It’s the first weekend of protests. I’m trying my best to focus on preparing for the New Venture Challenge finals, complete course work for my last week of classes, field questions messages and calls of solidarity and support from peers, friends and professors, and find a mental space to prepare for my first day of work. All while I am glued to twitter like a lifeline, watching the streets surrounding my apartment flood with protestors and policemen into the wee hours of the night, and turn on the news to see the shopping center in front of my sister’s apartment in LA up in flames.
I wake up on Monday June 1st, the first day of my internship with Anheuser Busch InBev’s ZX Ventures and head to my kitchen aka my work station. Our head of people introduces herself and immediately proceeds to directly address the George Floyd Murder, how ZX does not tolerate any form of harassment and racism, etc, and made it clear where the company stands on the matter. Within 30 seconds of our first virtual internship session, I’m in tears fervently attempting to turn my zoom camera off. I’m not talking about one little tear, but hysterical tears. Right on time, no less than 2 minutes later my Mom calls me asking what is going on. I proceed to tell her that as a black employee, this woman said everything that I would want her to say with such tact and empathy. But, for the first time I felt vulnerable, when now more than ever I should feel equal. For those that know me personally, I’m a pretty dam strong woman.
The fact that she even had to say these things to protect ME in the workplace and people that look like me literally broke my heart.
For the last month and a half I have been trying to process the current state of America just as much as the next, and have found myself literally at a loss for words. Mainly because I don’t want to tell my community to just to do better and be better humans. I do not intend for this to be a diatribe on Black Lives Matter, because my hope is that you believe in human equality and that you believe my life to be just as valuable as yours. However, I want you, my peers, professors and readers to understand why this moment is historical, what your role is in it and how to make our reality a better place not just for me and my black peers, but for our children so they don’t have to have the experiences or conversations that we are having today. I want you to understand the power that you have inside and outside the workplace, because you have the ability to make this world a better place.
So, I want to start with Ms. Amy Cooper. A woman who I would define as a Grade A Bitch. Remember her?
Amy Cooper was the little spark that lit the monstrosity of a fire that truly ignited the current phase of the Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, Ms.Cooper is a Booth alumna. She is a direct product of our institution and program and I am more than embarrassed to say that.
Now, do I expect members of our community to make overtly outrageous and egregious racist remarks, actions or calls to the police a la Amy Cooper? No. But, I urge you to be aware and empathetic. I ask you to reflect on your own daily actions, remarks and micro-aggressions that you may not even realize are negative towards my brothers and sisters that look like me, or even myself. Because these are just as impactful as Ms.Cooper’s disgusting act.
Can you imagine how a black person felt or was treated while working with Amy Cooper – if there were any at all within her organization? Asking simple questions in the workplace about candidates like “Will they be a good fit?” are painful. If you don’t know anyone or have any real relationships with members of the black community – how will we ever be a good fit? Amy Cooper was a physical representation of privilege and the knowledge of her power. Imagine if she directed that energy towards being a great human, community member and leader.
I’m sure you’re saying – well I’m not Amy Cooper… I would never do what she did. This doesn’t pertain to me? Well, I want you to root yourself in your reality.
- Have I ever had one or more than one black person on my team at work?
- Have I ever spent significant time in a black person’s home?
- Have I ever said Nigger while singing or rapping songs and thought it was acceptable?
- Have I ever clutched my purse, rolled my window up or quickly crossed the street upon seeing a black person heading in my general direction?
- Have I ever actually read any history on slavery?
- Have I ever said he or she is really smart / attractive / well spoken for a black person?
- Have I ever had a black boss?
- Did I have any black families in my neighborhood growing up? If so, did my family know and spend time with their family? Have you ever thought about why or why not there were black families in your neighborhood?
- Have I ever asked myself, how did this black person get here? How did they get in?
- Did my parents have covert or overt racist sentiments that I may have picked up as a child?
- Have you ever said to yourself: we had a black president, why are black people still complaining?
- Have you ever found yourself being the only person that looks like you in a room?
- Are your friends and families conveyers of racist statements and ideals? Have you ever spoken up upon hearing them?
Based on your responses – now ask yourself why.
While I wish I had the time and capacity to educate every person I know on the multi-generational and multi-hundred year saga of systemic racism and injustices sustained through multiple mechanisms from slavery to Jim Crow to the imaginary drug wars to the privatized prison industry that has aided and abetted the social and civic death of my people, I simply cannot. And every time you ask someone to teach you, please understand that that is not our job. You have the power of google at your finger tips, you have the capacity and power to educate yourself. And, if you are having difficulty knowing where to start I have some tools below that I think you will find helpful below.
For all of my consultants out there, I hope you enjoy my classic 2×2. The black community is constantly in conversation amongst each other about our experiences and our reality. For people that define themselves as Anti-Racist, you are needed more than ever in the fight for equality and empathy, we lean on you to be a part of the change. It can be very difficult to have productive conversations with persons who fall into the non-empathizer or racist categories. Being strong enough to have conversations with friends, family and colleagues who exhibit racist or non-empathetic behavior, question their ideals, and educate them is powerful. Please do not stay silent. Your conversation may lead to a life being saved.
In 2020, I fear for my little brother not only for his safety, but question whether he truly understands that privilege will not protect him if he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or is accosted by police looking for blood. I pray that I will not open twitter or instagram to see a clip of a friend who thought that their intelligence and economic station in life would prevent them from having their life taken. I cringe when I recall members of my team laughing and putting resumes to the side of black applicants whose names were hard to pronounce. I am saddened when I think about the time and effort I put into trying to prove to members of the black community at Vanderbilt that integrating into the greater Vanderbilt Community would be more beneficial than choosing to self-segregate, and seeing that today students are still struggling with the same issues. When you see a heinous act being committed on video, you may shrug it off. It is hard to describe the mental and emotional trauma of what it is like to watch people that look like you get murdered on camera, beat on camera, and be yelled at for just being a human that happens to have darker pigmented skin. I’m not sure what your timeline looks like, but this is all that I see. And it is exhausting. If you are tired of hearing about this shit, imagine how deathly and mentally exhausted we are.
I am overly proud of my classmates and the beautiful community that we have fostered over the past year. I think we are naive to believe that the ease to which we have built this multi-cultural community will directly translate to the real world. However, there is a chance that we can build communities, businesses and work places outside of Booth’s walls that are rooted in our beliefs and in equality if we are fearless enough to do so. I write because I do not ever want to see someone that I know make the choices that Amy Cooper made.
A Few of my favorite Tools to Educate Yourself
- 13th (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix
- Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler) — Available to rent
- Just Mercy (Destin Daniel Cretton) — Available to rent
- Selma (Ava DuVernay) — Available to rent
- When They See Us (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
If you want an exhaustive list you can find extensive resources and content here.