I'm not comfortable talking about race. As a young girl, I watched my dad push those in power around issues related to race and class. He was labeled a troublemaker and was passed over for promotions and other opportunities for most of his life. So I learned at an early age that you get more done when people in power listen to you. And I vowed that I would change things from the inside out.
Like my father, I care deeply about results and impact. But unlike my father, I worked hard to be non-threatening. I've always been rewarded when people in power know that I will prioritize their comfort. And for the most part, very few people in power are comfortable addressing issues related to race. So when I worked in the private sector, I tried hard to hide in plain sight. I steered away from any projects related to diversity. I wanted people to not see my race. I wanted them to see my intellect and my hard work. And every time I got promoted, it made those in power comfortable that our company didn't have a "diversity problem". I couldn’t help but wonder, though, what I was losing by hiding parts of my humanity, and what it meant to be spoken about as though I was a trophy on a shelf and not a complex human being.
You may think working in nonprofit made it easier to address issues related to race and opportunity. In many ways, it was actually harder. When I fundraised for my social enterprise, very few donors wanted to address structural inequities. Instead, their donation made them comfortable and gave them proof that they are good, non-racist people.
You may think working in philanthropy would make it easier to address issues related to race. But I have found it even harder still. On the one hand, there are many more discussions about inequity. On the other hand, there is very little acknowledgement or action about the role philanthropy plays in perpetuating those inequities. And so talking about race often fools philanthropy to believe they are doing something about race.
And so maybe it's time for us all to be uncomfortable. Because all of us will have to change ourselves if we want to change the systems that consistently result in disparities. It will take more than words, but we cannot solve what we will not name. And we cannot allow ourselves to name and not solve.
There is a hashtag that is floating around in reaction to the relentless and unspeakable acts of violence around us. #ThisIsNotUS. But we all need to name together that this is U.S. We can no longer hide behind the belief in a post racial society that does not see color. We cannot claim that these acts of hate are the last gasp of a dying generation. This is Us. But it doesn’t have to be.
A good friend of mine once told me that it is not enough to not be racist. You have to be actively anti-racist. While dismantling structural racism may seem overwhelming, there are tangible changes you can make today. If you consider yourself a white ally and are both sickened and surprised by the ugliness you see around you, start or continue your journey with Peggy McIntosh and actively address your “invisible knapsack”. Racism is real and its roots are too deep to passively expect its extinction.
Each of us will need to take our own journey and make our own changes to shift from passive to active partners in anti-racism. As for me, I plan to reclaim the time I’ve devoted to nurturing my internalized oppression. If you are a woman of color with experiences like mine, I suggest that our next step is to stop hiding. Stop hiding your curves, your curls, your culture. Stop hiding your brilliance and your boldness. But most of all, stop hiding your pain.
Van Jones was at a loss for words and recently wept about the pain of not knowing if your country “gives a damn” about you. How many of us have wept and worried about the genocide of our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons? How many of us have learned to take up less space so others can feel less threatened? How many of us have endured countless indignities to uplift our families and each other?
During this time of tragedy and heartbreak for our nation, I encourage you to unapologetically embrace the full spectrum of your humanity. The anger. The hurt. The resilience. And perhaps an unintended consequence of the undeniable hate around us will be our collective commitment to unequivocally embrace our leadership and never hide again.