My book, A Documented Life is a compilation of short stories that encapsulates love, loss, career, self-care, starting over, and lessons learned along the way to living a richer, more dynamic, authentic life.
I found myself twice-divorced in my forties – starting over financially and working to create a space and self that I own. Despite having a Ph.D., and a long sales career in corporate America, a series of events catapulted me into one of my lowest point leaving no aspect of my life untouched. It’s been a humbling experience – one in which I journeyed through anger, confusion, helplessness, fears, and tears only to emerge transformed –
I share these stories because it is seldom that our stories are ours alone and that we are here to learn from each other. For those of us whose journey does not come neatly packaged, we are not damaged, and we have not failed at living a life of value and purpose. I hope that in your journey to self-actualization, love, and acceptance you never question your value during times of difficulty – instead recognize that the mountains you climb are part of your evolution.
The families of victims are often overlooked when examining the financial, emotional and psychological damage of pervasive incarceration and fatalities on Black families and their community. Seldom do reports look at the overall cost and long-term damage.
My heart goes out the family of this young girl. Sadly, this story is one of the countless others taking place all over the country. Soon her short life will become part of the landscape of the numerous Black lives lost to the senseless violence that has become routine in many segregated, predominantly Black communities. Her story like so many others will get little attention before fading away. What is certain is that there will be many more Sandra Parks. In her award-winning essay, parks only 13 years old wrote about the crime in her neighborhood only to be shot dead in her room. Parks wrote: “Little children are victims of senseless gun violence,” she wrote. ” … I sit back, and I have to escape from what I see and hear every day. When I do; I come to the same conclusion … we are in a state of chaos.”
If Parks’ essay wasn’t a plea for closer examination and adequate address of the existing violence through a macro level lens to understand the root cause of the problem and come up with a viable, sustainable solution, what will it take? Extensive research has identified several contributing factors to high crime neighborhoods including but not limited to the fact that these incidents occur disparately in predominantly segregated Black neighborhoods lacking the necessary resources to address community needs. The high poverty rate is a result of unemployment, underemployment and shattered family structures in which one or both parents may be incarcerated, on drugs and have succumbed to other hardships.
The version of the story that America would have us believe is that hopelessness, lack of ambition, laziness, and criminal behavior to name a few are inherent qualities of Black people and that the victims choose the oppressive conditions in which they live. But that’s just the story used to deflect responsibility from those responsible for creating the problem. The fact is enduring systemic structures around racism has segregated and trapped many in the harsh conditions that do not provide the resources for many to escape. This same system is responsible for the mass incarceration and senseless killings of countless Black men that leaves many Black women without husbands and children without fathers. Racism is a factor as to why upward of 68 percent of households are headed by Black women many of whom work multiple jobs and still do not make a livable income – leaving their children to raised by the streets.
In Notes of a Native Son (1995) James Baldwin wrote, “I don’t think the negro problem can be discussed coherently without bearing in mind its context; its context being the history, traditions, customs, the moral assumptions and preoccupations of the country; in short, the general social fabric. Appearances to the contrary, no one in America escapes its effects, and everyone in America bears some responsibility for it.”
It cannot be said often enough that if we are to address the issues that exist in the Black communities adequately, we must first understand the formulation of the problems from a macro-level perspective. And to do so, our systemic structures must be scrutinized and ultimately dismantled. Ms. Parks life and death is a symptom of a more significant problem. As a society, we must identify the elephant in the room – and demand accountability.
Reference: Williams, Walter (2014) Black female head of households number is 68 percent Baldwin, James (1995) Notes of a Native Son
The article, Unreasonable Fear Blocks Our View of Black Humanity Natalie Moore (2018) presents a poignant view that embodies the harsh realities of how starkly devalued Black people remains in life and death. Time and again we see how deftly a Black man’s innocence can be distorted into one that paints him as the perpetual flawed character prone to criminality – one deserving of the brutality committed against him. Indeed, if there is no outward reason that one can use to justify his abuse – something will materialize. Whether it is the blunt that he was caught smoking in high school or a minor brush with the law at some point in his life – the story of him as a flawed character becomes a justification for his demise. The fact that he was unlawfully gunned down, arrested, beaten, convicted and a plethora of other abuses that many Blacks encounter on a routine basis becomes the background story.
The distorted narratives are influential contributions in desensitizing barbaric acts against Blacks on several fronts. For one, they invoke the dehumanizing ideologies that already exists. As such it is not difficult to convince many that Black men/ women and other minority groups deserve the cruelty they receive and are guilty of the crimes for which they have been accused no matter evidence to the contrary.
It is essential that history, as it happened, is taught across disciplines (in classrooms, homes, organizations, government.) Racism is a sickness stitched in the fabrics, cracks, and crevices of our psyches. It is imperative that as a nation, we unlearn all that history has taught us about ourselves and each other. Education is crucial in this regard. If we do not know ourselves – how can we know others?
Unreasonable Fear Blocks Our View of Black Humanity
GQ cover placed “woman” in quotation mark on its cover featuring Serena Williams as Woman of the Year. With the barrage of racist, sexist criticism of her appearance as masculine, it is baffling that GQ’s editorial team did not find this problematic. Or did they? The publication is undoubtedly getting a lot of attention.
The backlash is not surprising. The stereotypical manlike association is an enduring and pervasive assault on many Black women’s image that dates back to the antebellum period. Placing ‘woman’ in quotation mark about a Black woman/ group subjected to a plethora of criticism about our womanhood, can and should be perceived as an overt microaggression. These actions cannot be downplayed as ‘someone who uses quotation marks in his work about an issue that has serious adverse psychological and emotional effect on individuals and target groups.
Ms. Sihle Bolani, author of ‘We Are The Ones We Need: The War on Black Professionals in Corporate SA’ makes an important point on how Human Resource (HR) depts contribute to the ‘cycle of corporate racism against black professionals.’
Many employees believe that the role of HR departments includes among other things to address abuses in the workplace. However, this is not often the case. A strong argument can be made that there’s a conflict of interest for HR personnel to conduct a fair investigation that may damage the company that writes their paycheck. As such, some companies will and do employ a cover-up strategy that protects employers against complaints that can be damaging. Persons who file a claim about racial discrimination, sexual assault or a variety of other abuses may find themselves the victims of a company’s internal plan to protect itself – one that includes protection for the abusers. The systemic structure no doubt perpetuates workplace biases particularly against Blacks and other minorities.
Complaints, particularly around race, class and gender issues should be referred to a third-party source for investigation. Employees can get the EEOC/ IDHR involved. However, even if one takes their complaint to these investigative bodies, it is not guaranteed that a case will receive the level of attention that it deserves to address the problem. An employee who complains to HR about workplace abuses may unknowingly set in place a process that leads to their termination.
Ms. Bolani’s argument is an important one that deserves attention. The answer is not for employees to stay silent about workplace abuses, but instead, eliminate the conflict of interest that perpetuates and preserves organizational biases.
(This article was originally posted on LinkedIn November 8, 2018)
HR depts are just one of the many reasons why the cycle of corporate racism against black professionals continue to thrive. Ms. Sihle Bolani @MsSihleBolani is the author of ‘We Are The Ones We Need: The War on Black Professionals in Corporate SA’. pic.twitter.com/CtgtduaTak
Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
Verizon denied that my co-worker who made the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ remark about Black football players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial discrimination and police brutality was racially insensitive.
They denied having knowledge of a racial slurs being made against me. And they denied that the work environment was hostile for me. One of my co-worker (white) was the only person who spoke out about the pervasive racism in the office. He was also let go after they terminated me. These messages are between that co-worker and I between October 25th through November 4th 2017.
I do not now live, nor have I lived at 100 Forest Place. Apt. 1305 since December 30, 2018. However, per my request for an early lease termination, I officially moved out and turned in the keys on April 4th 2018. I repeat…
In the last month – I find myself having to explain several times over that I do not live at 100 Forest Place. Apt. 1305 – forcing me to explain my very short marriage and divorce that started and ended in an apartment on the the 13th floor.
Things took a mysterious turn when my PhD. diploma was mailed to 100 Forest Place Apt. 1305. and a month later it was still not delivered. I filed a report with the post office. The first person with whom I spoke first verified that I had a Change of Address (COA) form was on file and informed me that the carrier would be notified to keep watch for my diploma. In the meantime, I picked up a copy from the university – but was concerned that the mailed copy was still out there. It wasn’t the first time that my mail had gone missing. It was happening when I lived at 100 Forest Place. Apt. 1305.
I received an email response from the post office regarding the report I filed on my lost diploma. The email stated that a Change of Address (COA) form could not be located in the system – which was odd because the post office have been forwarding mail to my new address for months. I called and spoke with the person who sent the email. He said that it was sent in error and that my COA form was in the system. I asked him to send me an email confirmation. He refused.
I reported the incident again and requested that a copy of the COA form be provide to me. A second postal worker sent me an email that a ‘forward was on file for me until 2019’ and asked if I could submit another form. A forward of what? I responded to her vague email specifically detailing that she provide me with information of the change of address form that I submitted on April 4, 2018. She responded that she ‘could not see the form in their system.’ I emailed her a copy of the ‘official Change of Address confirmation letter’ that I received from the post office when I moved out of 100 Forest Place. Apt. 1305 – coffee stains and all. I also requested a formal investigation into the matter to determine what the hell is going on.
Many people I know would not have moved into an apartment on the 13th Floor. But being of a free-spirited, nature-loving, adventurous kind – I cared more about the breath-taking view of the Chicago city skyline and watching the sunrise that would most mornings, paint the sky in the most pristine blend of colors. In Spring of 2016, I gave up my suburban apartment – my absolute freedom and independence from poor relationship decisions that had adversely impacted my life for many years. I moved into 100 Forest Place. Apt. 1305 high-rise with my new boyfriend. I thought that what we had was love. We marry in April of 2017 and by December 30th of that same year, life in apt. 1305 had turned into a grim and terrifying reality. I packed a bag and left. That was the last time I called Apt. 1305 home – and that was the last time I saw my now, ex-husband. I gave notice to terminate our lease early and filed for divorce. By end of March 2018, I moved into a new apartment on a street named, Pleasant (that turned out to be everything but) and on April 4th, I surrendered my keys and concluded life in Apt. 1305 – or so I thought. I am still not a superstitious person – but I doubt that I will ever move into another 13th floor apartment.
A compelling argument can be made that there is a lot of fear among Blacks when it comes to standing up and speaking out against racial discrimination and injustice, especially in the workplace. This may be due in part to the fact that Blacks are highest among the unemployed and underemployed – and are lowest among wage earners. Therefore, many choose to look the other way and keep silent to protect their little piece of the pie – no matter how meager. They fail to realize that their silence weakens Black progress. And makes them an active participant in their own oppression. Their silence perpetuates and help to preserve white hierarchy.
For those who dare to speak out, it becomes a one man fight against a system that is designed to protect and preserve the status quo. This is tragic because if we stand together and fight against racial injustice- we would be a powerful, unbeatable force with the collective strength to break down walls and force the reforms necessary to effect sustainable change toward a more equitable future for everyone.
Serena Williams named GQ Woman of the Year