To all who have expressed outrage, disgust, anxiety, empathy, or bewilderment at how this crisis in social justice can be our reality in 2020, I ask you to take some time and call a friend, colleague, a mixed race relative—someone who is black or looks black—and have a real conversation with them.
During this conversation, ask them what it is like for them day to day as a citizen in American society, what their experiences have been as it pertains to racism.
This is not likely to be a five-minute conversation. But if you really care to understand, if you really want to fix this problem, if you really want the protests to bring sweeping change, if you really want to make a change in society for the better, you need to start with an understanding of what it is like to be black in America.
Racism in America permeates all aspects of life: from the first time your teacher embarrasses you in front of your entire school class, the shop owner that follows you in a magazine store and tells you that you need to leave the store when, momentarily, you have been separated from your parents, to the joyous experience of receiving your first driver’s license that is quickly being intruded on by “the conversation”.
This is when your parents sit you down to discuss what you must and must not do if you are ever pulled over by the police. This is our reality as young people, as adults and as parents.
Resources (mappingpoliceviolence.org, killedbypolice.net, fatalencounters.org and the U.S. Police Shootings Database) suggests that since 2015, unarmed black people in America have been killed by police at a rate of between a low of 1 every 3.5 days to a high of 3 a day.
The risks and disadvantage continue throughout life, regardless of education or economic status: in corporate America, in the jobs you were overlooked for or never promoted to, despite being overqualified and performing at a level that is multiples above your counterparts’ performance. That’s another conversation black parents have with their children, in order to compete, you have to be at least twice as good.
That is the requirement when you are black in America.
Many of you reading this will ask why black professionals in any field have a difficult time showcasing these racism issues, and the reason is not because we have not pointed them out, it is because white people are looking for a plausible answer such as “there must have been something wrong with the business model.”
The problem is exacerbated when agencies and corporations look to remove individuals who have been uncovered as racially biased and have become an embarrassment and liability to the company, but the lack the courage or will to fire them for fear of being brought into a wrongful termination suit. Instead, racist elements are “failed up” the corporate/municipal ladder because it is easier to promote someone up and out of the way than to terminate them. So, the racists win by garnering additional power to stop progress on other transactions, and potentially becoming a hindrance in the same transaction again at some point in the future.
What is needed at this time is white American to stop running from this issue, and stop running from your privilege because it what we need from our allies and counterparts that will help us deal with racism. White America’s incredulous, and historic knee-jerk response has become cliché among African Americans: “How do you know it is racism?” “Come on, there has to be a reason besides that.” “There has to be a fundamental underwriting issue.” Actually, there are no problems with our projects, our deals pencil out with great returns so your credit committee needs to be questioned, we solve problems when other falter, we must not fail because we are not given a second chance, so how do we know it is racism. It is racism because our white counterparts that have the same issues are able to finance their transactions, are held in the highest esteem, and revered as hero’s while we are not treated the same. Racism hides inherently in the shadows of this very line of questioning and is exactly what those in deep denial would want you to embark on, a line of questioning because there is no definitive answer that will satisfy them, and this is how the racists win their position: They make it incumbent upon logical people to question the experience, and to look for logical responses within illogical patterns of facts that do not constitute an answer as it pertains to a particular situation. Again, the reason for this is right in front of you. It always has been. It’s racism.
If we are serious about our intentions and truly want social change for the better, know that it will only come when our white counterparts resolve to stand beside us, fighting to root out racism across the spectrum. The change will not be complete or permanent or totally secure if we only address this cancer in isolated sectors while allowing it to incubate and spread from others. The net positive effect of real change will be the overturning of hundreds of year of the norm in our society and supplanted by a new, inclusive societal norm that works toward the betterment of all.
It is frustrating to hear intelligent people say to me, “You didn’t experience racism,” or “You have been successful,” with judgment in the unstated but implied question, why haven’t others? Success and money do not thwart the experience driven by the racists. But it is not obvious to those on the outside that success for black Americans is achieved despite and in the face of racism; it comes by having successfully jumped every hurdle put in your path and the ability to still kept pace with your white counterparts who have no such hurdles because of a skin color. Our successes have come with unnecessary interference, additional tests and obstructions that limit, delay which diminish those successes. However the silver lining is these successes also come from assistance from the white allies that have been quiet fans of our work, our insight and tenacity that together we have pushed to make our projects work.
Racism is increasingly blatantly obvious and on public display in the killings George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, far too many to name more than a few; in the sodomizing and dehumanization of Abner Louima with a policeman’s nightstick; in the railroading and incarceration of The Central Park 5; in the tens if not hundreds of thousands killed before cell phones were available to tell a story. But it also resides in voter suppression redlining, housing discrimination, healthcare disparities, job-application codes, property tax-based education, food deserts, predatory lending, corporate diversity, access to capital, the judicial system, government hoops that only black people have to jump through—every aspect and facet of life in which black people’s existence is challenge, where the same existence for white people is not. The effect of financially killing black business leaves not just families impoverished, but whole communities exiled from opportunity, initiative, with hope diminished, examples of community success exterminated and dreams and prayers left as a vague reminder of what used to be generations ago. Ultimately leaving those individuals trapped in those communities with little chance to financially excel or ability to grow within the communities. The black people you now see marching, protesting, venting their collective frustration, crying out for a little room to breathe in nation that is suffocating us all with its unrelenting racism are not just asking you to stop killing us physically in the street, they are also looking for relief from the choking off of access and opportunity across all platforms within the corporate and finance markets.
Economic opportunity and access are as important and necessary to life as freedom from threat of physical harm. Stop it. Stop killing us quickly with bullets and chokeholds and stop choking us slowly with systemic biases baring us from full participation on an equal footing. This is the fix society must strive for. This is my answer to all those who out of ignorance ask why back Americas aren’t more successful, why aren’t we producing more? Get you knee off our necks—physically, financially and metaphorically in every way. Make the playing field level and you would see a thriving and exciting segment of society that looks nothing like the derivations of poverty in the images popularly circulated to illustrate a particular narrative.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my world, the world of 40 million black people in the United States and hundreds of millions more over the last 400 years now gone. Enough is enough. The time has come, is long overdue in fact, for a real conversation and an overhaul. Pick up the phone and ask us about our experience, what the world of tens of millions of us is like, what it is like to be in our shoes. This is a unique time in American history, affording an opportunity and maybe even a desire to finally fix what has been plaguing our society since its founding. The fix will require us to work together to create a protocol across industry, (Policing, Banking, Industrial, etc) that removes racism from our day to day lives.
To those young people in the streets, thank you for standing up. I am one with you in this pain. I am proud and inspired by your courage and your example. For the allies we have built and understand our call to you for a real partner in the repositioning and changing of the status quo of racism within society, thank you for your courage and disgust with the norms so that we can collectively make this a society we are all proud to be a part of. Let’s fix this together once and for all.
Text by Dan Bythewood
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