The Work We Have Before Us

Herein, I will surely piss off everyone on some level. These are my personal observations and opinions, based on 52 years of my own personal life experiences. As such, I don’t expect anyone to agree with everything I say, though some will agree with some aspects, and some none at all. As they are my personal opinions, they are unlikely to change based on debate via social networking, so I won’t be responding to comments that invite such.

Like most of you, I have spent the last few weeks watching with anxiety, fear, curiosity and hope as events unfold around the death of George Floyd. I have never seen such wide disparity of public opinion on anything prior to this.

I think firstly, it is important to point out that these events actually have very little to do with George Floyd. His death was simply the most recent in a long line of injustices, either real or simply perceived as such, experienced by the black community.

Why this particular death set off the chain of events it did has everything to do with timing. In the past, when we see a black man has been killed by the police, we all experience a similar pattern. First outrage, from the black community, that another black man has been killed by the police. Then questions. What did he do? Was there more to the story? Was he armed? Did he resist? These are important questions that must be understood in any legal situation. Those facts actually build the framework around ANY legal case. But we are labeled as racist for asking them. I’ll also come back to this point.

Just days prior to George Floyd’s death, we saw a white woman in NYC caught on tape saying she would “tell the police that a black man was threatening her”, after he had asked her, rightly, to leash her dog.  Thankfully, the entire interaction was caught on video.  Her later remorse I am sure had more to do with her losing her job than actual remorse for having made such threats.  And that came after a few years of similar obnoxious false reports against blacks made by middle aged white women (there’s black people in my park”, “there’s black people in the apartment swimming pool”, “there’s black people in the hotel fitness center”).  These situations are much easier for white folks, people who don’t have a history of black skin in the game, to digest. These situations allow us to see everything we need to see, to make a decision around the appropriateness of the actions involved. These situations had the majority of Americans seeing them breathe a collect sigh of “holy smokes, Karen…You’re a nasty piece of work.” (My apologies to any actual Karens out there…but this year, you get to be the whipping boy.)

With the more serious situations, such as cop on black killing, we cannot just make a quick decision like that. Just because the cop was white does NOT mean that race played a role. As with any criminal investigation, there are facts that must be discussed. Was the “victim” armed? Did he resist? Was he combative/violent? What had he done? Because if any of those things, or several of them, are true, then he is not a victim. He is a perpetrator.

However, if non-black Americans ask those questions, we are immediately called racist. So we keep quiet. We watch the situation unfold. We wait for the forensics and the toxicology reports to come back, we listen to witness testimony….At the end of the day, we will have decided one of three things:

The killing was justified

The killing was not justified, but not racially based;

The killing was an unjust act, and was racially motivated

With George Floyd, thanks to several available videos, a great many non-black Americans were able to immediately make at least the determination that the killing was not justified.  We all saw with our own eyes that a man who was completely subdued, had the life literally squashed out of him.  So we came together with our black brothers and sisters immediately.  Even as the toxicology results revealed that Mr Floyd had drugs in his system, and even as his lengthy criminal history was exposed, we could still very easily see on video that a man was killed that had no reason to be.

The silver lining to Mr Floyd’s death is that it did awaken concern and an awareness of racism that many white Americans may not have believed really still existed.  But this is only the beginning of a partnering between blacks and whites to solve racism in America.

Unpopular Opinion Alert!!

We do NOT have an institutional problem with racism in America. In fact, NO OTHER COUNTRY on Earth has more laws and policies on the books, and organizations existing for the express purpose of furthering and supporting black interests.  (I will not further lengthen this already very long discussion by listing all of them out), but regarding incidents like George Floyd….Murder is already illegal. Hate crimes are already illegal.

We have a PEOPLE problem. People that hate. And people that don’t acknowledge that the problem exists. We have to change the hearts and minds of men and women. To do that will require communication and dialogue.

There are uncomfortable conversations that blacks must have with each other in their own communities.

There are unpopular conversations that white people must have with their peers.

And there are serious, soul-searching conversations that we must have with our selves. Our own inner dialogue has to change.

But most importantly, there are dialogs we must have together, between blacks and whites.

BUT, we have a tremendous communication problem.  Huge.

We have to be able to have difficult discussions, without calling each other racists, or race baiters, or any other derogatory term just because the conversation turns uncomfortable.

THINGS MUST NECESSARILY BECOME UNCOMFORTABLE if real change is to happen.

In one of my former professional roles, I worked for an amazing company. They spent more time and effort developing their leaders at every level than any company I ever worked for. The most impactful class I have ever taken, was during my employment there. It was a Diversity Class. The class began with an introduction that it was going to be very uncomfortable. That we were going to be asked possibly very difficult, even taboo questions. Were encouraged to ask anything we wanted to of anyone in the class. Some of the best, although uncomfortable discussions were around questions posed by attendees,  such as:

“Why do you have to call yourself African American? Why not just American? I don’t call myself Italian American…”

“Why do Mexicans call their little girls Mama, and their little boys papa? Is it because they are encouraging kids to be parents at such a young age?”

“Why is it ok to have a Ms Black America Pageant, but not a Ms White America? If you are trying to be equal, why do you keep so separate with these organizations?”

It was heavy. Sometimes tense. Often hilarious. But 100% eye-opening and educational for every person in the room.

We have to be able to have these conversations with each other now, if we are going to come together in any sort of meaningful way.

The Part That Whites Must Play in Fixing The Problem

First of all, you have to acknowledge the problem exists. Depending on where you live and how broad your experiences, you may truly believe racism isn’t an issue. The big cases you see on TV may seem unreal to you because your world view has been limited. Growing up in Texas gave me that limited perspective. I never regarded ANYONE differently, and I don’t recall ever being regarded differently because of my school paste white skin…I never personally witnessed racial discrimination against blacks. It wasn’t until I started travelling to other states that I saw the stuff I used to only see in movies. Horribly racist signage along rural highways, confederate flags posted on country roads admonishing blacks that “Ni%%ers are not allowed on this property”. I noticed in some states in the deep south, that I was treated differently by blacks. They seemed very nervous when I would engage them in conversation. It was like being in a whole different country, and it was a huge awakening for me.

A few personal anecdotes that were powerful for me:

I was once pulled over in my son’s car. Unbeknownst to me, he had a taillight out. The officer approached, told me why I was being puled over, asked to see my ID and proof of insurance. I handed him my license and my handgun license, as I am required to do when I am carrying my handgun. I told him that my insurance was in the center console, but so was my loaded gun. He said: “that’s fine, just don’t pull out your gun and we’ll be fine”…I reached in and handed my son’s insurance card. Naturally, it was expired. I grumbled about “kids…I gave him the new card 2 weeks ago”. Also, the address on my drivers license was different from that on my gun license, as I had not yet updated my license. So, broken tail light. Bad address on license. Expired insurance.  He ran them. Everything came back clean, and I was free to go. No ticket. No warning.  I drove off and immediately new what White Privilege meant. I want to believe that in my town, which had an exemplary police force, that the outcome would have been the same for a young black man who’s license came back clean. But I remember Philando Castile. I wonder if I had been a young black man, would I have been shot reaching for my insurance, even though I had told him my gun was there?

I was in line behind a woman at Wal-Mart one time. She was black, professional, in a nice suit. I looked like I just crawled out of the sewer. Hair a mess, halfway in a ponytail. No makeup. No bra. A dirty t-shirt. She paid with a check, was asked for her ID. She gave it, finished her transaction and left. I came up to pay handed my check to the cashier along with my DL….(believe me, the way I looked, I would have asked for my ID), but she handed back and said she didn’t need it. I asked why not? (I knew why not). She said she just didn’t. I looked at her and said, “well you needed to see hers-the lady that was in front of me. She looked way more trustworthy than me. I look totally sketchy.” She laughed. I didn’t.

But the fact of the matter is that blacks have to validate themselves just because they are black, and whites often don’t have to even when they look like sewer rats. That is the very definition of white privilege.

So white people, you need to start paying attention. If you don’t get what white privilege is, you aren’t very observant, or you live in a really rare place and don’t get out much.  If you live somewhere like that, like I did growing up, then keep your mouth shut. Running around saying that either overt racism or white privilege doesn’t exist makes you look ignorant and adds nothing productive to the conversation. You should just sit this one out.

A bigger problem will be our less educated, backward thinking actual racists. Hicks, rednecks, white trash, to use the offensive terms (let’s be comfortable with getting uncomfortable). Challenge them on their beliefs. Teach them another way. Do not be afraid to ruffle their feathers.

Bottom line, if you have started to see how racist behaviors do exist, either in subtle little ways or in overt big ways, start saying something when you see it.

SEE SOMETHIG? SAY SOMETHING.

The Part that Blacks Must Play in Fixing The Problem

Many of us want to help, and to do that we need to understand things we see.  But when we ask certain questions, we are called racists. If you are seeking an ally, the last thing you should be doing is THAT. Having not experienced being black in America, we can only judge things we see with our set of experiences, and they are VERY different than that of blacks. When we ask questions that to us are very important to the dialog, but we are called racist for asking, you have just alienated what could have been a valuable ally.

I have spent 30 years as a Human Resource professional. In that work, I have not only been responsible for conducting all manner of workplace investigations, but I have also been responsible for managing and championing diversity in the workplace. I have responded to EEO complaints that were brought on the basis of age, gender, and race.  What I have found through all of them, was that if the complaining party had come to me and asked questions first, they wouldn’t have ever filed the complaint in the first place. I want to give an example, because this EXACT thing has happened a number of times in my career.

My employer had a policy of giving any employee that applied for an internal position a courtesy interview AS LONG AS HR/SHE MET THE MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE JOB.  We wouldn’t interview internal or external candidates that didn’t meet the minimum qualifications, because that itself presents a tremendous risk from an EEO perspective. So, I was recruiting a Corporate Trainer, and I identify and hire an external candidate. A few internal candidates were interviewed because they met the posted minimum requirements, but the external candidate had many more years of demonstrated experience. Six weeks later I got notice that an EEO complaint had been filed. In investigating the complaint, I interviewed the complainant. She alleged racial discrimination, since she was black and had not even been interviewed. I had her employee file, her resume, and her electronic application available to me when I met with her. I asked her if she was aware that we only grant interviews to people who met the posted minimum qualifications. She said yes. I reviewed with her the posted minimum qualifications for the job, and said she wasn’t interviewed because she did not present that she had those qualifications. She argued that she did. I handed her a copy of her resume and application and asked her to identify for me where on her submission did that information appear. She reviewed and said “oh, I guess it isn’t on here”. I explained to her that the resume is the summary of your qualifications. Recruiters can’t know what you don’t tell them about your experience. The case was obviously and quickly resolved.  It was one of many like it over the years.

It would have been very unfair had someone decided that I, my recruiter or my company had been guilty of acting in a discriminatory manner based solely on the statement of the employee. And yet, far too many people are quick to call a situation racial based solely on the fact that a minority did not receive the outcome he/she wanted in a situation. In other words, just because you are a minority does not mean that that played any part in a decision or action you didn’t like.

It is ALWAYS important to fully understand the facts of a situation.

Some of the interpersonal issues I have had to mediate over the years also indicate a need to be able to have dialogue without playing the blame game or name calling.

In one case, debate broke out among business leaders around what to call our black employees in diversity related communication (Black History month bulletin boards, etc…). Some people believed we should simply say “Blacks”, except that term was offensive to some blacks, who preferred African American. Except African American was offensive to some black employees who were from Haiti, or Suriname or The Dominican Republic. People of Color was my preference, except that “it referred to all no-white ethnicities, so it undervalued blacks during Black History Month”…….Sometimes you just want to throw your hands up in the air.

People have taken issue with me calling someone Sister. I call all of my close female friends, regardless of ethnicity, Sister. Or sister friend. Because I want them to know I regard them as sisters, which to me is an elevated status. I’m sorry if you take offense, but I will continue doing it.

Through my work in Diversity, I became very much in love with the cuisines that were influenced by early blacks in America. Cajun, Creole, Gullah, and the Latin Caribbean cuisines. I can’t talk about that without at least a little reference to the African slave trade which brought those culinary influences here. I always considered it the single, but beautiful silver lining to a dark dark period in world history. And yet, talking about it has been very tense in some situations, while other conversations have been met with an abundance of appreciation and respect.

It isn’t easy not knowing from one person to the next who we may offend, so we often just don’t engage at all. That’s where we are.

So if we are to be able to productively dialogue together, you are going to have to be patient, and help us understand why something might be offensive to you, because it may have been someone else’s preference.

Some of the problems within the black community need to be addressed internally, with more concerted effort than has historically been done. Black on black crime is the number one killer of young black males, but those deaths don’t seem to be as concerning. It isn’t racist to point that out. We need to talk about it. What affects the black community affects all of us. And it will require help from outside the black community to resolve. It will entail difficult discussions around the number of children raised in fatherless homes, institutionalized/generational poverty, and how to fix those (improving educational and job opportunities in the communities takes work from all of us).

Again, be OK with being uncomfortable. We aren’t solving anything by simply writing off each other as racist, hatemongers, race baiters, etc…

It has to hurt if it’s to heal.

Sent from Mail for Windows 10

Categories: Food

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3 Comments on “The Work We Have Before Us”

  1. Ted Fleener
    2020/06/08 at 12:24 am #

    Damn ! Did you write this ! I know you did . This is the best piece I’ve ever seen on this mess . I’m a licensed school psychologist and counselor with years of experience in the inner city. I’m also a writer and editor and you know how to write . There are a lot of problems . You navigate them well . Happy trails . Ted

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Ted Fleener
    2020/06/09 at 11:09 am #

    I’m impressed with your new jaunt into being a grand parent. I know this time is tough with the virus.
    I guess now you can call yourself a sexy grandma . It’s more fun being a grandparent than I can describe .

    Sent from my iPhone

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