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These Ears Are Deaf To Any Apologies For Any White Person Using the N-Word

My career as a Diversity & Inclusion Strategist, Speaker, Educator and Writer has taught me a few things:

  1. Typically, I have the ability to see and appreciate both sides of an issue; and then to help others understand opposing views.
  2. I’m naturally empathetic; and am earnest in my desire to create empathy for people in others.
  3. I believe in human error and the power of forgiveness

BUT, notwithstanding this experience I have come to the conclusion that an apology when a non-White person uses the word, “Nigger” is simply not sufficient, satisfactory, or acceptable.  It is, in fact, offensive.

My ears are deaf to any “apologies” for a non-Black person using the N-Word.

A fundamental premise in my book, Neversays: 25 Things You Should Never Say To Keep Your Job and Friends, is that most people in the world are good people; yet we are also highly uninformed people (at least about people who are different from us).  Most of us typically grow up around, go to church with, play sports with, and go to school with people whom are very similar to us.  So when we go to into the world where there are people of different races, cultures, sexual identities, religions, socio-economics and political belief systems, it is unsurprising that all of us at one time or another have been uncomfortable, said inappropriate things (or become mute), and had conflicts.

I wasn’t raised around people who were openly gay, I didn’t have any Jewish friends growing up; and so I’ve had to learn about my fellow citizens of the world in order to function respectfully (and effectively).  Along my journey towards better understanding, I have made mistakes and have offended some people — I’m sure more people than I am even aware of. That doesn’t make me a bad person.  It makes me human.  It also makes me a person who needs to continually be learning about those around me, so I can do better and strive to always interact respectfully with them.  My intention is for my words to create connections and not conflict; to make all whom interact with me feel seen and respected; not judged and insulted.

So intent should be considered in all interactions – including in those when someone insults another.  People offend other people all of the time; but most people don’t purposefully offend others (if for nothing else, most people do not want the repercussions of a tense/hostile work environment, meetings with HR, poor performance reviews or the bad reputation that often come with offending a co-worker).  Trust me when I tell you that the woman who asked to touch your hair; the man who asked you as a Puerto Rican where he and his family should visit in Mexico; and the guy from IT who asked when you “decided” to be gay were not intentionally trying to offend you.  In most cases, what they said was ignorant, but not malicious.  In the best case scenario, you will take the time to calmly educate the offender and they will openly receive the message, learn, and do better.

That said, a White person using the N-word is a wholly different circumstance.  If there is one thing that every White person knows about Black people and Black culture; it is the history, ugliness, level of insult, hatred and power behind that word.  It is a word that was specifically used by White people to demean and control Black people that they had enslaved; it is a word that was used to immediately inform a Black person that they were unequal to a White person— that they were effectively on the level of livestock.  The word was created specifically for that purpose.  The word’s history and ugliness has been well-documented (some would say over-documented) in movies, television shows, documentaries and books.  Children learn about its hateful and dividing history starting in 2nd grade history classes and will continue to learn about it every year until they graduate from college.  Therefore, when it is used, it is used with the clear intention of degrading and insulting a Black person.

It is more than a word.  It is more than name-calling.  It is an assault.  It is the bleeding wound of America’s history. It is a word, when uttered compels images of enslaved ancestors being whipped, picking cotton under the scorching sun, of dead Black bodies hanging from trees, ancestors being sold on auction blocks along with livestock.  It is a word that says “you are nothing.” As the Swastika is for Jewish people; it represents the ugliest most painful time in history.  It is hate.

Hateful attacks must be treated as such by society, but its institutions and by the perpetrators.  Institutions need to stop treating the use of the word the same way one would a person calling another “fat” or “stupid”, and start treating it as the assault that it is.  The use of the word Nigger, the writing of Swastikas, the depiction of a noose are akin to an employee striking another employee and should be treated as such.  To do any differently is do deny our country’s history to literally sanction a hostile work environment for any minority, and to guarantee the alienation and very likely the resignation of the victim.

Like the institution, the offender should also recognize the severity of their actions and recognize that the apology is just the beginning of a process.  They must demonstrate their desire to change and prepare themselves to work respectfully in a diverse environment.  Calling a Black person a Nigger doesn’t stem from implicit bias; it stems from prejudice and anger.  For an offender to be allowed to continue to work in a place with Black people, he must attend therapy (as racism is a sickness) and cultural sensitivity training; just as he would have to attend anger management if he had hit another person.

The use of that word — and the pain inflicted by its use —  is not, and can never be unintentional.  Therefore, a mere “I’m sorry” will never and should never be sufficient.

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Beyonce & Being Unapologetically Black

Regardless of our opinion about it; some stuff is simply undeniable:

  •  The best macaroni and cheese is cooked in the oven and not on the stove.
  •  The Kardashians have more power than most politicians.
  • And Beyonce is currently the greatest living entertainer.

Proof of Beyonce’s utter domination is in the numbers:

  • She is the female artist who has spent the most weeks at No. 1 this decade (37 weeks);
  • She is the female artist with the most Top 5 hits of the decade;
  • She is the highest paid black actress in the history of cinema;
  • She is only artist in history to have all her studio albums win the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album;
  • And she is the female artist with the most Grammy awards won on a single night with six.

The list of her accomplishments is endless. As if it weren’t enough, Beyonce is also a multi-millionaire and married to one of the most powerful and recognized men in the industry. She wears next to nothing on stage, sings about her “assets”, and went through a cheating scandal publicly. She is a mother of three kids; and runs a clothing line business. Unequivocally, Beyonce is an amazing, accomplished and exceptional woman.

Yet, she’s just recently gained the confidence to be publicly and unapologetically Black. But despite her fame and power, she was recently warned by her mother, Tina Knowles, that her Coachella performance “may be confusing to her White audience.” In other words, “Baby, that’s a bit too much of a dramatic ‘code-switch’ in it. You don’t want to alienate your White fans. You may want to tone down on the Blackness.”

Now isn’t that something?

In America, it’s less precarious to a woman’s career for her to grind on a chair in a sequined bodysuit on national television than it is to publically embrace her Blackness. In America, a Black woman can be comfortable writing an entire album about her husband’s affair, but must deliberate if it’s prudent to sing the National Negro Anthem at a concert.

Now isn’t that something?

But it is indeed real. Being unapologetically Black is one of the boldest decisions a Black person can make in his or her lifetime. There is a “hiding in the closet” of our Blackness. If we are honest, being proudly Black has been associated with being rebellious, angry, unmanageable, difficult, and ironically, racist. Black pride can seriously equal Black professional suicide.

The working Black person decides and negotiates at different points in her life how proudly and publically Black she can be. Sure, everyone in the office, gym, book club, etc. knows that she is Black—of course (despite what some try to say, we all see color). But she does nothing to bring attention to it. While colleagues will gab endlessly about life outside of the office, many Black people will omit details that would highlight their difference—their Blackness.

My real job is as a diversity and inclusion specialist / trainer. I have travelled the world speaking about difference and the need to appreciate our individuality and identities. Ironically, most of my career, I did this as a woman who was culturally neutral. I was the woman whom everyone wanted to hire because there was nothing threatening about me: I’m lighter-skinned, can look like various races, could speak about a multitude of topics fluently, had perfect grammar, and never showed any political or cultural affiliations or opinions. I was the get along, blend-in, cheerleader, brought on-board to make everyone — especially the executives – feel good about diversity, difference, and themselves.

And then one day, like Beyonce, I stepped out of the closet. I am unapologetically Black—Black and proud. And what’s interesting, is now I am far better at my job. How can I teach about embracing difference and appreciating diversity when I hadn’t appreciated my own difference and instead attempted to blend? I wasn’t being real and I also wasn’t presenting to my clients a real example of what real inclusivity is. Inclusivity is NOT hiring people who are “technically” diverse while expecting them to lose any cultural differences and to blend with the majority; it is providing an environment where openly culturally different people feel comfortable being exactly and completely who they are. Undoubtedly organizations will get the most from, people who work in a safe and trustful environment where they can be their complete, authentic selves.

It’s odd that there is even a need for the term unapologetically Black. For what did we think we needed to apologize? Why is it even a thing, a statement? It’s those constructs that need to be changed. I recognize that my love for Black people credulously and erroneously makes some feel threatened; makes some feel as if I must hate them if I love me. That’s absolutely wrong. Looking at and speaking about my own identity (the bias it brings, the fear I had embracing it, the way it affects the way I see and view the world, and so on) now seems to free my seminar participants to share themselves more with me and with each other.  We are able to do true bonding because we are dealing with our whole selves.

I realize that because I’m now unapologetically Black—unapologetically me–some may decide that I’m not right for the job. But, guess what, “if loving me is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

 

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If We Remain Comfortably Blind; Our Future Is Certain To Be Dark

I keep thinking about him.  I keep looking at his picture: a father, wearing a white t-shirt with an unbuttoned, plaid shirt holding his two sons – one on each leg sitting in front of a typical Sears or J.C. Penney’s backdrop.  Both boys grasp onto their father’s fingers.  All 3 are smiling, but his is the biggest.  A daddy and his boys.  The picture speaks to hope.

But that father is dead now.  He was shot 20 times in his own backyard by police officers, who claim that they thought he had a gun.  It was a cell phone.  I keep thinking about Stephon; and I keep looking at his picture; but I haven’t been able to write about him or his murder.  Frankly, I don’t know what to say.  What can I say that I haven’t already said?  What can I say that I didn’t say when I wrote about Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Freddy Gray, and Philando Castile?

Frankly, I’m weary . . . exhausted in fact.  Another Black man has been killed at the hands of police officers; more marches, more comments from unsympathetic people blaming the victim, more bullshit statements from the police, more officers on paid leave, and my guess is, more broken hearts when we don’t get justice, when Stephon and Stephon’s family don’t get justice.

It pains me to say it; but most likely, justice will not be served because not a damn thing has changed in our country.  We keep dealing with the symptoms, while ignoring the disease.  We are a racist country, filled with people who have biases.  All of us do – even the most well-meaning.  This fact scares people.  But to get better, we all must admit some ugly truths.  It’s uncomfortable.  I understand that.

But if we don’t get honest and real about the race issues in this country and about the biases we hold – then we are doomed for more Black men and women to be killed by police.  We are doomed that these killings will continue to go unpunished.  Consider that Police officers are trained to kill if they are in fear of their lives.  Studies have shown that most people have unconscious bias against Black people and view them as scarier and more threatening than Whites.  Is it any wonder then, that Blacks are shot by police at a disproportionate rate?  Similarly, more Black people will be arrested for drug use, although white people have a higher percentage of drug use; and Black people will get stiffer sentences for the same crime as White offenders.  This has to stop.

But like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.  We – and I mean ALL of us – need to own our biases and the fact that our country and our culture incubate them.  We need to accept that we have been raised to view some races as less worthy, as scary and menacing.  And we then need to start putting measures in place from birth to: a) meaningfully prevent these biases from arising in the first place; and (more significantly) b) to consciously counteract them in our actions.  Acceptance and conscious action – by everyone – is the only way to move away from our racist status quo. We, Americans, cannot allow the melting pot myth, or the fantasy of how we’d like to be, or the concern for hurt feelings to hinder us from being honest about who we are, flaws and all, and getting to who we want to be.  Our willingness to be honest is a matter of life and death.