Updated: Jun 7, 2020
I started a new challenge this month to run 100km by the end of June. Everyday I am trying to do 3-5km and on these runs I clear my head and try to center my energy through the turmoil of being a black person in the world right now. On one of these runs I was struck by a thought.
I NOW LIVE IN A COUNTRY WHERE I CAN GO FOR A RUN WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT IT.
I am in my second year of living in the Netherlands, moving here with my job at Philips, a journey that started in 2016, in Cleveland,Ohio, USA. I was due to start the job just before the Republican National Congress, but I negotiated for a later start date, feeling that me, a BLACK IMMIGRANT WOMAN, would not be too welcome at a time when the town was overrun by Republicans. However, my fears were not alleviated by any measure. Driving into my new neighborhood, every yard had a Trump- Pence sign. I remember my friend who was driving turning to me and joking about how I would not be running at all outside in this neighborhood! True to his word, I never ran outside in my time living in Cleveland. That is unless I was with Justin, my white friend, who I jokingly referred to as my “white shield.” The story of Ahmaud Arbery who was murdered while out for a jog can clue you in on why that is the case.
Rewind to 2015, waking up to the Charleston shooting while on my summer internship in Brazil.
Dylan Roof, a white supremacist had walked into a church in Charleston and gunned down 9 black people who were having a prayer meeting. In his manifesto he had cited allegiance to Rhodesia, the colonial white supremacist regime, that my country Zimbabwe had to fight for our freedom from. I could not breathe. I cried my eyes out that morning and being the writer that I am, I recorded my feelings in a blog post on the site of the organization I was working for, an activity I had been doing regularly throughout the summer. It talked about how I was feeling about this event, the connection to my country and our freedom and the “social justice work” I was doing that summer.
A few hours later I got an email from a representative of my organization asking me to take my blog post down.
Direct quote, “We totally respect your opinion about issues and you are entitled to write and share your opinions, thoughts and feelings, however it appears that our internship blog is not quite the right place for your most recent blog post.” I was even warned that future employers may not look at this favorably.
I remember reading this email and feeling, well, alone and disappointed. My grief did not matter to this organization despite them standing for values of social justice and inclusion. I proceeded to be in an email debate to fight for my voice, but 5 years later, the tide seems to have shifted.
Cruising through my LinkedIn in the last few weeks, the energy around this most recent death of one of many unarmed black men in America, is different. I still have not watched the video of George Floyd’s murder, but something about that man being casually choked for 8 min and 46 seconds, finally made the world see what we have been saying for the last 7 years, #BLACKLIVESMATTER. Finally our cry is louder than the counter #allivesmatter and “I don’t see color” crowd, where people refused to acknowledge the institutional racism and disproportionate state sanctioned violence directed at the black community, in America and globally. For the first time, almost everyone seems to be in agreement now that RACISM IS REAL, something that we black people have been accused of imagining before, or playing the race card. We are seeing CEOs, brands and white people post messages of solidarity with us, but most of all, for the first time ever, we are seeing black professionals speak up about their experiences.
You see, for us, work has always been this sanitized place where we show up and do our jobs, regardless of what is happening outside in the world. I showed up after the Charleston shooting and the Trump election. I have been showing up to be on camera for my job the last few weeks, despite my sometimes intense emotional distress over what is going on in America. We never allowed ourselves, or felt safe enough to show our pain. My heart is so warm to see this time around, it is not like that.
When I made a stand for my blog post 5 years ago, this is what I said to my good friend.
Being a successful person of color is hard. The expectation is that you are a “moderate” black person of sorts because you have scaled heights and defied all the stereotypes about people who look like you. Especially being African, I used to have people tell me they “do not really see you as black,” and get so comfortable around me to the point of making derogatory comments about black people. Unfortunate for them, I am in the business of nipping that behavior in the bud. My education privilege and access does not excuse me, or any other black professional from the black experience and I am glad there is an openness about this reality now.
I am hopeful and positive for what's to come from our most recent fight against racism. I hope the solidarity shown especially by companies goes beyond social media, to committing to real work to balance the scales of access to opportunities for people of color. Let’s see boards and leadership teams get more “colorful” and let's see resources behind developing and advancing minority talent. Let’s see bias training executed more broadly and people being held accountable for discriminatory behavior.The case for diversity has been made time and again, now is the time to make good on those promises. And to all the non-people of color coming out to support us, after this moment, what are you doing to fight racism and other systems of oppression?Also hey NFL, can Colin Kaepernick get a job now?
In the words of the great Audre Lorde, " Revolution is not a one time event!" See you out there on the battlefield friends!