This article is cross-posted from the ZS intranet (which we call ZSpace), where I write episodically about issues of interest to the LGBTQ+ community and our allies. It’s been lightly edited for an external audience.
Last week, I finished up my week enthusiastic about our global plans for Pride Month. I was looking forward to a Monday with my Pride Zoom background, my signature file with our amazing rainbow logo, and our social media plans on the horizon. I even made sure my rainbow socks were clean. I would be all decked out in rainbows and ready to go!
However, the sobering events of the past few days demand our attention and acknowledgement. Part of what has made the LGBTQ+ community at ZS as positive and strong as it is today are the wonderful allies in our midst. Similarly, in this time when gross injustice and treatment of African-Americans is perhaps finally getting the outrage and attention it deserves, being strong allies to our The Black and Hispanic Alliance (BHA) colleagues and their communities has never been more important.
After the protests, destructive undermining of those protests, and the complete lack of justice in the many, many cases of police brutality we witness against the African-American community … on Monday I just couldn’t bring myself to focus on Pride, as much as it’s a source of … well, pride … and belonging for me at ZS. Instead, I took an unplanned day off from work. I checked in on friends from all phases of my life who I know have experienced many of the things we read about in the news. I cried, and I ordered books. I had brutally hard conversations with my young white sons about what is happening in the world today, and their responsibility to speak out.
Last year, I encouraged all of you to include ZS Cares in your programming. Giving back remains an important part of how we stay engaged in our local communities. This year, I would strongly encourage you to think about intersectionality – learning (and encouraging others in your office) to learn about the ways in which the LGBTQ+ and African-American communities have fought together, learned, and supported each other. And then demonstrating those values with how we run our events in our local offices – even if that means extending your Pride Month plans into July or even later in the year. Maybe get yourself involved in a local organization like Chicago’s Center on Halstead, which has committed to working with other like-minded organizations to address racial violence.
The Philly and Princeton office temporarily delayed their Pride activities … many others are going to do the same. In many cases I think our plans should probably be re-imagined entirely.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has been criticized in the past as organization that seemed to advocate mostly for gay white men. Last year, they hired a new President, who is an accomplished American civil rights attorney. If you are not already listening in to what Alphonso David has to say, I would encourage you to do so. Here is his brief video launching Pride Month. He is also part of a Virtual Town Hall tonight about LGBTQ Black Lives Matter.
If you are not sure what your first steps should be, how you can help, what you can do … start by learning. The Black and Hispanic Alliance (BHA) hosted a really powerful community call today. I found myself in tears more than once, listening as our colleagues shared their personal experiences. If you didn’t attend, listen to the recording. Download the slides. It’s ok to start small.
Some of the most powerful moments for me included:
Nicholas coming to work after the shooting death of Philando Castile in his car, who was pulled over for no reason and shot to death in front of his four year old child. There were no other black-identifying people in the office, and no-one to even acknowledge or discuss what happened. The only comment from a client was to watch out for protesters. Let’s make sure that never that feeling of isolation and disconnect never happens to one of our own again.
Jordan described the many micro-aggressions she’s faced over the course of her career – directing her away from math, from technical roles where she might not find others like herself. Let’s make sure we speak up when we see and hear those destructive behaviors. Death by a thousand cuts is still death.
Amirah describing feeling numb inside because it never stops. It’s not just last weekend, or last year, but hundreds of years where the color of our skin and the texture of our hair defines how we are treated. Going to a jewelry store or a restaurant and not being treated equitably is an every day experience. If you see those things, if you hear those things, be the one to speak up, here and elsewhere. She challenged us to think about we are going to run our teams and our organization differently. How are we going to contribute to meaningful change within the spaces where we have power?
Kevin describes feeling utterly depleted. Raised by a parent who was born in Birmingham, Alabama (where confederate flags still fly), Kevin has experienced a certain degree of comfort and safety in being a well educated professional living in the north today. Though he still describes what so many have – that he gets routinely pulled over by police in ways that we as white-presenting drivers would never experience. For Kevin, reading a news story about a young PWC employee who was shot in his home by an off-duty police officer really hit him hard. In spite of all of his success, he is just as vulnerable as any other black man in America. He had the stark realization that “being black in America [no matter what opportunity and success you’ve experienced] is dangerous”. How can we contribute to creating safe spaces for our colleagues?
Nicole shared some suggested readings, social media accounts to follow, and the ZS services that are available to people who want or need emotional support. And then she described what it’s like to get her kids out the door each day. She’s not thinking … did I remember to pack their lunch? Do they have their homework? No, before she sends them off to school, Nicole is thinking Have I done everything I can to keep them alive? Goddammit, if that doesn’t move you to tears, what will? And, a supportive mom who, with love, still admonishes her to not be too black, too assertive … For those of you that are parents, perhaps reflect on that on your own, or with your kids … the privilege of worrying about something as simple as lunch money or matching socks.
Monte facilitated the remarks by each presenter, and made a few of her own. Like Jordan, she has experienced being discouraged from certain types of work. And she was sent to executive coaching to discourage her from wearing her hair in it’s natural state – another form of micro-aggression, which she is grateful to see is less present in our offices today than it was in her workplaces in the past. Monte also shared the story of her incredibly talented son, National Merit Scholar, star athlete, and Ivy League student. He experienced so much racial profiling and harassment that they opted to pull him out of school “rather than bring him home in a body bag”. What white parent has ever had anything remotely like that cross their mind? If you haven’t lived it, it’s unimaginable. But we can still listen, reflect, and lean in where we are able – do our part to make a difference.
My intent with these summaries is not to capture the full extent of our colleagues stories and their pain – that wouldn’t be possible. But I do want to say I hear you, I see you. I will do my best to step forward and be a better ally and friend to you in the days, months, and years to come.
In the meantime, I am taking the advice of Amirah and many others to diversity my bookshelves. I have committed to do that, starting with reading suggestions from Barnes & Noble and the BHA. A few of the ones on my list so far are:
- How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi
- White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
- The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
- The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
- So You Want to Talk about Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
- Untamed, by Glennon Doyle (recommended by Women’s Leadership Initiative leader Anne)
Be aware that many of these compelling books are currently back-ordered – no time like the present to start with digital!
What will your first steps be toward a more inclusive Pride month, being a stronger ally for our BHA colleagues, or even just starting your own learning journey on systemic racism and social injustice in America? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.