It’s difficult to explain the tug-of-war that’s inherent in being a black professional in corporate America. During the day, you focus on your work and doing your absolute best to thrive, fit in, and succeed. But when you go home, you plug into some of the most pressing issues facing the black community, including the killing of unarmed black people, police brutality, how racism in America is still alive and well, etc. These are the issues we talk about over dinner, the problems that weigh heavy on our hearts, and the things we can’t ignore because it is up to us to prepare our children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews to be black in America.
Last night’s episode of blackish, “Hope”, gave America a clear view into the never told story of how black professionals grapple with difficult issues that their mainstream colleagues and co-workers might not ever consider. It’s a must see for every American because it gives a rare glimpse into the tension that exists between being a professional in corporate America and being black in a country overcome by systematic racism and injustice. If you haven’t seen it, click here.
The episode is multi-layered and addressed so much in just 30 minutes. From the tension between police and the black community, to how to prepare young, black children to survive and live (literally, be alive) in America, to drawing upon and sustaining the hope that has kept black people going for centuries, the episode revealed many of the issues black professionals struggle with at home and behind closed doors.
One of the most heartbreaking moments of the episode was when the grandmother leans in and tells her young, impressionable grandchildren, “[t]here are only seven words you need to know when interacting with the police – Yes, Sir. No, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” You see, unlike any other community in America, the black community must prepare and train its children to stay alive when interacting with law enforcement. We have to be on high alert because a split-second interaction with the police can result in our untimely deaths. Like Tamir Rice, age 12 when killed by police. Or Trayvon Martin, age 17 when killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Or Michael Brown, age 18 when killed by police. #SayTheirNames
Likely the most important lesson from this episode is that no matter how successful or wealthy a black professional becomes, these issues never goes away. There is no way to transcend or overcome the stigma of blackness in America. So yes, we can guarantee without a shadow of a doubt that President Obama, the leader of the free world, has these conversations over dinner with his wife and children. Oprah, a black billionaire and successful business woman in her own right, is having these conversations with her godchildren. Black CEOs, general counsel, members of the Boards of Directors of Fortune 500 companies are having these conversations at home with their families, too.
You see, contrary to popular belief, neither financial prosperity nor advanced degrees insulate us from the weight of being black in America. As Dre, the father and successful marketing executive exclaims during this episode, “I’m STILL terrified of the police,” alluding to the fact that our achievements never erase the difficulties we face. We are pioneers of excellence, corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, lawyers, executives, scientists, doctors, professors, accountants. And we are still black.
Don’t misunderstand, we take great pride in our blackness. We are in awe of the richness of our culture, heritage, and legacy in America. Let us emphasize and repeat that – we do not hate other cultures, races, or ethnic groups. This is not a post bashing the police or mainstream America. We just LOVE our culture and will not, and shouldn’t be expected to, apologize for it. But we also wish we lived in a society where the color of our skin was not outcome determinative in nearly every area of our lives.
Understanding the duality black professionals face is imperative for corporations and law firms seeking to create diverse and inclusive work environments and recruit, retain and promote black professionals within their organizations. For once and for all, corporate America has to do the hard work and seek to learn and understand the competing considerations black professionals have after they leave the office. After all, how does one create a corporate environment where minority professionals thrive and feel at home without understanding the communities where they come from?
Corporations and law firms spend millions of dollars each year on their human capital – recruiting, retention strategies, and creating a corporate/firm culture and environment where a company’s most valuable asset, its people, want to stay. It’s about time that corporations educate themselves and do the hard work of building a culture and infrastructure that explicitly includes the black professional, too. We’ve said this before…it’s deeper than your annual black history month program or recruiting at historically black colleges and universities (although we think you should continue to do these things, too). It’s about learning and understanding the ins and outs of a population that you know virtually nothing about. It’s hard work, but its valuable work and the only way to move towards true diversity and inclusion.
And just in case you’re wondering, we still have hope that things can and will get better.