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Mixed with Black in America & the Workplace: my first experience with the n-word...

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

June 2020

My first direct experience with the n-word was being told by a little boy “Your mom’s a nigger lover” while playing on the playground across from my childhood home. I didn't know what the word meant, but kids around me had faces that turned beet red, and similar to how Tupac felt, Little Alexis, felt like all eyes were on me.

My first experience with realizing everyone wasn’t taught the same history and that "it’s okay" to not know certain things as a privileged person was in 2008, when my white grandma, who was born in the late ’50s and raised in Kentucky exclaimed to me “Well, Obama isn’t the first Black president, what about Martin Luther King?!”

My first experience with being called the n-word while at a school club event was when my FFA chapter attended Ag Legislative Day at the Capitol Building in Springfield, IL when a kid from another chapter glanced over at our chapter at me and verbally questioned “What’s that nigger doing here?”.

My first experience with being told "Black people aren’t allowed" at a party I was originally invited to, was in high school when a friend of the classmate hosting drunkenly ran up to my car exclaiming “His dad said no Black people could come out to this party!”

My first experience with realizing the justice system isn’t just for Black people was when my cousin Nyosha Lache White was murdered in 2012 by someone also from the Black community. I mention the latter because the lack of sentencing for a Black man who murdered somebody would not result in such little years, had Donzel Curry murdered somebody who was white.

My cousin’s murderer was only given 6 years, after he had already served two in jail, ultimately 4 years in prison. He was 18 at the time of her murder, and 20 at the time of his sentencing.

My first experience with realizing the healthcare system treats Black people with mental health issues differently was when my cousin Bradley Steven Williams was asked to leave Belleville Memorial Hospital during a mental health episode. This lack of support and care by healthcare professionals resulted in my 20-year-old cousin running in front of a truck and passing away, rather than being restrained and transferred to somewhere where he could be helped.

My first experience with being racially profiled by a police officer was in Pinckneyville, IL. I drove from my college town, Carbondale, back to Pinckneyville many times, but the only difference this day was the passenger in my car was my Black friend.

Once the cop realized that we were aware of him racially profiling us he let us know “I have been in this line of work 14 years and have never had anything come back on me yet.” Think about that statement “have never had anything come back on me yet…” I recall this statement verbatim due to not what he said, but how he said it with confidence and pride.

My first experience with being groped in public by a white man was last summer while waiting in line to get into a bar, The Mansion, in Colorado Springs, CO. After mimicking me for telling him not to touch me, and conversation based on why that wasn’t okay, his girlfriend eventually stated: “He liked it so he touched it.”

The security still let him in the bar/club that night. This is the same club my brother was told he couldn’t wear a camouflage hat into because it’s “potentially disrespectful to our service members.” They would rather police what someone is wearing than not allow someone in the bar who was grabbing women in the line.

Some of you may be does this all relate to business? This is LinkedIn...the last first experience I would like to share is…

My first time being asked by a white coworker during a work meeting “How often do you wash your hair?” was last fall.

These types of microaggressions and things that are seen as harmless in the white community are harmful. The things that are said in these meetings matter, the things that are shared on platforms such as LinkedIn matter, the things that are never said, the ways that we feel and can never really share with you all matter which is why I am choosing to share these things today.

Oftentimes we in the Black community:

  • Are made to feel out of place daily due to microaggressions

  • Are overlooked in hiring process even when qualified due to affinity bias

  • Are viewed as a token hire by people who do not realize we are more than qualified for our position

  • Are expected to work twice as hard for half the recognition, and a fourth of the pay, while also having to remain on top of our game at all times

  • Reread emails a million times before pressing send, out of feeling like every move we make, breath we take, is being surveilled, and that our job security is always on the line

  • Are often alone in this effort if there are no other POC or Black people within our workspace who get how we feel causing us to assimilate and suppress, or to go mad, to burn out

When I say Black Lives Matter I mean each word holistically. We must change, if not eradicate entire systems that we currently use due to them not working anymore if some of them ever really even did. Black Lives Matter when we are talking about the “justice” system, the education system, the healthcare system, and the political system.

Justice System

  • Laws and policies that reflect the times

  • Holding police accountable for police brutality, no more not being held accountable, police are not above the law

  • Revamp if not eradicate and start anew the American policing system

  • Ensuring that Black and brown people are given fair justice, regardless of any demographic of the individual who inflicted said violence

  • Eradicate the prison industrial complex designed to more so blatantly exemplify modern-day slavery

Healthcare System

  • Believing Black people and POC in regard to health issues (look into the stats of Black women miscarrying due to medical negligence from healthcare providers)

  • Not seeing and treating Black people as animals when having mental health episodes, but rather the same as you would see any other patient...

  • Making quality healthcare accessible for Black people and all US citizens

Education System

  • Teaching real Black and African American history in US schools. Black American history is American history, critically thinking about the implications that race inflicts, and has been inflicting upon everyday Americans is a theory that is needed in schools

  • Making Black and African American history a part of the regular curriculum and not as a specialized elective only accessible to those in certain types of educational institutions, honors courses, and or at certain levels of education

  • Reparations in many forms including workforce development

  • Reparations in many forms including grants for Black individuals to become business owners

  • Overturning or reforming standardized testing

  • Seeking new ways to discipline children and ensuring that children are redirected and or disciplined in the same ways as their classmates regardless of being Black or being a person of color

Political System

  • Need federally funded programs that are designed for Black people and POC to learn about and to be able to infiltrate the American political system in order for a balanced, sensible political system

  • Need to take money out of American politics

So when I say Black Lives Matter, again, I mean that holistically. Black Lives Matter. We are leaders, business partners, customers, clients, patients, and colleagues of yours. Our ancestors were builders of this very nation.

We deserve justice, we deserve peace. I ask you all to please educate, donate, and evaluate.

Educate yourself if you lack knowledge pertaining to Black people outside of Black culture.

Educate your friends, family members, colleagues, and children about race, oppression, and realities.

Donate to Black organizations, buy from, and spread the word of Black business owners' products and services.

Evaluate your board. It’s not enough to have one Black person on your board, you need diversity within your diversity.

Evaluate your hiring managers. It’s not acceptable to have someone who doesn’t understand the value of having a diverse team in hiring roles.

Evaluate your suppliers. It’s not acceptable to only break bread with people who look like you.

Evaluate your core values. It’s not enough to just throw diversity and inclusion on your website. What are you actually doing to ensure diverse people exist within a truly inclusive workplace at your place of work? Even having a diversity and inclusion department in itself is not enough if the people at your place of work truly do not feel as though they can come to do their job without a lingering cloud of oppression hanging over them.

Evaluate your events. It is not enough to only throw events at predominantly white spaces, doing predominantly white activities if you truly hope to foster a sense of inclusivity for those you serve.

Evaluate yourself. What type of people are you interacting with? In the shows you watch? The music you listen to? The literature you read? The businesses you support? If you felt guilty at any point during any of this talk I encourage you to sit with your awkwardness and let it seep in so that you can actively work toward arming yourself with knowledge pertaining to the Black community in order to genuinely seek change. Google is free. Diversity and inclusion consultants exist.

This is more than a PR stunt.

This is more than posting a black square in solidarity.

This is more than posting a generic post because you can’t publicly admit that you don’t know what you don’t know.

This is multifaceted systematic oppression and genocide placed upon Black people for centuries - something that is going to take many changes in order to see any real differences, something that has to start somewhere. That somewhere may be a conversation.

What may cause 10 minutes of awkwardness for you to strike up a conversation during a meeting or when posting to social media or talking to friends and family, is upholding a lifetime of discomfort for Black people who are only in this position due to white individuals allowing white supremacists to reign over this nation, is due to white people not yielding their privileges, and speaking out on these injustices.

Have the conversations. Stop tip-toeing around race and the harm that white supremacy places on everyone in this world, especially Black Americans.

Though it may be "awkward", it is always necessary.

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