Last week, two blocks from my house, a large group of white men stood with bats on the street, supposedly to protect the neighborhood. From who? Not sure.
This was after curfew. Located just feet away there stood a line of police officers blocking the local station, looking on but doing nothing about these very intimidating men with bats. It was scary. I felt unsafe in my own neighborhood.
Later on, it came to light that some officers were posing selfie-style with some of the men with bats, posted all over social media. Troubling to say the least.
Meanwhile, across the city in the neighborhood where my husband’s high school is located, black citizens were tear gassed and pepper sprayed for being out after curfew and, well, I’ll say it: for being black. Part of a long history of people of color being stopped while driving, while walking, while jogging, targeted for being black.
I would not know about this if friends did not tell me this happened to them. This is not taught in history class, and I am not black and thus had never experienced it. The closest I have ever known is the “normal” fear I experience whenever walking at night as a woman. Similar to how a straight man will rarely know the fear a woman has walking alone, I also do not understand the experience of my black and brown friends.
This is not okay. I am aware this is a result of the history we ALL have inherited from the time of enslaved Africans being bought and sold in the US to work the plantations and literally be the backbone of the early years of the US economy.
Since then there has been a history of governmental policies that intentionally discriminated against and disenfranchised black people. Add to that discriminatory, intentionally destructive, violent and often life-ending behavior of white people against black and brown people, and the recent protests against police brutality and legal system injustices totally make sense to me.
While I have never experienced being turned down for a job or a loan because I am black, I am aware that women in the US have only been legally allowed to get a credit card or a bank loan without a male family member or husband since 1985. That is not that long ago: 35 years, a shorter period of time than the years of my lifetime.
Since the time of slavery, for hundreds of years, there has been a pervasive practice of race-based discrimination that affects access to capital, access to housing, access to jobs, access to office space, and on and on.
You may be wondering, “What is my role to play in this?” And I’m so glad you too are pondering this question. It’s about much more than a one time donation to the National Association of Black Journalists or the NAACP.
It’s about much more than protesting in your local area. It’s about much more than the reform of police use of force. It’s about much more than examining our gun laws.
*It’s about LISTENING with compassion and curiosity.
*It’s about OBSERVING your own subconscious thoughts and conscious behavior: what assumptions are you making about any one individual based on their skin color?
*It’s about ASKING yourself: what can I learn, who can I support, how can I be part of the solution?
“A time comes when silence is betrayal” MLK
And to all my clients in and from Hong Kong and China: you have so much going on at home right now that perhaps the events in the US seem like back page news, and I understand that too. Ask yourself: “what is my role to play in those circumstances?”
In a professional development course I am taking right now, the question posed daily is: “how can this outcome or circumstance be turned into an opportunity or gift?”
I have to admit that some days, with all that is going on, I feel like smacking the teacher when he asks that question.
But then, at others times, when my nervous system has calmed down and I am able to look at the world around me with more grounded clarity, I can see that there is in fact so much good that can be built out of these challenging circumstances.
I am also asking myself: “how can I use my status & resources for the greater good?” A recent post on social media really resonates with me and reminds me to not do nothing because Silence is Violence.
No matter the role you choose to play, the organization you donate to support, the decisions you make to support black and brown people, please know that now is NOT the time to be complacent or silent.
Now is the time to LISTEN, OBSERVE, and ASK yourself: “what is my role to play?”
If you’re open to read more and learn about the experience of my brother-in-law (a black man, who was born in Eritrea, is a US citizen and lives in Philadelphia), written from the perspective of my white sister-in-law, please click here: The Importance of Being Unsettled: Deeply, Permanently Unsettled.
If you’re open to learning more about the challenging economic realities of black Americans and the history that has contributed to current disparities and economic injustice, please watch Maggie Anderson’s TEDx talk about the year that her family tried to spend all their money only with black-owned businesses and the challenges they encountered. If you prefer to read her book, you can purchase it from a black-owned bookstore. Find a list of those independent businesses here.
With a heavy heart and a huge volume of hope, here’s to OUR collective evolution,
Erin Owen, MBA, PCC, JCTC
Executive Coach since 2004