Usually this column tries to give pragmatic, fair advice on how to deal with differences in the workplace. But these days my heart is heavy and my mind is clouded with the pains I see in our society as we clash. And clash hard.
So I’d like to share some more personal thoughts on what these days look like from my vantage point. If there is any advice in it, maybe it’s just hearing someone else’s vulnerabilities.
What disturbs me even more than the events themselves are the comments I read and overhear, along with discussions I have had with friends. Even friends who are among the most thoughtful, well-meaning people in the world sometimes shock me with their assumptions and world views. It’s not that they don’t agree with me. It’s more the series of biases they work with to form the assumptions they shatter me with.
The comments are more disturbing because they provide the stock that keeps the pot boiling, on the verge of boiling over from this country’s unresolved issues with race. The comments from strangers make me wonder which of my silent friends and acquaintances hold the same views, making my world feel that much more shaky.
One example: It’s a constant mental and emotional assault to see how many Americans think that most black people don’t work. Comment after comment I see on social media, people express the refrain that most black people are only existing on government aid.
And I never like the counter comment that most people on welfare are white because, though technically true, it dehumanizes people of all races who legitimately need help. Also, it distracts from the point that most blacks in America do work for a living, many for barely a living.
Whenever I see those comments — and I see them by the hundreds — I always think, Where do you live in America that you don’t see black people working? As someone who has worked since the age of 14, and supported myself to earn two degrees — not a unique story — it both hurts and confuses me that this non-working mythology still exists.
Then there is the imagery that blacks are more violent and animalistic than whites. As I said to a white friend who had the courage to wade in deep and wide on this subject with me, Why is it that whites are allowed to be individual bad actors who commit crimes based on their unique set of evil or mental health circumstances but repeatedly I see blacks painted with one brush? Even the high percentage of black-on-black crime is cited as an indictment against how self-destructive blacks are without citing that white-on-white crime is just as high. As it is with every other ethnic group.
I’m writing this particular column to share my heartfelt pain about living in a society where my pain is made to feel as if it’s just an inconvenience. To share my feelings about how daunting it is to not know who is your friend and and who is your enemy in times when so many people are openly and gleefully working to reinforce your dehumanization.
There is a vicious, unrelenting loop of defensiveness and anger going on about race. It has always been there, woven into our society. I’m no sociologist. It’s not my place to try to explain what exactly is happening in American society right now.
I just know this: I’m exhausted. Soul exhausted. And I salute allies who fiercely support the fight against societal injustices.
But I’m up to my eyeballs in people who want to ignore the racial problems in this country because they are tired of feeling responsible for what ancestors did.
I’m bleeding from the ears over people who want to lecture me on the way blacks should think, act and live — people who rightfully talk about taking responsibility but then think that applies only to some groups of people.
I’m sick to my stomach from people who are just mean-spirited. Trolls who leap at the opportunity to inflict pain. People who deliberately choose to not see that the vast majority of people who are protesting are doing it in peace and pleading for peace.
I can barely breathe at the thought that so many people just can’t exert basic human empathy to think about realities that don’t personally affect them.
If you’re at work as you read this, look around. See the pain, the hurt, the frustration of the people all around you. Even if they don’t speak to you of it, it’s there. With more people than you know.
See. Hear. Stomach it. Breathe.