“Did you watch the video?” No, I said to my friend. It’s the same answer I give for any video released this year of innocent black men being brutally murdered in the hands of police or white men.
Why? You might ask? Because as a black woman who is a mother, sister, auntie, cousin, and friend to black boys and men, I want to honor their memory by remembering them as they were when they were alive – healthy and treated with dignity. I don’t want the last image imprinted in my mind to be one of them suffering. I want to honor them the same way I celebrate my family members who have passed. Wouldn’t you? I don’t memorialize my dad, sister, or three brothers who have died the way they were while they were ravaged by disease. I think of them and see images of them as they were healthy and vibrant.
2020 has been a rough year for everyone, but especially brutal for Black Americans. First, COVID-19 came along and disproportionately impacted our lives both in mortality rates and economically. Adding fuel to the fire, we have to watch in horror as mostly white men with guns demand that their States open up businesses knowing full well the people who work those low wage jobs are mostly black and thus endangering their lives. We will leave the discussion about threatening people with guns and the police doing nothing for another day.
“Though blacks are only 22% of New York City’s population, as of mid-April they constituted 28% of fatalities from the virus. In Chicago, where blacks are 30% of the population, they comprise 70% of those killed by Covid-19. In the state of Louisiana, blacks are 32% of the population but 70% of those dead from the disease.” – Harvard Business Review
Second, while dealing with this tragedy already, we watched in horror as two armed white men hunted down and killed Ahmad Aubrey like a dog while he was jogging. To make matters worse, the two men were roaming free for over two months until the video was released. Only then were they arrested.
Shortly thereafter, we heard about the death of Breonna Taylor, a frontline worker murdered in her own home in the hands of police. While we were dealing with that trauma, a video of a woman, Amy Cooper, a white woman using her privilege to endanger the life of a Christian Cooper, a black man bird watching in Central Park surfaced. I did watch that video, though with dismay and disdain but not surprised by it because 1) it thankfully had a positive outcome for the black man, and 2) I have been working with the likes of Amy Cooper my whole adult career so her racism and privilege, though blatant, came as no surprise to me.
As though, the Black community had not been traumatized enough, we witnessed the vilest and inhuman video of the brutal murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. He calmly kneeled for nearly nine minutes on George’s neck while he mercifully begged for his life. It was like he was killing an animal. No emotion, just calm.
And that was the tipping point. The callous killing of an unarmed black man in broad daylight while he pleaded (to deaf years) for his life. As Trevor Noah though provokingly put it, it was a domino effect, the culmination of injustices happening to black People time and time again with no consequences for the perpetrators.
…it was a domino effect, the culmination of injustices happening to Black people time and time again with no consequences for the perpetrators.
Truth be told, this tipping point should have come six years ago when Eric Gardner was murdered in the same way though with a chokehold. He too pleaded for his life but no one saved his life and the cop did not pay for his crime.
Black Americans have been patiently waiting for justice to come but sadly it never does.
So here we are. There is a lot of outrage going around. Social media feeds filled with images of George Floyd and calls for justice. Peaceful and sometimes violent protests happening in the streets, curfews imposed and people shaking their heads at home wondering what in the hell is happening to their country.
It’s a familiar dance in some way. Something tragic and appalling happens, everyone is outraged and shows it, then it dies down, people go back to their normal lives and racism, injustice and inequality continue to thrive and black people’s suffering persists.
It’s a familiar dance in some way.
And then there is a deafening silence. Friends and colleagues remain silent. The organizations they support and who employ them remain silent and tragically, they feel the loneliness that comes when you feel that no one really cares about you or your suffering. And then the domino effect happens again and we go through the same dance again – anger, sadness, trauma, outrage, protests, silence, and then back to the status quo. It’s exhausting as a Black person to consistently go through this traumatizing dance.
One of my friends checked in on me a few days after George Floyd was murdered to see how I was doing and asked if there was anything she could do to help. She explained that she had wanted to do it sooner but didn’t know how and was afraid to offend me. My response was one of appreciation that she had thought about me followed by a plea to her to simply be an ally to the black community. Sadly, she was the only one of my friends at that time to check-in.
It’s exhausting as a Black person to go consistently through this traumatizing dance.
Here’s the thing, though. When something tragic happens to a friend or family member, what’s the first thing we all do? We reach out immediately, offer our condolences, sympathy, or help. We’re never stopped by the fear of offending the person. Why? Because we have taken the time to get to know them, to walk in their shoes and to understand their story. Being an ally and showing empathy and compassion comes naturally to us. Remember, we’re only afraid of things or people we don’t know.
Most people who are not black simply have not taken the time to understand the black experience. It’s the reason racial injustice and inequality thrives. Yes, they may have Black friends or family members but their experience ends there. They don’t read black stories, watch black films, documentaries or TV shows, read books by black authors, dive into the history of racial injustice, patronize black-owned businesses, or anything else. They simply say to themselves, I’m not a racist. I have Black friends, I hang out with black friends so I’m good and go about their lives without noticing the injustices around them.
Most people who are not black simply have not taken the time to understand the Black experience. It’s the reason racial injustice and inequality thrives.
It all seems hopeless, doesn’t it? Here’s the good news. It doesn’t have to be. Yes, it’s a complex problem. But it can be solved if non-black people are willing and committed to changing the situation and becoming advocates and allies of the black community. You don’t have to go at it alone. We’re here to show you how and where to start.
Here are tips and resources to help you become a better ally to the black community:
- Donate to the George Floyd Memorial Fund and Justice for Breonna Taylor Fund
- Sign a petition
- Check-in on your black friends, family, and colleagues to find out if they’re okay and ask if you can help with anything.
- Protest peacefully
- Listen to what the black community is saying. You cannot be an ally if you don’t hear and understand what is being said.
- Don’t wish for life to go back to “normal.” That in and of itself is privilege.
- Support these organizations
- Be Anti-racism – instead of saying “I’m not racist” play a role in changing the systems and organizational structures, policies, practices, and attitudes that perpetuate racism and lead to inequality. Get informed and engaged.
- Call out injustice and inequality when you see it around you – anywhere and everywhere.
- Check your own unconscious bias.
- Stop asking your black colleagues or friends to educate you about racism, inequality, and injustice. Educate yourself.
- Support black-owned businesses, artists, authors, filmmakers, and entertainers
- Help to end workplace discrimination against Black people:
- If you’re in a leadership position in the workplace with no Black people in senior or managerial roles? Ask yourself why.
- If there are one or two black people in your organization or none at all, ask yourself why.
- If there are no Black people advancing in your company, ask yourself why.
- If you’re having trouble retaining Black employees, ask yourself why.
- If people are complaining about black employees with baseless claims recognize it and rectify it.
- If only black people are on performance improvement plans (PIPs), (which are sometimes used as a tool to justify eliminating people) and let go, ask yourself why.
- If there are no new black hires coming through your door, ask yourself why.
- If there are no black people in your professional development or mentorship programs ask yourself why.
Remember, black people, face discrimination and microaggressions in the workplace most of the time but say nothing because they’re afraid of the outcome if they speak up. Their only recourse is to either quit or wait it out to be pushed out with non-disclosure agreements and severance packages to silence them and protect the organization.
“…experts predict that black families’ median wealth will decrease to $0 by 2050, while that of white families will exceed $100,000. Just 8% of managers and 3.8% of CEOs are black. In the Fortune 500 companies, there are currently only three black chief executives, down from a high of 12 in 2002. And at the 16 Fortune 500 companies that report detailed demographic data on senior executives and board members, white men account for 85% of those roles.” – Harvard Business Review
The events of the past two weeks have been sad, traumatizing, and infuriating. I’m exhausted and my black community is drained. We’re tired of witnessing the same injustices inflicted on us over and over again with no consequences to the perpetrators. We’re tired of everyone around us reacting with silence. We’re tired of being told to shut and put up. We’re tired of being told we cannot protest peacefully!
“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” – Albert Einstein
I know that some who sit in silence do it because they feel helpless and don’t know how to make a difference. My only hope is that these tips will help you get started in your journey to understand the black experience and to join us in the fight for our lives.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our media and social media feeds have been inundated with the hashtag #InThisTogether. Let’s make it mean something to the black community. Let’s make our Lives matter like everyone else’s lives. We must not let the lives of George Floyd and the hundreds of black lives that have been unjustly taken away be lost in vain. Just like the fight to end slavery, colonization, segregation, and apartheid were won with the help of non-black people, we have to join the fight to save black lives together. Black People cannot win this fight alone.
Let’s do it for my 10 year old daughter who is oblivious to the ugliness of racism around her and believes that everyone is inherently kind and respectful and has no idea that her skin color in America is a liability.
Let’s do it for my teen daughter whose innocence has been ripped off with the death of George Floyd, the terror of racism, injustice and inequality harshly revealed, and her activism and fight for justice ignited ferociously! She recently attended a protest where she was a speaker. Click here to read her full speech. I have altered her name for privacy.
“…posting a hashtag is simply not enough for change to come, we all need to take action: sign petitions, call, email, text, donate, educate ourselves, and VOTE in order for our voices to be heard loud and clear. Silence will not protect us.” – My daughter, Didi
Let’s do it for all our children because they deserve a life better than our own.
Let’s all be part of the solution. Make #BlackLivesMatter mean something.
Help us breath.