your ego, speak less, and allow space for other people to speak their truths. If you can do that at a minimum, you are well on your way to being “woke”.
The need for a healthy and satisfying work environment is not up for discussion. Any enlightened manager knows its benefits. The same need extends to remote workgroups, and that is still something of a revelation to many leaders.
Perhaps it’s because of the “environment”. The remote work environment is fleeting; all team members don’t work together. They cannot share the same jokes; they can’t feel each other’s challenges. At least not by default – that’s why building a culture of empathy and team spirit is critical.
As the remote workforce grows bigger, there is a serious concern for remote employees to remain connected to the rest of the team. A vibrant work environment that meets the requirements of remote employees can help reduce that isolation.
What exactly constitutes a healthy online work environment?
It’s a work environment where remote employees feel safe in their roles, an important part of the team and the company, and one where they have the opportunity to learn and grow.
A healthy online work environment encourages unrestricted communication, open discussions, and collaborations. It supports remote employees with educational and technical resources to enable and empower them. It overcomes hurdles like different time zones or different work methods.
A healthy work environment is one that promotes a healthy lifestyle, free of emotional strain. It is a place where employees feel that despite working remotely their work makes a difference, not only to the company’s bottom line but to the community as a whole.
The edicts of a healthy online work environment mirror that of an in-house team. Remote workers have the same need to feel safe and secure in their work. They still need to be challenged and held accountable for their actions. And they definitely need the support of colleagues to flourish in their roles.
A healthy online work environment translates to happy employees. And what is the business decision that underlies employee happiness? Research has shown that happy employees are 12% more productive.
How to cultivate a healthy online work environment
- Trust and faith: Without trust no team will ever reach its full potential. That’s possibly truer for remote teams – who don’t always get to see the full picture and have to rely on other members to fulfill their roles. Likewise, having faith in a colleague, even when mistakes crop up, will go a long way in building an online work environment that is secure and reliable. Both trust and faith underpin the decision-making process and accountability – two qualities remote employees seek to feel part of the company.
- Peer-review and recognition: Sometimes feedback from peers is saved for occasional reviews. But it should be fluid enough to become a part of the daily routine so that remote employees can receive and share feedback without worrying about egos or hurting anyone. Open recognition of achievements is just as important to foster motivation and improve productivity. On the other hand, recognition of problems within the team and swiftly addressing them will also help promote a healthy remote work environment.
- Intellectual challenge and educational resources: Remote work often relies on tools and apps that new hires may not be familiar with. And on top of that, given the flexible nature of online work, help may not always be readily available. A healthy online work environment should have resources in place for employees to rely on not only to fulfill their roles but fire up their intellectual curiosities. Because an intellectually challenging role is one of the best motivators.
- Safety and security: “Remote” doesn’t take issues like discrimination and harassment off the table. In fact, these deadly problems have already migrated to the online work environment. The danger for remote employees is that if they don’t speak up, their pain and the existing problem will continue. Both team members and team leads should be wary of these issues. Victims should be able to speak up and get the support they deserve.
- Work impact and social responsibility: Knowing that their work matters not only to the company but to society is not a vague factor for employees. The new workforce, particularly Millennials, prefer working for companies that have a strong social responsibility program. Giving remote employees the opportunity to participate in a company’s CSR programs will tighten their bond with the company.
- Health and wealth: Companies can’t dictate good health measures to employees. Yet the effect of a healthy lifestyle on the employees’ work and the company’s profit is far from debatable. This is why managers are now actively reinforcing healthy habits. Remote employees shouldn’t miss out on the support of the management or colleagues because they don’t meet face to face. In addition, full-time remote employees have the same needs for time-offs that will help renew them for dedicated work.
Be it fun team-building activities or an open ear to a colleague’s troubles, measures that make the online work environment tangible despite being fleeting will help remote employees perform better, feel supported, and build relationships – and in turn make them feel like an important part of the company.
Perhaps a healthy online work environment is not measured in numbers. But lasting relationships, loyalty towards the company, and a remote employee’s pride in working for the firm is a good gauge for how conducive the environment is to dynamic remote work.
Guest Author Bio
Image courtesy of DistantJob.com
Sharon Koifman believes every company, from the biggest enterprise to the newly-launched garage startup, should have access to world’s top talent. That’s why he used over 10 years of experience in tech industry recruitment & HR to create DistantJob. His unique recruitment model allows DistantJob’s clients to get high-quality IT experts working remotely at a fraction of the usual cost – with no red tape and within two weeks.
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.