Many African Americans are accustomed to compartmentalizing their lives, particularly when it comes to matters of systemic/structural racism and violence affecting our communities. We get up, get dressed, go to work, show up and get on with it all while dealing with whatever sorrow, frustration, pain and weariness we’re experiencing outside of work. We save those emotions for the ones closest to us because they share that experience and trauma. While we are encouraged and supported to bring our full selves to DTCC every day, there’s still a sturdy wall between the African American I am at work, and the one I am in my personal life.
This past week, following the death of George Floyd, my ability to perform the mental gymnastics of pushing my emotions aside failed. I was able to do it the weeks and years prior with Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice, but George Floyd’s death feels different. Maybe it’s because it’s tragically repetitive. Or that his death, coming amidst a global pandemic that is disproportionately impacting the African American community, doesn’t afford me all the distractions to compartmentalize the fear and weariness I feel so deeply. I was already frustrated at the economic havoc and death toll that COVID-19 is having on black and brown communities. I can tell you from personal experience—many of my African American friends have at least one family member or close friend who has perished from the virus. And I am exhausted trying to explain to non-black or brown folks that structural racism is one of the main causes of the pandemics’ lethal impact on our communities.
My breaking point was the now-infamous video of the murder – the haunting image of a man splayed on the ground as life was literally choked out of him. It has gripped this nation and the world in its violence and disregard for basic humanity. And it has laid bare the racism that is still pervasive in our society. You don’t need to be black or brown to feel anger, sorrow and terror because, regardless of your race, we are all human beings who recognize injustice.
For me, I am angry because Mr. Floyd wasn’t afforded compassion from any of the four other men arresting him…sorrow because I have a 24-year old nephew who fully recognizes that his race and stature – 6’5”, 240 pounds – make him a perceived threat in many parts of this country…and terror because I fear that at any given moment, I can be George Floyd – my body laying on the ground, prone, begging for my life and dying as people who could save me stand by idly. I couldn’t compartmentalize and tuck these emotions away any more. So I talked to those closest to me – my wife, my family, my friends and my colleagues. For the first time, I shared emotions with my co-workers that I wouldn’t normally give words to because I needed to articulate the pain I was feeling inside, and I had to let them know they could do the same. And as we spoke, the wall between my dual worlds crumbled and real conversations started happening about change and allyship.
I’ve always felt safe within the confines of DTCC. However, we must acknowledge that for a portion of our employee population, everyday acts of living, like going for an evening run, mowing the lawn, or bird-watching at the local park, are fraught with danger. It’s more important than ever for us to commit to being a community of colleagues who can conduct honest conversations about race. Diverse Talent Management & Advancement (DTMA) is planning a series of facilitated conversations of understanding for the organization in the coming weeks. This initiative was already in the works prior to the turmoil of the past week, and it’s needed more now than ever. Real change starts with honest intentional dialogue about everyday minority experiences. It’s an important step in our Diversity & Inclusion journey.
In recent days it’s been comforting to know that colleagues who don’t look like me share my sense of outrage at the injustices we’ve seen and have expressed their desire to support me and my community. It’s my hope the facilitated conversations we’re planning provide the support necessary for each of us to feel that same sense of belonging at DTCC.