Why I Pause When You Want to Shout
The other day when I was asked if I thought our company should make a statement about Black Lives Matter, even I was a little surprised at how quickly I said no. It wasn’t a ‘no’ as in never but definitely a ‘no’ as in ‘not now.’ Why? Because there is a lot more that needs to go into such a decision before merely clicking ‘Post.’
You know why I could pause when you wanted to shout? It’s because that’s what black people in America have to do every minute of every day of our lives in any public space, interaction, or platform. We have to evaluate what we say and do, to be conscious of how it will be perceived, to make sure it won’t make things escalate — in some cases to save our lives. It pains my heart to think that even with a knee on his neck, George Floyd was probably choosing his words so carefully in the hopes of maybe feeling an easing of pressure, or even the slightest increase of life-giving oxygen returning to his lungs.
You know that frustration you feel while waiting for your company to take a stand? Welcome to the mental anguish black people in America feel not only every time there’s a new headline about a heartless, unpunished murder of a black person at the hands of police but in all the moments in between. The outrage being expressed is not new to us. It hasn’t lied dormant since the last victim’s name became a hashtag. We see it, we feel it, we experience it every day.
So while you’re ready to voice your indignation over recent events, please understand my pause as I wonder, ‘why now?’ Please understand that even if we do make a statement, I wonder ‘how many of my colleagues actually support this?’ Please understand that I’m considering ‘what if some of the leaders I report to think this is not territory for us to step into as an organization?’ Please understand that I’m pondering ‘what if some people disagree with the statement we’re making?’ Or worse yet ‘what if some of them just don’t care?’
This is not a personal accusation against the colleagues I’ve come to consider friends but being black in America has forced me to be skeptical. This is my instinct when I think of any organization [finally] taking a stand, seemingly out of nowhere. Why? Because here we are protesting the same injustices — despite catchy Instagram posts — and nothing has changed.
Given what I’ve shared here, I close with three asks: 1) seriously re-visit the questions I posed and do please try to at least understand why they come up, 2) don’t start making statements with no plans in mind for how to move us toward solutions — even on the smallest of scales, and 3) don’t start making statements now without a commitment to speaking about EVERY SIMILAR INHUMANE ACT to come. Because they will.