Recently, my team and I were asked to provide a quote on diversity/inclusion/race that has impacted us since the protests began. We were leading a virtual meeting on diversity and inclusion. It was alright, if alright means no one was paying attention. Okay, it was not alright. The meeting was led by a white woman, followed by myself (a Hispanic), and my coworkers (a white woman and a POC woman). The meeting was presented to a majority white group. If you are going to have a discussion on diversity and race, you might want to have some black people spear-heading the conversation…and you might want to do more to encourage people to participate. Just saying.
The woman leading the meeting, who I will say did a good job, quoted a Jewish verse, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” and connected it to the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for racial equity. The other white woman connected her quote to her experience in educating herself about the struggle minorities, primarily black people, face while also accepting her privilege. She quoted MLK:
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanityMartin Luther King Jr.
I try not to show my vulnerability in a workplace setting. There is no room for that, so you can imagine I had a tough time trying to find something that spoke to me while still making it “appropriate”. Note in this sense, appropriate is meant by not disrespecting the two black people in the group and not getting fired for saying controversial things (though I take it more towards the former because if a company doesn’t like what I have to say, screw them). I did consider jotting down George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” statement because that has genuinely impacted me and rocked me to my core. Again, controversial.
As usual, I asked my best friend Siddiqi for help. He first provided me a Malcolm X quote. It is a beautiful quote, but again controversial figure. The quote goes:
We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.Malcolm X
Then, he gave me this quote from W.E.B Du Bois’s 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, which I ultimately used. Please note I rephrased “the American Negro” to “black people” to reflect the current terminology:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of [black people] is the history of strife – this longing to attain the self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.W.E.B Du Bois
Du Bois was a sociologist who came up with the concept of double consciousness, the idea that minorities experience a sense of a split personality in an oppressed society – their true selves, and the selves they portray in front of the oppressors. This quote hit a nerve with me in a good way. For as long as I can remember, I would work hard to be perfect, to receive the privileges and access my white counterparts would receive easily (for more on this, you can check my Blackout Tuesday post here). I thought I was paranoid or crazy for feeling shameful or embarrassed. I thought it was my social anxiety (though that plays a part too). Turns out, I was not alone. There’s a term for it! It’s been around for more than a century! How on earth do schools teach this in depth in beyond me.
I shared the quote. I tried really hard not to tear up as I read it. I tried even harder to not go into a rage-fueled rant on why white people suck for making us minorities feel this way. I didn’t go into much detail on why it impacted me. It was a short discussion and let’s face it, no one was paying attention. I gave a high level explanation and spoke out about how we need to encourage high achieving minorities to continue working up the ladder without feeling this sense of inferiority (shout out to Siddiqi for helping me wordsmith this).
Next came my POC coworker. My jaw dropped when I heard where she found her quote.
I love Emma Watson. She will be Hermione to me forever. She has done well in sharing resources on the movement and racial equality. However, she is still white and the quote was from Instagram. Next, the quote is major “live laugh love” vibes as my friend Susan would say. It is beyond basic and shows little effort was made in finding a meaningful quote. My coworker also said she did not have the source. Excuse me, but I went to a high school who drilled citations into my brain. Also I can read and press buttons. Emma’s post was a repost from Noma Dumezweni‘s Insta. Miss Dumezweni reposted this from the original source, Cali Rockowitz‘s Insta. Judging by her Insta posts, the quote does not make me feel any better, but Cali is a supporter of the BLM movement, so I’ll vibe.
The coworker went on to explain that she has not been able to protest because she lives with her elderly grandmother, which is completely understandable. She went on to say she donated to a startup that will donate their proceeds to organizations supporting the movement, followed by talking to her African American friends. She ended with saying “don’t feel pressured to do things because a million others are doing it. Find a way within your means to be part of the solution”. I. Wanted. To. Scream. You, a person of color, are telling white people to try, but not really. No. You tell them to try harder. They made us try harder and work harder. Now it’s their turn. You do not tell them to keep doing what they’re doing. You do not tell them to treat this like a fad for their social media platform, to use their money for their good image. Your quote and your explanation match – little effort for a robotic response. As Siddiqi told when I explained it to him, this explanation was “built for corporate America.” Damnit. I’m happy no one was paying attention to hear this.
Am I wrong to discredit her opinion? People are entitled to their opinion. I am not discrediting her fully. I am harshly judging that she did not take this opportunity to provide a genuine perspective. This time is a period of reflection, education, and discussion. It is a time to venture not only beyond your comfort zone, but bring others to join you. This period is calling for change and there are people who are making it this time. Why would you discredit it by saying you shouldn’t fall into peer pressure? This is a time you should fall into peer pressure! Please, if I am wrong, tell me I’m wrong.
After the meeting, I needed a way to release the shock. I grabbed my notebook and put on some music. I love Jamila Woods and miss playing her record “Heavn” on my vinyl player in my apartment. One of my favorite songs from her is called “Blk Girl Soldier”. It was the first song I heard by her on KUTX. It’s a great song about the struggles of being a black female and the black women who taught the next generation to fight for freedom, all told through her soulful voice. The poem is called “Upon the Eve of War” and you can find it here.