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.
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
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.
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.
I filed a complaint with HR about a co-worker, who in expressing his dislike for Black football players who kneel to protest racial discrimination and police brutality against Black people, referred to those kneeling as ‘monkey see, monkey do’… I was fired few months later. The co-worker who made the comment was kept on staff. This was one of the first responses from the HR department at the local office: hashtag#footballplayers, hashtag#brutality, hashtag#racialdiscrimination
In a discussion in which I argued that racial discrimination is preserved and perpetuated in the cultivation of societal patriarchy – one opposing argument made by a white person is that too much emphasis is placed on race. “Everyone experience struggles in their lives. All lives matter,” she said.
The response is not uncommon among whites who take offense when Blacks speak against racism, challenge racial biases and assert their ethnic value. That Blacks – in demanding fair treatment, dignity and respect is perceived as an attack on white people’s value is perplexing. Blacks have been fighting against a white ideology of superiority throughout history, yet nowhere is it documented -past or present – that Blacks have argued for a position of superiority over whites.
One cannot help but wonder when confronted with these surface-level responses just how vast is our disconnect that many whites do not understand why Blacks fight against racial injustice? And are we even talking about the same struggles? It is hard to conceive that one can remain ignorant in a climate so thick with racial discord. But conceptually speaking, can whites truly relate to the intersectional factors around race, sex, and class issues with which Blacks struggle? How many whites have ever ventured far enough outside the safe space that white privilege allows them to conceive of a reality in which Black boys and men are gunned in droves like animals – or locked away behind bars – sometimes- for years for the same infraction for which a white man will walk free? Can whites whose world of privilege protect them from having a life in which their children do not have access to decent education understand the scant resources available to many inner-city Black kids? Or being confined on a large scale in neighborhoods that are stripped of resources that are crucial to improving their lives – trapping them in a perpetual state of oppression one generation after the next?
The disconnect is real and it is vast. One can argue that while many whites will claim that they are not racist – few will acknowledge that their whiteness has for generations provided them with privileges that many Blacks cannot conceive. Understanding this element is essential in the way researchers, scholars and race theorists approach addressing racism. To move forward as an equal and just society requires a collective mindset that we are strengthened by our diversity – that all men, women, and nationalities no matter their ethnic background deserve equal rights, justice, opportunities and fair representation. Fundamentally, what fraction of whites are willing to acknowledge that their white skin has provided them with privileges that many Blacks are denied? And what fraction of that group cares enough about the collective advancement to venture out of their safe space and get involved in bridging the vast racial divide?
There is profound hope that a large enough segment of the white population does care – and there is profound hope that those individuals will begin to ask questions that will allow for a more expansive and inclusive discourse. But there will also be – as James Baldwin alludes in his work – those who will choose and will insist on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead.
But as a starkly under-represented group – Blacks must continue to invest in advancing the population. And no – white and Blacks do not face the same struggles particularly around socio-economic, race, class, sex and gender issues.
I have never ‘truly’ felt the kind of terror that lived in my belly and would not go away, until I filed a racial discrimination complaint at work against a co-worker who used a ‘monkey see, monkey do,’ reference about Black football players who kneel during the national anthem. When I learned that another co-worker had referred to me as a ‘dumb nigger bitch’ I asked for an investigation into that incident as well – in a dominant, white male workforce, no less. Evidently, no one had let me in on the secret that speaking out against bigotry would have changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined. But even if they had – it would not have made a difference.
People have asked me, what did you expect? Actually, I expected leadership to be as appalled as I was – and take swift and immediate action that sent a clear message that racism was not tolerated. And used the incident(s) as an opportunity to improve issues around racial diversity. What else was I supposed to expect?
It’s become clear to me, in my research and observing the ways in which many racial conflicts escalate and are addressed – that fear by bullying, threats, fabrications and sometimes outright force …is still the weapon of choice that many in White America utilize to get what they want. This tactic has been used for so long, that tragically – for all of us – many believe this is the only way to deal with conflicts. But.. what has history taught us, if not, that not everyone can be bullied or threatened into silence – for some, this has the opposite effect. And clearly, we are not at a point in history where Black people will retreat into silence.
For those in white America who believe that fear-based tactics is the best way to address conflicts, I challenge you to try a less hostile approach. Can we talk?
Malcolm X, in his 1962 speech, Who Taught You to Hate Yourself, spoke about the marginalized state of Black women calling them the most disrespected, un-protected and neglected person in America.
Of the many realizations that became clear during my research – one is how truly vulnerable and confined a space many Black women are forced to live within a systematic construct that treats them with hostility even as it deems them hostile. It appears that Black women who dare to embrace themselves as self-loving, prideful, accepting and unapologetic-ally Black – who challenge dominant ideologies that they are dis-empowered figures – who, in asserting themselves as having the right to speak, ask questions and stand against an unjust system – they understand how potent racism can be. It matters not the level of education and professional success that many Black women attains, society demands that they prove themselves worthy of respect and dignity. To name a few instances where the debase treatment of Black women is evident, Bill O’Reilly thought nothing of ridiculing congresswoman, Maxine Waters by attacking her appearance in his “James Brown wig” remark. Throughout her years in the white house, former first lady, Michelle Obama was routinely referred to as a monkey. Serena and Venus Williams have from the time they emerged on the national scene have been subjected to a ferocious barrage of racist and sexist comments. Omarosa was recently referred to as a ‘dog’ by our president. By a large scale, Black women and girls are victims of violence, murdered and incarcerated and many of these issues remain unaddressed.
Those who do not have access to the necessary resources or the ability to advocate for themselves are particularly at risk of becoming truly invisible – in a sinister way- within this hostile environment. That’s why it is vital that we help each other up. No other group can truly understand the bond we share in the struggles we face as Black women – and carve out a space that we can call our own. And as for Black men, stop disrespecting Black women. It’s shameful. We are stronger together that we are divided.
What sets Malcolm X apart from other human rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was X’s fundamental belief that only Blacks can truly give themselves the independence and freedom that they sought and which was their right. While Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s ideologies centered on integration and nonviolence as the means by which Blacks achieved freedom – Malcolm X focused on Black consciousness – that stems from Black love, pride and acceptance as the road-map to freedom from oppressive racial conditions. He believed that if Blacks wanted freedom they would have to take it.
As we look back on history and where we are now – have we made the kind of progress we need to move us forward?
Safi, Omid (2015)Radical Justice, Gentle Spirit: Malcolm X’s Message for America 50 Years Later