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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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Yes, You Benefit from Privilege. So Do I. Let’s Talk About it.

The valet wore a tan “Members Only” jacket, Black pants, and a large smile as he handed my husband the keys to his Jeep Cherokee, while my sons hopped into the back seat and I hurled myself into the front.  We were feeling that “functional-family glow”: everyone was getting along and we had enjoyed a dinner with flowing conversation (these times had become rarer since both boys became teenagers).  A Drake song was playing which provided further proof that this was indeed a special night:  a musician whom everyone liked.

Heads boppin’, we pulled out of the restaurant’s parking lot to the stop sign that was fewer than 100 feet away, then pulled away.  Suddenly the truck was lit with frightening blue and red strobe lights that almost seemed to match the rhythm of Drake’s song.  But it wasn’t a party; it was the police…party over.

I felt my husband, who has a reputation of never becoming flustered, become tense.  He gripped the steering wheel tightly, looked up at the rear-view mirror at our boys, and commanded, “Zach and Evan, I want you to watch and remember everything I do with this officer.”  They, unaccustomed to their laid-back father speaking so firmly, adopted his energy, didn’t reply, and sat unmoving in the back.

The officer explained to my husband, who was playing the role of “compliant, non-threatening, Black man,” that he had come to a rolling stop at the stop sign, instead of stopping fully.  He then took my husband’s license and car insurance and walked back to his car.

It was difficult to see my husband so visibly stressed; and I was sad that the glow of the night went immediately dark, so I cheerily said, “Baby, you won’t get a ticket.  Don’t worry.  I’ve been stopped and I haven’t gotten a ticket in at least 10 years.”

With no inflection, and a  slight hint of annoyance, my husband responded, “Oh, I am getting a ticket, Randi, trust me.”

And he did.

We drove in silence for a few minutes, when my husband turned the radio down, quickly glanced at me and revealed, “you are a woman—an attractive woman at that—your experience with the police has been and will be different from mine and from the boys.”  I could tell that he was frustrated with the police officer — and more so — with me.  He was annoyed that I was blind to his experience—that for a moment I couldn’t see or understand his pain, fear and stress.

I was viewing his experience from my place of privilege.  My experience as a female driver has been easier than my husband’s experience as a male driver.  This assertion does not mean that I haven’t taken driving seriously; that I’m not a good driver; that I don’t get stressed when I see or am stopped by a police officer.  It just means that my experience has been easier (not just different) than my husband’s for reasons outside of our control.

I accept that in life, some things have been easier for me than for others because I’ve had certain blessings (privileges).  Going to college was easier for me than for many of my friends because I was born to parents who had been to college and provided me with constant guidance, information and support along the way.  They could pay for my tuition and books, while I had friends who had to sit out every other semester due to financial strain.  Did I also study hard in high school and college, perform well on the SAT, participate in extra-curricular activities?  Yes. I did my part, but my journey has been easier than some. Admittedly, I sometimes feel guilty, or unexplainably embarrassed, but I must own my story and respect others’ stories.

Similarly, have I struggled as a Black person in America.  Absolutely, I have been called Nigger more than once, told I was dumb, left out of activities, followed around stores like I’m a criminal and so on.  But, I have listened to my darker-skinned Sistas.  I have respected their stories; I sat at rapt attention at the documentary “Dark Girls.”  I have received benefits and privileges in this country because I have lighter skin.  This is an ugly truth; but it is the truth.

Truth — accepting yours, and allowing others to live theirs — is powerfully affirming, healing and bonding.  It says to those in your life, “I see you fully.  Even though your truth may make me uncomfortable, accepting it allows us to have a more authentic relationship.”  Someone else’s truth doesn’t diminish your story.

But repeatedly, I am confronted about the term privilege, especially White Privilege.  I can imagine that a White person who has struggled, worked hard, perhaps come from poverty or abuse, feels as if his story is diminished when someone dare use the term “privilege.”  It doesn’t.  Their truth is still real and valid; but privilege is a part of their truth as a White person in America; just as being a woman is part of mine. A White person is 78% more likely to be accepted to the same university as an equally qualified Black person; Black men make 72 cents for every dollar a White man makes; a Black college student has the same chances of getting a job, as a White high school dropout; Blacks are less than 13% of our population and make up only 14% of regular drug users, but are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses.  Even if a White person is poor, grew up without parents, and abused; he has a smaller chance of being followed in a store or stopped by the police than an educated Black man.  White privilege is undeniable.

 

When someone denies White privilege, they are also denying Black pain and history; and healing can’t begin until someone’s pain is acknowledged.  Acknowledging someone else’s pain and struggle doesn’t diminish one’s own.  To the contrary, it opens the door for genuine conversations, healing, bonding, and respect.  An illness can’t be treated until we accept that we are sick.

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People Tripped Over Ellen’s Joke About Bolt


I laughed at Ellen’s tweet with Usain Bolt. I found it funny.It seems that even Usain Bolt found it funny, as he retweeted it. Does that necessarily mean that the tweet wasn’t racist? No, it just means Usain Bolt and I didn’t find it to be.

See, this is the thing: there is not a Dictionary of All Things Racist. There also isn’t an authority on all things racist. There are obvious vile phrases, but most remarks that cause offense are subjective in nature, in that what upsets some will not upset others (because surprise: not all women are alike, not all Black people are alike, not all homosexuals are alike, and so on). So, instead of having these irrational, hateful social media brawls, I just think we need to establish a few things:

Again, accept that most things are subjective. That means that there is no wrong and no right. What some deem racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, etc. will vary from person to person dependent on that person’s life experiences. When some saw Ellen’s tweet, they immediately saw or referenced this

ellen slave pic2

When you consider that someone may be working from that reference point, you can understand why they may be offended by Ellen’s joke. They aren’t wrong for being offended by it; just as you are not wrong for not being offended. People have different experiences, different levels of tolerance, are open to different types of humor.
But, if the joke offended many within an identity group, it is at a minimum, racially insensitive. You have to respect another’s pain: sympathize even if you can’t empathize. Additionally, you should avoid using any insensitive language at work (if you are interested in keeping your job).
Saying that you said something insensitive or racist does not always make you a racist (or sexist, or bigot, or homophobic, etc.). A lot of healing conversations fail to happen because people are afraid of being permanently labeled or our characters being smeared, so they immediately shut down and begin defending themselves. We need to allow room for people to make mistakes, to grow, to learn, we make room for healing. A rapper can make a song that has sexist lyrics and own a company with an extremely pro-female benefit package and be a wonderfully supportive husband. If we tag him a sexist–the conversation ends. If we explain how his lyrics are sexist, we start a conversation and begin change.
We must remember that Ellen is a comedian. Entertainers live on the edge of appropriateness. Music, jokes, art, etc. should be somewhat provocative.
We also must consider intention. Do I think Ellen is racist? No. Do I think that she had the slightest idea that this tweet would offend some-absolutely not. What I would love to see happen is a conversation. Her mistake should be used as an opportunity to learn. To show true caring, she should try to understand how and why the meme was offensive. When you offend someone, don’t put so much energy in defending who you are; but spend time in learning who the offended is and why they are hurt. Through that process, the offended person feels heard, seen and respected; and you grow. That’s how global healing happens–one incident at a time.