A Black, 14-year old, female, middle school student is tackled to the ground and handcuffed by a resource officer because she wanted to go to the school's health office. A white teacher assigns a slave trade enactment as a class project, assigning Black students to the role of being slaves. A teacher insults Black students and their parents in front of the entire class, causing Black students to tell their parents to not come to the school. These instances of anti-Black racism are happening in schools across America today. Over the summer, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubrey, and others have shined a light on longstanding anti-Black racism in the US and, more specifically, in education.
Like so many millions across the globe, I deeply mourn the loss of one of our greatest real-life superheroes, Chadwick Boseman. To pay tribute and homage to him, my family rewatched his amazing performance in Black Panther. T'Challa was one of Boseman's most important roles both on and off the screen, as his portrayal of the heroic warrior and leader of the people of Wakanda inspired viewers of all ages. Re-visiting the futuristic city of Wakanda on screen caused me to reflect on how Blacks in America once had our own version of Wakanda: Black Wall Street.
For many Black professionals, it's an unspoken rule never to discuss race or politics at work. But the murder of George Floyd has opened the floodgates. Suddenly, race is dominating conversations. Black people are being bombarded with questions. They're publicly sharing their pain at company town halls and team meetings, leading to more exhaustion.
Race is an uncomfortable topic to discuss, especially in "mixed company." That's why my market research team at Driven to Succeed sponsored two closed-door, tell-all Community Dialogues via Zoom to talk about race—one with Black professionals and the other with white professionals, from Director to C-Suite plus a few entrepreneurs. Our goal was to build more empathy and understanding and to take steps toward healing to help end institutional racism. There were no right or wrong answers. Just an honest dialogue and diversity of opinions.
We all have an identity, built over time from what we secretly hold dear. Whether that identity was formed from hurt, pain, joy, tears, or success, it so easily becomes the foundation of who we are. For many years, my identity was clear; I was a London Fashion Week Designer. My life was centered around my career, the success I'd built, and the outlandish goals I'd set out to achieve. I'd become a bit of a robot, immune to adversity, pressing onwards towards the goal no matter what. If someone didn't like me because I was Black, I didn't notice or didn't care. I was a force of determination and skill, and nothing was going to stop me. Or so I thought.
Due to the coronavirus emergency, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is postponing the 2021 Oscars to April 25 rather than the usual late February date. The eligibility period will also extend to February 28 instead of late December to account for the months in quarantine. As the United States confronts a pandemic and increasing attention on systemic racism at all levels of our society, the more interesting question is how (or if) will this high caliber ceremony systematically change to address its own history of racism and cultural bias and how (or if) the nominees will reflect a more diverse collection of perspectives.
Racism is a multifaceted monster that thrives on visual and audible cues. From elementary to high school, as a person of color, I experienced what I can only describe as counter-cultural racism. I felt severely isolated and often degraded by the Black community. As a result, I had many more white friends than Black for most of my life. As I got older, my interactions with white women would sting with traces of biased and superior behavior. This was painful and unexpected, and again, I felt isolated and at times degraded.
In the past couple weeks there has been a surge of people asking what they can do to be better. Conversations are beginning to take place and guards are beginning to come down. While that's a good start, it is just the starting point and there's plenty of work to be done. Below are six ways you can begin playing a different role in a Black woman's life.
When I was growing up, there was a local furniture store that my family and I would go to. We would walk in, and one of two things would happen. First, we would be ignored and not acknowledged or helped. White families came in after us and were immediately greeted with big wide smiles. They were offered sparkling water and ushered to see the latest living room set. Or second, we would still not be greeted and would be followed around at a distance, as my younger brother and I sat on couches and explored furniture sets. I distinctly remember a white associate with a fierce brown ponytail wrinkling her nose at us, asking us to keep our hands off the couches. Meanwhile, little white children jumped on a myriad of mattresses, squealing loudly and proudly in the other section.
We are in the midst of an unprecedented moment for our country. What we see playing out in front of us isn't just about police brutality; it's about a trifecta of police brutality, murder, and the weaponization of skin color. We see these events nearly everyday, and they underscore, in a very visual way, how Black people do not have equality in this country — not by the government, society, and in some cases, the general public. These events highlight how they often continue to be thought of as less than whites.
Risha Grant is an internationally renowned diversity, inclusion and bias expert. She is Founder & CEO of Risha Grant LLC, an award-winning diversity consulting and communications firm, as well as an edgy, educational and motivational speaker, and author of That's BS! How Bias Synapse Disrupts Inclusive Cultures.She covers these topics as NBC KJRH TV News 2 for You's community correspondent, host of the JustUs series, and through her Tulsa World column, Risha Talks. She has been featured in Forbes, The Financial Times, Off Script, Bloomberg Media, Black Enterprise, Radioactive Radio, Take the Lead Radio and WURD Radio among other podcasts, local and national media.
As the Head of Diversity and Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Marketing at Unilever, Mita's efforts to build an inclusive culture are being celebrated. Under her leadership, Unilever was named the #1 Company for Working Mothers by Working Mother Media in 2018. She also co-created the first of its kind Cultural Immersions series to increase the cultural competency of marketers training over 4,000 marketers to date.
Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is an entrepreneur, business leader, linguaphile, philanthropist, feminist, and mother. After living, studying, and working in five countries across the globe, Liz started TransPerfect out of an NYU dorm room. During her tenure as Co-CEO, she grew TransPerfect into the world's largest language solutions company, with over $600 million in revenue, 4,000+ employees, 11,000+ clients, and offices in more than 90 cities worldwide. Liz has been recognized as a NOW “Woman of Power & Influence", an Enterprising Women “Enterprising Woman of the Year," and one of Forbes' “Richest Self-Made Women."
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