Introducing..., Profiles

Meet Maya Ford!

It’s Black Business Month, and I’m proud to bring you my latest discussion. This time around, I spoke with a thriving African-American entrepreneur and businesswoman.

Maya Ford is the founder of FordMomentum!, a communications firm located in Houston, Texas. The FordMomentum! team remains committed to treating communications as a science, while upholding an inclusive perspective to their work. As for Ms. Ford, I absolutely love the way she describes herself.

“I’m a pioneering marketing and communications professional with over 20 years’ experience in almost every major industry. My passion is to integrate diverse perspectives into viable solutions that businesses and communities can implement together. I’m a global cosmopolitan, creative, innovative, a master communicator, a strong listener, and driven towards measurable success.”

Maya Ford is a force—bursting with energy and ideas on how to make our world a better place for future generations. One of these ideas includes an innovation called STOLO. STOLO or the Standard of Love, is a data-driven communications methodology that businesses can use when engaging with members of the public.

FordMomentum! has already used STOLO while working on projects designed to improve people’s lives. Together with The Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the company produced the My Home is Here study, focused on Harris County, Texas—a dynamically diverse region which includes the City of Houston.

Maya and I spoke earlier this summer, and I’m eternally thankful for the opportunity to connect with her. With Juneteenth present on our minds, she was able to highlight perspectives that one ought to consider when working with diverse employees as well as customers. From the moment our virtual conversation began, Maya began sharing engaging insights. Her words inspired me to ask a spontaneous question about an important aspect of contemporary communication.

I really want to get to STOLO.

But you mentioned compassion earlier. And if we could talk about leading with compassion for a minute, I’d like that. Because one of the things that frustrates me, and one of the things that has motivated my writing is people out there who, with regard to racism, are resistant to the idea of compassion. They seem to be taught that compassion is a weakness, or it will lead to a lessening of themselves or the degradation of society. When you speak of leading with compassion, though, I would say that you and I understand that compassion does not mean something negative.

Considering that, let me ask this: What does leading with compassion mean to you?

I love this question. At its most basic form, for me, it’s not imparting or continuing suffering with others. There’s a fine line between hard work and growth. In biology, nothing grows without force. But there’s a difference between growth and the hard work that it requires—like ripping a muscle so that it can get stronger and longer—versus suffering. And suffering is an emotional weight that’s in a very interesting space, because it’s simultaneously physiological and spiritual.

And I think this is why suffering is such a hard thing to certify, because the spiritual weight of suffering can actually convert and change the physical nature of a being.

Suffering lacks compassion.

Humans are so brilliant, because we can imagine things that don’t exist. We’re highly tethered to the spiritual—to that other plane. And that’s also the thing that makes humans incredibly violent, incredibly anxious, and very deadly to the rest of the planet.

Yes.

Suffering is a space that is full of anxiety, physical or emotional pain, and trauma that has no end. And this is something that I believe is fundamentally against the nature of the Divine Creator itself. Compassion is the active practice to not cause suffering: To not impart it, to not participate in it, and to not support it.

Suffering is a terrible, non-compassionate activity. So I do everything to push good work, hard work—but no suffering.

Wow. Thank you.

We need to understand when we’re causing suffering. Sometimes I think we’re so busy being busy, working towards production or consumption, particularly in the Americas. Have we stopped to consider that we’re harming ourselves or others? We might be our own problem.

Talking about Juneteenth in your lifetime—let’s start at the beginning. What has that day meant to you? What has your relationship with the holiday been like?

I was born in Houston, to an American mother and Panamanian father. And growing up, we did not celebrate Juneteenth at all. As an adult, I moved away from Texas, and I came back. Eventually, I learned about Juneteenth. And I was baffled that I hadn’t heard about it as a younger kid, because my family is very pro Black—pro diaspora.

I think that it was a really interesting holiday—to celebrate persons who recognize that they were no longer enslaved. And I honor and offer a ton of compassion and respect for celebrating a day that’s important to you. 

And yet, Juneteenth didn’t bring the promise that we thought it would. To me, it rings hollow. Black people are still not particularly any free-er. We’re not any safer economically. And today, I feel about Juneteenth, as though my ancestors had a lot of hope.

In one way, they have realized that through me: I’m the first person in my family to be born with full rights as a US citizen.

Still, the national federal holiday of Juneteenth rings hollow because it did not come with reparations, or true benefits to African Americans in Texas to apologize for the fact that a) we heard about our freedom 901 days late, and b) that we didn’t get a single element of reparations for those Texans’ children. Around that time 30% of Texas’ population was enslaved people . So that’s a lot of people that you got an extra 901 days of labor out of.

And when we talk about the economic components of today’s Black population in America, in 2021, we only earned 9.6% of the country’s overall wages, [even though Black workers make up 12.9% of the labor force].

For enslaved Black people in Texas—even the descendants of those Black persons in Texas—it’s offensive, frankly. So I’m challenging Black Americans, Black Texans, African American Texans in particular, to shut down the economy on Juneteenth. Spend nothing—don’t consume and don’t produce.

Yes…

The work isn’t done yet, though. And again, I’m not opposed to celebrating whatever we need to get there. But those celebrations need to come with meaningful edification and change that helps us to be sustainable. Period. Anything less as a standard is the same standard that gave us the news 901 days late.

I was doing some research and I noticed a lot of Juneteenth products.

So we can talk about the ice cream, and we could talk about the merchandise in general: How do you feel about who produces Juneteenth merchandise? For instance, if it comes from a big corporation versus a mom-and-pop shop that is Black owned, etc. Does a product’s source matter to you?

That’s a great question.

Talk to me.

I don’t know who ideated the Walmart product. What I know is that we do seek authenticity, and we seek a space that understands that Black America is not a monolith.

So, let’s talk about the Walmart product: they used red, gold, green, and black. And perhaps that was in an effort to honor African ancestry. But, fundamentally, the persons who were alive at the time of the first Juneteenth were born on US territory. So my question is, why make it a product that acknowledged African ancestry instead of American ancestry?

This idea of consistently othering is very concerning. And I think Walmart also utilized AAVE, or African American Vernacular English. One of their Juneteenth slogans was, “It’s the freedom for me!”—a phrase which is so much about [the stereotype of] a Black woman’s sass, and how that sells.

And when I think of phrases like “it’s the freedom for me”, it’s like, “What?!” What are you doing? For the Fourth of July, they have songs that are about the sovereignty of the United States. And some of those songs even have a feeling of somberness and deep respect. But to kind of sassify this idea, and suggest that African Americans are saying, “Oh, we’s free now. It’s the freedom for me!” Like, what is that? We don’t get to have something that honors the fact that we were brought to this land, and we brought great investment to this space?

I think that it felt somewhat insulting.

And let’s say that it was a Black creator, on behalf of Walmart that created the ice cream.

Yes?

Well, this perspective would show that Blacks across the US are not a monolith. We don’t all have one perspective. So when it comes to authenticity, I think it is very important that we announce, and we articulate, and we highlight, “Who am I talking to here?” Am I talking to Walmart that that claims to be American, but buys most of its products from China, and then resells them on the backs of slave labor? Or am I speaking to Maya Ford who is truly intentional about working in communities, and working to make sure that those neighbors are valued? Which is it?

But the hypocrisy lies in the production element.

Our health care is about getting back to work faster. In our education system, they want you to spit out information so that you can get to work faster. When we go into a recession, our financial components are all about the fact that the economy is cooling off. We have to keep things moving. There’s no space to consider other elements of the equation like joy, rest, collaboration, or nature. It’s all about production.

And then what do we do? Black people are paid 30% less than everybody else. So we do all of that work. We hustle it for pennies on the dollar, and then we turn around and buy it back.

So when you ask me about this space of production and consumption, why are we upholding this system?

I challenge us to do the opposite. Why can’t we do like Jewish communities do for Holocaust Memorial Day? Shut things down, let that be the day of storytelling. Let that be the day of local community farming and gardening. Let that be the day of sharing your story or finding your ancestry. Let that be the day of discovery and connection to the God that allowed us to continue to be, instead of the day that is about production and consumption. Could we have one day?

So, what’s missing from retailers’ approach to Juneteenth celebrations?

In the most tangible sense, I think it would be an authentic acknowledgement of the suffering behind the day, but not in a trauma porn way.

Yes.

Respect. What’s missing is respect for the suffering that people went through.

These companies don’t do that for the Holocaust.

Don’t get me started.

They don’t do kitschy shit for the Holocaust. They don’t do that shit for the Vietnam War. And while it is true, African Americans do a beautiful job of converting trauma into celebration, it is a strength. That’s a very specific asset that African Americans turn to.

We have enough trauma. So we don’t always need to be reminded of it. But I think honoring and demonstrating respect for the fact that that was, historically, a torturous period, is necessary.

Yes.

Perhaps even giving more context to the products and talking about how they help the African American plight would be an improvement.

There seems to be a disconnect in some executives’ minds between the idea of culture-specific holidays versus the actual people who celebrate them. Can you discuss the problems that can arise via misunderstanding the purpose of these occasions? Here, I was thinking about when holidays are focused on as money making opportunities, instead of centering the people who traditionally celebrate them.

I do think authenticity matters.

And what we’re learning is that the United States is a really challenging space, because we’re not homogenous. And that’s a great problem to have. Our level of diversity is so deep that very few other nations have the complexities in diversity as we do. I don’t think that this is a bad thing. I think this is a very good thing. I think that it benefits us: the more ideas we have, the more collaboration, the more diverse we are, the better.

That being said, I would argue that we’re moving into this era that still does not have ethnic diversity in critical leadership positions.

Yet those same decision makers are making decisions for persons that they don’t know. They’re looking on loose data. They’re making assumptions about those that they serve, instead of really understanding from lived experience, or from the capacity to have critical thought and actually connecting with those people.  So it’s a really lazy way of doing business, which is how you come up with products like the Walmart ice cream.

I think that across the board, if you can remember that service to others is not about you, and dig into the work for those whom you are serving, then you get authentic, better outcomes, and better products that work. And you will have sustainable models to serve those people.

When you’re pushing your latest, greatest idea that they may or may not have ever told you that they wanted—then you know you’re doing it for yourself. And what I do know is that Black folks, considering they’re such big consumers, when they wake up, they’re not going to accept that any longer.

Let’s get into STOLO a little bit. I understand you founded this methodology, and STOLO means Standard of Love.

Could you begin by explaining a bit of what STOLO is?

Well, I never saw myself as an inventor, I always just thought, “oh, I can take this thing and make it better…” And bell hooks is one of my favorite authors. At the time, when Trayvon Martin was murdered, we were devastated. I’m a mother with three children. I have three stepchildren. I’m a grandmother.

It was unfathomable, that a young kid that looked like our own kids could be walking in our own neighborhood, and someone could attack them for no reason. it seemed like something out of the civil rights movement. It just seemed very foreign to me.

And so, I started thinking things like, “what are my own tools and resources?” What do I have?

I didn’t have money. But I have a big fat mouth that I like to use. And I have a critically-thinking brain. And I know a lot of what [the late] bell hooks spoke about.

What she talked about was that African Americans have always had the juice, but we have not activated it due to trauma. But when we move through our trauma, what is possible?

The Standard of Love asks questions. I liken it to the scientific method. The scientific method doesn’t tell you if your theory is right or wrong. It simply carries you through a process that allows you to ask more questions and to get some evidence for your theory to confirm or deny a hypothesis, and then you move to the next step. STOLO is the same thing, but for communications. It has five categories. We call them pillars: Literacy, values, self-esteem, economic power, and justice. 

The first three are the most important. You can’t solve what you can’t name. And different cultures typically have their own languages. For example, many people use onomatopoeia.

African Americans also use AAVE. But even AAVE is a derivative of Southern English. So you wouldn’t have a Northern African American naturally speaking AAVE, unless they had some ancestry or components linked to the South.

Certain Asiatic languages use tones. You can have one written character that sounds four different ways. So based on that, you know which word it is. That’s a cultural component, it would take a non-Asiatic language speaker years to understand the variations of the four tones.

Various languages use different signifiers; these are the variables of communication of language literacy. And when you go into different spaces, you have to know the correct language to be able to communicate effectively.

And then there are values: What is important to people? We talk about values the most, because it’s the secret sauce of everything, everywhere. Values are the shared space, where people are willing to announce what is important to them, and they’re willing to protect them. So if you go for values, you’re always, always going to win. Always remember this: go for values.

But the second part of values is worthiness, and how much are one’s values worth?

Really, what we estimate, is that African Americans value safety. And they think that money provides safety. And it does to a certain extent, but that’s not the full picture.

So when we’re able to identify what the other values what their values are, its creativity, its safety, its color. African Americans lead in hair design, and nail design, and fashion, all of these things that the whole rest of the world picks up. And Africans have been doing this for centuries with natural dyes and braiding, and all kinds of intricate patterns and weaving. This is an asset.

These first two elements actually show you an important part of people’s cultural currency: When you look at literacy and values, how important are they to you? And what are they worth? Those things are assets.

Right now, African Americans give away their assets. We give them away, and then somebody else takes those things, and goes and makes gazillions off of us. “It’s the freedom for me.”

The third part of STOLO is self-esteem. When you do things that make you feel better, you move out of trauma. And so many of the things that we do are done because we’re traumatized. It’s like the person who just keeps running. They just keep moving, constantly, because if they sit down, they feel like they’ll lose everything—they’ll never be able to get up. And they don’t know how to do anything other than just keep on going. Yet this is a detriment to the psyche, and to our physical being.

What STOLO helps you do is focus your energy and pursue what you value, go for your highest priorities, and stop doing other shit. If you don’t value something, why are you doing it? If you don’t like poopoo on your plate, why do you keep ordering it? Why do you keep letting folks give you poopoo on your plate?

Instead, say you want Whole Foods on your plate, and that’s what you’ll get.

Those are the first three steps. But after that, you’ve got economic power, and justice. Justice is not just about justice in the sense of closure. It is also about fairness, Completion. Balance, and reciprocity.

So the Standard of Love asks us, if we truly believe that the standard that this nation was built upon is accurate, then great. Let’s keep going, understanding that we’re never going to get justice. But if we ask ourselves, what are these elements that we believe should be in play, then this gives us new variables to create a future that is truly inclusive of everyone. It doesn’t exclude whites, or Asians, or men, or people who don’t identify as a gender. If anything, it is more open, more inclusive. It’s not linear. It feels very much like science fiction. But it’s so tangible.

Okay, so my next question is, why should people use STOLO when they’re developing a strategy related to an occasion like Juneteenth? And then how can STOLO’s pillars be applied to their situation?

I think the first thing to ask is “What do we value?” And if we value freedom, that’s really great. Are you free? What is freedom?

Let’s go into the language of STOLO. Just the first three pillars articulate some of that: What do you call freedom? What do you value and how does it make you feel?

Some people are deeply connected to their traditions. And that’s a very human thing. It tethers us to those who came before us, and some people see Juneteenth as a day to honor and celebrate those that came before them.

My family does that through reunions. Every culture does it differently. There’s no right or wrong way. But first articulate it. Name it, and then ask yourself, even within your traditions, what do you value? So if it’s truly freedom that you value, then, are you free? And what is that worth to you? How is that freedom expressed? Is it that you deserve a day off, or something else?

And the third part is self-esteem. If something makes us feel worse about ourselves, are other people benefiting beyond us? For something like Juneteenth, we need to really think that through and articulate what it is that we want instead.

And I would challenge organizations who are creating programming, products, or services around anyone’s cultural holiday or celebration to dig deeper into the authentic components of service to that culture. Do they really know what’s important to the people? And are they not using big data alone to gather information?

Okay. I’ve I asked you about the why, and then the how of how STOLO’s pillars can be applied to companies’ efforts. Did you want to go into that a little more?

On a corporate level, what are their goals? If your goal is to capitalize on the success or the suffering of a population, then you need to stop that. If your goal is to satisfy shareholders, then, no. That’s unacceptable.

If your goal is to create meaningful impact, then don’t wait until shit happens. Do the real work, and aim for truly rewarding solutions. For example, it took time to put Juneteenth ice cream into production. Even if they put it in one or two locations, it took them at least six to nine months to get that into production.

But what about other responses? They could have said, for Juneteenth, “we’re leaving all of our clinics open for therapy”.  They could have done so many other meaningful things. And they still could have made money. They could have said something like “Your first two therapy sessions free, we’re only hiring Black therapists, and then after that we’ll offer them at the regular rate!”

I think corporations need to dig into their own values, and hire FordMomentum! We’ll help them through.

Excellent! If leaders and organizational staff want to genuinely support Juneteenth, or other diverse celebrations, but are hesitant or unsure of how, what steps can they take in order to do so?

I love this question. I think it’s really important that we give ourselves space to make mistakes. And that’s what allyship is about. Right?

We’re human. This is new for all of us. Whether you were born in the United States, or you just got here 500 years ago, it has not been a space of equity. And you know, there’s been this idea of inclusion for all. Our nation touts that but it has not lived up to it. And so, when approaching people who celebrate traditions that are new to you, it’s okay to show up in spaces and not know everything, and be gentle.

Just be gentle. Say, “Hey”. Ask people questions. If they feel annoyed with you, then shut the fuck up. And move to the next person. You can show up at a Juneteenth event and bear witness, you can show up and not have to be the center of attention, you can show up and ask questions, or go with someone that you know.

If you don’t have friends that are not of your culture, you’re missing out, you know? One of the greatest gifts that God gave us is diversity. And it’s free!

Absolutely!

It’s free. So go with a friend. If you don’t have any friends then go to events with hopes that you can connect with one person. Or, if you can’t attend a live event, support someone else that you know and say, “Man, I’m not feeling comfortable going this year, but maybe I could go next year with you.”

I like that. To a certain extent, you’ve answered my next question. Because I know we started talking about leaders and organizational staff. I was going to ask about members of the public who are interested in celebrating with diverse communities, and they want to connect to it in an authentic way. And you’ve brought up the idea of them talking to people—reaching out and actually putting effort into communicating with Black people.

We all have to do the work, sis. I think that the brilliant thing about this time and space is that no one gets to be in the passenger seat. Everybody has to do the work. So it forces all of us to be vulnerable together.

I have one more question. What are your hopes for the future? What are you having faith for—believing? Or, what are your just thinking in general, about the future of how this holiday is regarded in America, and perhaps the world?

I think the conversation of race and ethnicity are one of the lowest frequencies that we can put out as a human species.

What do you mean by that? Elaborate.

It’s just not a high achieving conversation. It’s just so unnecessary compared to all the things that we can do. So the future that I would love to see is one that genuinely stops having this conversation. Right now it’s necessary to get to equity, right?

But I would love to be in a position where this is not a problem for us anymore. And instead, we’re talking about really high-level issues, like how to maximize the efficiency of tools and resources that we do have, or how to equitably protect resources that are here that we don’t fully understand.

As our conversation continued, Maya encouraged people to pursue the goal of an equitable society, while holding their heads high.

You know, [Edward R. Murrow] said difficulty is the excuse that history will never accept. And the truth is that it’s equally as hard to uphold what we don’t want, as it is to build what we do want. The work is the same. Why put effort into what you don’t want? We get to choose. So if I’m going to put effort into something…

Yes?

I’m not putting effort into lower standards. I will put the same work into new standards. This is true for all of us of every ethnicity, every economic group. Every life form right now in this universe must work towards expansion. We’re all in the same boat. No one is exempt. So you’ve got to do the work to move forward. Stop holding on to the low of the past. We have every tool, every resource—every everything—right here, right now. Allow June 19, 2022 to be the year that African Americans recognize that we can keep moving forward with higher standards. But first, we must identify what those standards are.

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Mind Your Media

Mind Your Media: The Core of The Grift

Further to yesterday’s post, I’ve finally got a clear idea of what’s been bothering me.

Certain media figures lie consistently about the way the world works and how people treat each other. They seem to love comforting themselves and their audiences with the idea that the oppressed or vulnerable within society are trying to fool everyone.

Some do it with great flair. They may produce just enough content to seem trustworthy—offering self-help advice, or entertaining guests. Many are enchanted by the smoke and mirrors that they employ. Yet the dangerous parts of what these spin doctors share remains unquestioned and presented as fact. They blithely go about fomenting ignorance and hatred, with little thought for the impact of their words or actions. I, for one, am tired of seeing the pain that this behaviour causes.

Yesterday, one headline in particular gave me an epiphany. Or at least, a new way to articulate my thoughts on what’s going on.

We are suffering from the effects of an epidemic of people who want to be idolized even if the heartbeat of their core message rests on something that isn’t true.

These folks can be downright obsessive about their messaging. After all, they have built entire livelihoods on others’ faith in their falsehoods. And sadly, their audiences believe their words regardless of how dishonest they actually are. They do this simply because their idols’ ideas validate their fears.

And what is it that people are people afraid of? Among other things…

That human beings could be as depraved as they are revealed to be by their words and deeds, and as declared in the headlines.

But why do some of us willingly believe lies about how others truly are? We humans delight in protecting ourselves. Above all else, for many, it is far more comforting to remain comfortable than it is to accept uncomfortable truths. At the deepest state of denial, from what I’ve seen, there are folks who like to believe one or both of the following: a) The only way an instance of bigotry is unreasonable is if it involves an instance of physical violence that harms the victim(s), and b) people don’t actually perpetrate unbelievably horrific acts of physical violence against innocent people.

I pray that human beings will stop deluding themselves. Man’s inhumanity to man is truly, truly horrible.


Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash

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Culture, I'm just sayin'.

On Compassion

Just FYI: My next interview starts off with a question that uses this word. I was inspired to write this post because I wanted to address something that’s been lurking in the atmosphere.

Let’s start things off off with a definition.

According to Merriam-Webster, compassion is a “sympathetic  consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

These days I’ve noticed that if you suggest that certain people deserve a bit more grace than folks are typically given, some people respond with fear, annoyance, or even disgust.  Although I could feel this attitude in the air for the longest while, at first, I couldn’t place its source. I once mused to a friend, “Why do some men act as though if they’re compassionate, they’re going to lose their [insert vital organ here]?”

And then, one day, I saw it. Proof that a popular media personality believes that compassion is detrimental. Long story short, they seemed pretty convinced that compassion is corrosive. In fact, they argued with such conviction, I couldn’t help but believe they had been railing against the supposed evils of compassion for a long time.

This concerns me deeply. Furthermore, the idea of distorting the definition of compassion caused me to think of the impact of what doing such a thing could have on society. How much harm can be caused by misrepresenting something that is not only perfectly normal, but an important part of the human experience?

I’m bothered because it isn’t only that certain people have bad ideas. My antennae goes up when I notice that these people who have bad ideas have large audiences. Their audiences tend to believe what their leaders tell them. The next thing you know, these people’s ideas have an influence on how their audience members interact with others.  

And what happens when you insist on putting your trust in bad (incorrect) information? Misunderstandings and needless conflicts.

“But I pledged my allegiance to Bro Code. How could it possibly fail me?”

It does. It can. It has. And it will.

In the past, I’ve attempted to discuss serious race-related issues with people that I’ve otherwise respected, only to be met with ignorance and dismissiveness. Stunned, at first, I wondered why. Their attitudes didn’t match what I thought I knew of them.

Yet after observing certain media gurus’ output, I don’t wonder any longer.

What hope does humanity have of getting rid of bigotry when those with an upper hand in society have role models who paint essential human traits in a negative light?

The Surrendered Intellect

No one is an expert on everything.

It’s widely accepted that different people are going to know more than others about different subjects. This is true simply because of who we are and our various lived experiences. And do you know what? It’s okay.

We understand this regarding certain professions. You can’t fix your car yourself unless you’ve been trained to do so.

We understand this related to sex. Due to our firsthand knowledge, women know more about pregnancy than men.

Yet on race, some white people follow a different pattern: They rush to assert themselves, confident that they know more than people of colour about whether something is actually racist or not. I’ve discussed this before.

Sometimes I think about why this happens. I keep thinking that someone should tell these folks: It’s okay to not speak because you lack knowledge on a subject. Especially when misunderstanding something can affect people’s quality of life, or even safety.

Still, certain media gurus attempt to prove how much of an authority they are on everything—including race. I’ve noticed that they may even share their platforms with so-called experts who share their incorrect points of view. Sometimes, these “experts” are even people of color who claim that problems with racism are grossly exaggerated.

And in return? Their audience hangs on their words. I once tried to consider why people remain devoted to such individuals.

I suppose it can be fun to listen to your heroes. You may believe in them, and therefore, believe that whenever they speak or present something (or someone) to you, you’re getting the straight scoop on the real heart of an issue. But here’s the kicker: When you’re consistently given flawed information, the trust that you place in your idols isn’t wisely invested. Faith in paranoia-driven, dishonest rhetoric doesn’t put you on an inside track. It actually derails your–and society’s–progress.

If you’ve read this far and still insist that I’m wrong, what’s your end game? As you make your way through this world, who is it that you want to get along with? Is it ONLY people who look and think like you–and the people who agree with them, without question?

What you choose to believe about the world and the people in it taints your understanding of society. It also harms your relationships with others. I know that some people listen to certain gurus because they’ve bought into the lie that doing so will make their lives better. But if you choose to believe incorrect information, are you really at an advantage?

Someone who shares their thoughts with the world may be famous. But that does not guarantee that their ideas are correct.

How does this relate to compassion?

We live in the real world. And in the real world, we have to grapple with negative issues. When we interact with others, as we attempt to resolve conflicts, it’s normal to want to reach positive outcomes. And in order for this to happen, a sense of compassion, or the ability to be compassionate towards others, is useful. Especially regarding sensitive subjects.

You can’t use cold, faux-reasoning to resolve legitimate issues. Whoever taught you this is lying.

Writing those last sentences made me cringe as I realize something. The same people who disregard compassion are also taught not to take various forms of prejudice seriously.

I can imagine the warnings that such folks give to others: “Don’t be compassionate! That’s how they get you!!”

What’s the mindset behind this sort of thing? “It’s better to be a cold, wannabe-intellectual, than a sensitive, vulnerable human being”?

If you’ve answered “yes” to that question, why?

Such a model of humanity is not sustainable, or realistic.

Let’s extend this discussion to reference masculinity. The perspective that I’m referring to is often promoted by male public figures to their predominantly male audiences. Men’s perspectives are also important because of their broader influence on the entire world.

When I think of stereotypically manly things that I appreciate, certain traits come to mind.

But have you considered something? Sensitivity and depth are attractive. Both platonically, and romantically. As characteristics go, they suggest good things, such as the likelihood that someone is trustworthy. And isn’t that a good thing?

Meanwhile, those aspects of your personality can’t function properly if you’re busy attempting to mimic an overly-stoic robot.

So why, exactly, do certain people insist on resisting compassion? From what I’ve seen, they believe that it comes with consequences.

There’s that old myth: The idea that you’re less of a (hu)man if you’re too compassionate or sensitive. Yet it’s a myth for a reason.

I’ve even seen people suggest that those who pursue equity secretly have bad intentions. Yet there’s a difference between getting someone to understand why bigotry is bad, and maliciously manipulating them.  The latter is not something that interests people. It isn’t in any normal individual’s playbook.

Sadly, though, some are so eager to hang onto bigoted points of view that they insist on painting people of color as villains, no matter what we do.

That mindset is more than tiresome. It’s a road that leads to nowhere.

A Word About Your Black (or [Insert Human Difference Here]) Friends

Let’s get back to something that I mentioned earlier: The times when I’ve been surprised by people’s strange attitudes about racism.

Looking back on those encounters, this year, I started to wonder: How likely is it that these people have ever had a serious, deep, honest conversation about racism with their Black friends?

And I’m not talking about chats on the type of bigotry that hits the headlines. It’s easy for most people to see that those instances are dehumanizing.

I’m referring to racism in all its multifaceted, nuanced glory.

There are racist incidents that never appear on your favourite news channel. And when it comes to eliminating those, some people don’t want to face the truth: Stopping regular, everyday racism involves changing people’s ingrained mindsets and behaviour through education, and practice.   

Yet as one Dear Relative has reminded me, ignorance is a choice. One of the reasons that our society is facing today’s challenges is because certain people have consciously decided to ignore reality as others experience it.

You can choose to believe your Black friends when we say that Incident or Behaviour X hurts or is racist. Or you can believe that we are lying. (I was going to say “exaggerating”. But suppose someone has experienced something awful and tells you. And in response, you tell them that they are exaggerating. What do you actually mean?)

What is the actual consequence of believing that people are being honest about the pain that racism causes? Why do people act as though it is bad to do so?

You can choose to explore books and other resources that offer honest depictions of how sinister and pervasive racism is. Or you can turn your attention to those that deny it.

And the deniers are clever. But faux intellectualism can’t obscure the truth.

Racism is real. Trivializing the hardships of people that you claim to care about isn’t helpful. You may get along well with a person of colour. And that’s lovely. But if you deny the veracity of our concerns about things that leave us vulnerable, then your devotion is superficial.


Photo via Josue Escoto on Unsplash. I copied the Racism Iceberg from a source who found it here.

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Around the T-Dot, Caribbean Culture, Music

Black Women’s Freedom Weekend

How are you doing, Dear Reader?

On Twitter I mentioned the combined phenomenons of Beyoncé dropping Renaissance, and this past weekend’s Caribana parade. The blissful timing of it all made me dub the last few days Black Women’s Freedom Weekend. There’s no doubt that if, like me, you’re a Black woman of Caribbean descent, and you love Bey, your mood might’ve gotten a double boost of energy within the past 72 hours.

First, New Beyonce

I’m still gathering my thoughts on Renaissance. It’s a surprise and a delight all at the same time.

If you’re a fan, you probably already know “Break My Soul”. Bey dropped a new visualizer for it the other day.

And every now and then I check the internet for gems like these. It’s fun to read interviews with the people behind the album of the summer.

So many of Beyoncé’s songs are sweet to my ears. If I never write another word on Renaissance, know this: From the first time I listened, my heart burst with pride. And I thought, “YES! THIS is what Black Girl Magic sounds like!”

Caribana, aka Toronto Caribbean Carnival

As already mentioned, my ancestors are from the Caribbean. When I was younger, growing up outside of the GTA, I felt like I was robbed of the chance to immerse myself in my culture. True, I was able to enjoy some experiences, like Caribbean home cooking. But I longed for more.

This weekend, revellers donned costumes and came together for the 55th year of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, aka Caribana.

Here are a few highlights:

Articles like this one serve as a wonderful reminder of the healing that can come through celebrating one’s culture. Everyone out participating in the parade looks so joyful and free—I long to join them!


Photo via sheenalashay on Nappy.co

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Music

Beyond “Break My Soul”: Anticipating New Beyoncé

“B is back,” indeed!

Like so many of you I’ve been blasting Beyoncé’s lates single. It’s a certified hit. But it’s also been speaking to me on a deeper level. When I hear “Break My Soul” my spirit feels unstoppable. It gives my mood a boost. Queen Bey’s new album drops tomorrow, and I can’t wait!

From what I read last night, her new albums will contain country tracks. (I say “albums” as Renaissance is the first in a three-part series.)

Did I mention that this is also one of my favourite Beyoncé songs?

For those who need visuals, here’s her 2016 performance at the Country Music Association Awards with The Chicks.

I remember the controversy that followed.

In the end I feel like Beyoncé opened the door for a greater conversation on diversity in country music. I, for one, would love to see (or hear) her perform with a legend like Reba McEntire or Dolly Parton. Or even a newer artist, like Mickey Guyton.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But in Renaissance’s track listing, I noticed that there’s a song called “Church Girl”.

People talk about Kanye. But if Beyoncé every releases a gospel album, I’m convinced that Jesus himself will come down and tell her, “Good job, B!”

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Business, Culture, Diversity

Juneteenth: It’s about freedom. Part Two

Today my discussion on Juneteenth with Jason Greer continues, as I asked him to share an issue of his own choosing.

Claire Francis – Is there anything that I haven’t brought up thus far related to Juneteenth and its commercialization or portrayal that you think needs to be brought out into the open and discussed further?

Jason Greer – Yes. One thing I will say is that we need to be mindful. And when I say we, I’m saying the general public who will champion Juneteenth needs to be mindful that in the process of wanting more people to celebrate it, we need to be aware of how harshly we condemn people who are trying to celebrate it in the only manner that they know how to. And—

CF What do you mean by that?

JG – I’ve actually had people come to me—I’ve had organizations come to me and say, “We want to celebrate Juneteenth. But we’ve seen the social media flack that Target has received, we’ve seen the social media flank the Walmart has received, and we’re scared that that’s going to be us because we’re scared to death of saying something wrong or doing something wrong.”

CF I see. Because, l’ve noticed something. [Given that] we’re in a very tumultuous time, regarding race relations, there’s a lot of pain, and a lot of healing. And a lot of difficult, uncomfortable, unfortunate conversations that need to be had. And, in the positive corner of all this tumultuousness that’s happening, there are people who want to make a difference and people who want to make things better, and contribute to a healing atmosphere to help humanity and help us move forward. And people are putting forth efforts. [But] that’s also where you end up with things like Walmart’s ice cream.

People are trying, and companies are trying, but as you said, they run the risk of making mistakes. And I think there needs to be room for forgiveness, as well as accountability. But at the same time, I hope that companies know that there’s life beyond what is said on social media.

JG – Yeah.

CF Because it can be a very negative atmosphere.

JG Agreed. And I love everything you just said. But I think it also gets back to the complicated history that we have with race. And at some point, within white America, it was understood that in order to demonstrate that you’re anti racist, you just don’t talk about race at all. And so, part of the challenge that we find is that—I go back to the George Floyd moment. How many people reached out to myself? They reached out to my wife. And, you know, we both grew up in predominately white areas. And so, these were people, many of whom we went to grade school with. We were the only Black folks in our respective classes.

CF Yes.

JG And now, all of a sudden, they’re asking questions about race. And I look to my wife at one point, I said, “Are they just now discovering that racism is still a thing?” Only to find out that many of them really were just now discovering that racism is still a thing. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that their social circles look just like them.

CF Yes.

JG – Their church circles and their places of worship look just like them. And their only interaction with people that look like you and me are in the workplace, and even that can be sort of a “hi” and “bye” kind of thing. So I think the challenge that we have when we talk about Juneteenth overall, is: There are many of us who are sort of at the PhD level as it relates to race because we have to live it. We live it and deal with it every single day. How many times do you find yourself sitting around watching television talking to a buddy, and all of a sudden you start talking about race? And you talk about it the way you talk about the weather, right? It’s fine, because that’s our experience.

Whereas I think for other folks that I’ve encountered, they’re so far behind, because they can talk to you about sports, they can talk to you about their job, they can talk to you about politics, but as far as race goes, they’ve never really spoken about it.

CF Very true. And I think when people don’t know how to speak about it, they perceive openness about race in a negative light, and that can be quite frustrating.

JG – Yeah, it can be, especially when you’re trying to share your heart. Because I know for myself, I’ve gone into so many conversations about race, not from an attitude of condemnation, but from an attitude of, “I just want to help you understand.” And sometimes I’m met with that understanding. Other times I’m met with an abrupt, “I’m not racist!” And as soon as they say that, things kind of shut down. So it doesn’t matter what I say as a follow up if they just shut down. But I think that’s the tug and pull of diversity and inclusion.

CF Very, very true. And that’s something that we’re dealing with. Getting back to Juneteenth and race, diversity, and inclusion: You mentioned the companies that want to try. But they don’t want to be the next Walmart or whomever.

JG – Yeah, but let’s be real. Then you have those companies that don’t just try—they do. I mean, when you look at Ben and Jerry’s ice cream—long before diversity became a cool catch phrase, they were out there actively promoting social causes. They were not afraid when people came at them for their stance on Black Lives, and their stance on the LGBTQ+ community. They came back just as hard as the people who are coming at them, like, “Hey, the fact that you’re upset means the we’re doing something right. In fact, we’re gonna go ahead and promote more ice cream with more social causes!” So again, it’s one of those things that if you’re going to do it, then do it. Right?

CFAbsolutely.

JG – Because you’re going to be tested. And when you get tested, are you going to fold? Or, are you going to keep moving forward?

CF Exactly. And what you just said to me, I think is very important in this era of all the tension that we have. People need to be willing to persevere in spite of opposition.

JG – Yes. I mean it. I always go back to how on Martin Luther King’s birthday, there are always people who post cherry-picked quotes from Dr. King on social media.

CFYes.

JG – And they talk about what a wonderful man he was. And that’s cool. But, talk in context, because Martin Luther King, before he died, was one of the most hated men on the face of the planet. And Martin Luther King marched. If you’re going to celebrate the man, celebrate the struggle that made the man. Martin Luther King marched in the face of crippling racism, people spitting on him. People threatening to kill him. They killed him, but he wanted to be a drum major for peace in a world that did not want him to even breathe or take another breath. And so, if we’re going to honor Martin Luther King and you’re going to say that he’s one of your heroes, then attitude follows leadership.

CF “Attitude follows leadership…” Yes. That’s true, I think individuals and companies have to stay focused on their goals. And tune out noise.

How can companies avoid making mistakes related to diversity and Juneteenth-related issues? And what should their response be if they actually do make a mistake?

JG Great question. Fail fast.

Fail fast. Acknowledge the mistake. But understand that there is growth through failure. Because if your central position is that we want to stand for this particular cause, then we take a stand. And we don’t buckle, we acknowledge when we get it wrong. I mean, I’ll use example of Target again. Target acknowledged when they got it wrong, but that didn’t stop them from moving forward with their product line. It didn’t stop them from going out of their way to give Black graphic artists, Black creators, and designers opportunities to put their message out there.

CF You mention the idea of failing fast as well as the idea of growth through failure. Would you say that companies ought to implement certain safe safeguards or take precautions—in terms of staffing and who they hire, or who they consult?

Let’s look at the example of Walmart and their ice cream. There were probably customers who were thinking something like, “Lord, who thought of that?!” And, sometimes when companies come up with things, I’m thinking, “Didn’t they have any Black people to ask?” But what if they did have Black people to ask about this, you know?

JG – Yeah.

CF And the Black person said it was okay. Or they thought it was cool…

JG – I was going to actually say we’re thinking alike here, because I was going to say that representation does, indeed matter. Especially when you’re trying to spread a message of inclusivity. But, again, I think this is why it’s so critically important that you have subject matter experts around you.

CF Yes.

JG – Because, I mean, Twitter was on fire over Juneteenth ice cream. And you just read and comment after comment. You know, “clearly they don’t have any Black folks”, “who approved this or that?” Well, there’s 19 or 20 subcultures within the African American community as a whole. So it’s is very possible that they actually did go to someone Black. And they said, “What do you think?” And they might have said, “I think this is a great idea.” I’m scratching my head hoping that wasn’t the case. But you never know. So I stand by this attitude of fail fast. Acknowledge where you get it wrong.

CF Yes.

JG – And continue to put yourself out there with the understanding that for everything we get wrong, there are going to be times when we get it right. Now, you might not get any kind of public validation for what you’ve gotten right. Because in today’s society, people are so fast to jump on what they perceive as wrong, but don’t often give kudos to that which is actually right. But if, internally, your organization can legitimately say, “We are moving the needle in terms of not just Juneteenth, we’re moving it in terms of social conscience, because we’re moving people toward this attitude that diversity and inclusion actually matters to us. And if it matters to us, our hope is that it matters to you…” That’s power in itself.

But this is not one of those things where you build a brand-new stadium, and 100,000 people show up, and you know that they love the stadium based on the fact that they’re packing it in. It’s not that kind of game. Right? It’s the validation of knowing that we’re doing the right thing, not just for in terms of our business, but also in terms of the social imprint that we want to leave.

CF Excellent. Thank you. So before we go, one thing that was brought up is that you mentioned Target and how they consulted and work with Black artists, which is meaningful.

But what happens when Black creators are not in the picture? Do you think that the efforts mean as much as they should, or will be acknowledged as much? Here, I’m thinking of the heart of the people who are promoting the material. And whether it’s genuine or not, based on who they have creating the material. Do you think that’s an important factor to consider?

JG – As far as making sure that they have representation?

CF Yes! Genuine representation.

JG – I think it does matter. But understand that even in making sure that you have representation, it doesn’t always mean that you have to have 100% Black voices. But if you’re going to have somebody or some bodies who are going to put together something, yes. Make sure they understand the culture.

I mean, to me, you’ve got to understand your audience’s language in order to speak to them. And if you’re guessing at the language, or doing a Google search as to what the language is, then you don’t inherently understand it.

The mark of any good salesperson is their ability to understand and anticipate the needs of their clients, or potential clients. It’s the same thing here. If I’m going to market a service to you, I have to know how to speak to you. And if I don’t know how to speak to you, then I shouldn’t be speaking to you. Or I should sit back and actually try to learn what you need to hear.

Once again, I’ve been interviewing Jason Greer—an internationally recognized Labor Relations and Diversity Management Consultant who is known as the “Employee Whisperer.” He can be found online via the website for his business, Greer Consulting.

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Business, Culture, Diversity

Juneteenth: It’s about freedom. Not merch.

The story of Juneteenth is an important part of American history: On January 1, 1863, in the United States, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet enslaved Texans did not know that they had been set free until two and a half years later. On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order Number 3. This document declared what the rest of America knew: Under the law, enslaved Texans were liberated. Since that day, African Americans have been celebrating their ancestors’ freedom. And on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday in the United States.

This year, various companies marketed Juneteenth products to consumers. But some of their items were more well-received than others.

Efforts such as Walmart’s Juneteenth Ice Cream didn’t fare very well with consumers. People criticized the company and questioned their sincerity.

Truly, there’s a rift between how some organizations depict Juneteenth, and the way the Black community celebrates it. When a company’s efforts insult their audience, they risk alienating them.   

Recently I discussed Juneteenth’s commercialization with Black business and communications experts. They offered me insights into what companies can do if they want to genuinely show their support for this revered holiday. The key lies in understanding the true meaning of Juneteenth: To Black Americans, the day is not about merchandise.  

My Juneteenth series begins with part one of my discussion with Mr. Jason Greer.

Jason Greer is an internationally recognized Employee/Labor Relations and Diversity Management Consultant who is known as the “Employee Whisperer.” His tremendous ability to get in on the ground in any business allows him to immediately form relationships and improve morale and employer-employee relations. Greer has had incredible success due his background in Labor Relations, counselling psychology, and organizational development. He has more than 17 years in this industry and his company, Greer Consulting, Inc., ranks in the top 5% of labor and employee relations consulting companies in America.

I started by asking Mr. Greer my signature question.


Claire Francis Question number one: In the years before Juneteenth became a federal holiday, what did it mean to you?

Jason Greer – Freedom. And I’ll tell you why.

Before Juneteenth became Juneteenth, what I was taught was that there’s the Fourth of July, which is America’s day to shoot fireworks, etc. And then there was actually Juneteenth which—[according to] how I was brought up—Juneteenth actually should be America’s holiday, because that’s when everybody was theoretically free.

When you look at July 4, in terms of it being Independence Day, it meant independence for some, not independence for all. But when you look at Juneteenth, it’s [for] you. It’s right there. It’s factual, its historical. That’s when the slaves were officially free, two years later than when they were theoretically freed in terms of the law. So that’s what it means to me. It’s been interesting to see the evolution of Juneteenth, because it’s sort of taken on a different flavor.

CFAfter Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act last year, did you have any concerns about how the day would be perceived, or anything that would change?

JG – I don’t know that I had any concerns. I just remember thinking, “This is interesting…” because it was right on the heels of instances of voting rights being under attack. And it sort of felt like “We [the government] won’t give you this, but we’ll give you this…”

Does that make sense?

CF It does.

JG – So, I don’t know that I had any concerns. But I found that the timing was interesting. And my hope was, “Well, no one said that life is fair. So maybe there are still opportunities here for learning, for growth, for an appreciation of a very dark history.” And when I say appreciation, acknowledgement is appreciation. And there was not a formal acknowledgement prior to that moment.

CF In a sense I guess, it felt like the least officials could do. With Juneteenth becoming an official holiday, I suppose it’s hard not to feel a little bit hopeful when something like that happens.

JG – And I live in this life: I call it the glass half full, right? Because, on one hand, I’ve heard some people say it was just a consolation prize, but then on the other hand, a consolation prize, historically, was nothing. So from this perspective, Juneteenth’s change in status represents the start of something. And especially within corporate America, I’ve seen some wonderful conversations that have happened as a result of this occasion. Conversations that would not have happened or may not have happened within the next five to 10 years. So for companies and organizations across the board, who are honoring Juneteenth, I think it’s really cool that the government is actually putting some action behind their promises.

CF Now, I’m going to turn my attention to the commercialization of Juneteenth. Taking a look at retailers, for example, there was that recent controversy over Walmart’s Juneteenth Ice Cream. Considering the issue of commercialization and corporate-based influences, and maybe media influences as well—what are your overall concerns regarding retailers understanding of the holiday?

JG – Well, what I’ll say is that I wonder if they understand Juneteenth. [Especially] when you see retailers that are doing these Juneteenth displays, and part of their display is watermelon and Kool Aid, and some of the stereotypical food items that are associated with African Americans. I think that’s when we start to run into some issues. But what I would like to see is this: If you’re going to honor Juneteenth, then honor Juneteenth.

Memorial Day happens every year. And so, because this is America, you can’t get away from the commercialization of anything.

CF Absolutely.

JG If there’s an opportunity to make a buck, it’s going to make a buck. But even when you look at Memorial Day sales for furniture stores, or other places, even in their graphics, there’s an acknowledgement of the people who died in defense of our country. So, it’s sort of one of those things where, if you’re going to commercialize it, add some context to it.

CF Concerning retailers’ attitudes towards Juneteenth, what are some of the things that you think they have done well, or have gotten right?

JG – I’ll tell you what. I know that Target has caught a lot of flak for some of the items that they put out, in respect to African Americans, especially in respect to Juneteenth. But when you look at their approach to inclusion, they literally have gone to Black designers and brands, giving them opportunities at a high level, that they maybe they would not have received otherwise. So even though maybe some of the delivery was not as favorable as people would have liked it to be, or as culturally sensitive as people would have liked, I think that Target is leading in terms of their approach.

The fact is that when they get it wrong, they get it wrong, and they acknowledge that they get it wrong. So they fail fast. I think that some organizations that I’m seeing as a whole, again, are really taking Juneteenth seriously.

And they are going out of their way to bring in speakers. They’re going out of their way to bring in informed subject matter experts. As much [of a] subject matter expert as you can be on the human condition. And they are actively engaging in dialogue about how we can become a more diverse and inclusive workspace.

CF You mentioned Target and the fact that they use Black designers for their goods and different items that they offer the public. What else do you think people could or should do if they want to celebrate Juneteenth, or show that their company cares about the holiday?

JG – The first thing is, begin. Just do it. And understand that in doing it, you’re not going to get it right 100% of the time. Because they always say race and politics are those two topics that you generally don’t talk about around the water cooler. But I think at the same time, especially when you consider our country’s complex relationship with race, and class, as well as other social structures, what I would encourage organizations to do is to begin to have conversations. Be open and reflective about what is shared, but also create as non-judgmental of a space as you possibly can.

Because for all the people who are on board with Juneteenth, there are others who are not on board because maybe it goes against what they personally believe, or maybe they don’t understand it. I read something the other day that said that nearly 30% of white Americans had heard of Juneteenth. Well, that number was over 60% for African Americans.

According to a Gallup poll, “More than two in three Black Americans (69%) say they have a lot or some knowledge about Juneteenth, compared with 40% of Hispanic Americans and 31% of White Americans.”

So I think there’s a lot of teaching that can go on as a result of this conversation.

CF – You’ve brought up a really important point about wanting to have staff informed because you’re trying to educate the public and make customers feel welcome. Regarding Juneteenth, you want to make sure that your company supports those initiatives and objectives from the beginning. And employees need to understand why Juneteenth is important to your customers. But then you also brought up the idea of people who might not understand Juneteenth, or might not be interested, etc.

I was thinking about how you can start if, say, you’re at a company where only one person is interested in a Juneteenth initiative, and everyone else is saying no. When you talk about beginning, how can people begin? Do you think they should hire diversity consultants?

JG – Great question. First, do a critical assessment as to whether or not this is something that you want to take on. I think any organization that’s doing diversity just for the sake of diversity, without understanding the responsibility that they have when they introduce diversity into their corporation or organization, is doing themselves a disservice. So understanding that it’s a Federal holiday, we get that part. But if you’re going to introduce conversation around Juneteenth, get subject matter experts.

Also make sure that if you happen to have African Americans that work for you, that you’re not automatically putting them on the spot to be the subject matter expert on all things Juneteenth. Because the reality is, they might be accountants, they might work in human resources, they might work wherever—they didn’t sign on to be your diversity trainer. Does that make sense?

CF – Yes. I think sometimes people might be overly eager, or presumptuous, and think, “Oh, you’re Black, you can talk about diversity…” Well, can they? And that brings up the issue that you mentioned: Are they skilled in the area of expertise that’s required?

JG You know, I was watching this movie called Emergency, on Amazon Prime. I haven’t finished it, so I can’t tell you what it’s all about. But in the beginning of the movie, two young brothers were in a college class. And their white professor walks in, and she says, “Okay, as you might have seen on the syllabus, today might be a bit triggering for many of you, because we’re going to talk about hate speech.” And she introduces the n-word. And she has it spelled out on the board. You see everyone kind of getting uncomfortable. And she continues to say the word but she’s not saying “the n-word”. She’s saying it plainly and using variations of it. And you see the two Black students being uncomfortable. You see the white students around them that are uncomfortable. And then, she finally looks at them and she goes, (paraphrasing) “you know, not to put you two on the spot. But can you argue some clarification as to the [use of the] n-word?” Everybody turned around to look at them.

I’m bringing that up as an example: Unless your African American employees volunteer for something like this, don’t just automatically assume that they are going to be your Juneteenth spokespeople.

CF Absolutely. [Note: Discussing racism can be exhausting, traumatizing, and stressful. This is something that needs to be considered when approaching people of color.]

In your dealings as a labor relations person, regarding employees who want to honor Juneteenth: What, if any, common issues have you noticed across industries, and even companies, related to the recognition of Juneteenth, or other holidays, such as Cinco de Mayo—that are connected to diverse communities?

JG – What I’ll say is that I remember when MLK Day was introduced. There was this understanding of Dr. King, because he was such a strong historical figure. From a kid’s perspective, because I was in college, there was this idea that, “It’s about time!”. Right?

I think when you look at a Juneteenth, there’s so little understanding across the board as to what it is. Although there’s acceptance because it’s a federal holiday, there’s still this idea of, “I don’t know exactly what Juneteenth is”. Now, that’s not everybody. But I think there’s still a lot of learning that’s going on.

And you brought up Cinco de Mayo. You have these historical holidays for groups of people, that mean something to so many folks. I think where people are sometimes disappointed is when something that means so much to them is just theoretical to other people, and there’s not as strong of an embrace as you would have hoped.

CF So, what do you think can be done to remedy the situation and keep employers informed? Do you think we should have education programs?

JG – Definitely education. Whether you’re bringing somebody in to speak on Juneteenth… Or, how about this? Google is a powerful tool. And if you can find the details of the Johnny Depp, Amber Heard trial [*laughter*], you can find the details of what goes into Juneteenth. I think there has to be a willingness though.

CF Willingness, how, though? What do you think people can do about willingness in the workplace looking at not only employees, but of course, whether you’re in a school dealing with administrators, or a corporation with executives: What do you think can be done in order to encourage interest in awareness—getting employers to understand that when you are moving towards understanding and appreciating your diverse employees, you will appreciate their traditions as well?

JG – I think you just honestly said it, right.

CF I was also going to ask you about what steps can be taken. You mentioned things like having a speaker come and talk. Yet it’s hard to support the idea of changing hearts and minds, because it’s up to the individual—whether or not they want to be informed about Juneteenth.

JG – Can I say something? Sometimes it comes down to employees actually going to their employers and saying, “This is what we would like to happen”. Because when you consider Amazon, Amazon makes a big deal of Juneteenth now. They bring in speakers, they bring in entertainers, it’s really, it’s a rockstar-level celebration. But that came from employees saying to Amazon, you don’t honor Juneteenth and we want you to.

CF Well, that’s good. I’m very glad that that Amazon is accepting of their employees’ desires in that way. On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, it made me wonder what employees might want to do if their employers are resistant to the idea of celebrating Juneteenth.

JG – The easy answer is to be patient. And continue to sow the seeds internally as to why Juneteenth is important to you, why Juneteenth would be important to the organization. Continue to raise your voice, but be mindful of who you’re raising your voice to. And be consistent. I mean, life is more than just a hashtag that comes and goes. If you believe that this is something that would be good in terms of honoring Juneteenth for the people that you work with, really consider what it says about your organization. Because these days, you have people who they will let you know what they think about your corporate stance based on their willingness to do business with you. Or on the other side of that, their unwillingness to do business with you. 

And understand that there are going to be consumers who want to do business with companies that honor Juneteenth and make a big deal of it. And there are going to be people on the other side of the equation that who don’t want to do business with you because you honor Juneteenth.

CF Yes. Now, when you’re looking at Juneteenth and retailers, we can look at two things: There’s the way they treat their employees. And there’s the way they arrange their businesses to serve, or not serve, their customers. So if you have retailers who are set against celebrating Juneteenth, or just haven’t considered it, where do you think retailers misunderstanding of Juneteenth comes from?

JG – I would say a lack of knowledge, and a general lack of understanding of what Juneteenth means to America. I think that’s one of the aspects of the Juneteenth discussion that we have to be careful of. It’s far too easy to say that it’s a Black holiday, or holiday for Black people, when the reality is that Juneteenth is a holiday for all people. Because, we’re not talking about the abolishment of, you know, yellow Starburst, right?

I’d say that because I don’t like them. [*laughter*]

We’re talking about the abolishment of slavery—of human beings, who happen to be Black.  I think that if we can honor [all of] the things that we honor in our country, why wouldn’t we honor something that was a positive step toward human rights?

CF Yes. Thank you very much. In your answer you made the point about people needing to understand that this is not just a Black holiday. And that made me think of Blackness, and in particular people’s resistance to the idea of it. I couldn’t help but think of how sometimes people think that when something is somehow connected to Black folks, that automatically means that it ought to be disregarded. “Oh, this is [traditionally celebrated by] Black people?” “Oh, no, thank you!”

That’s certainly something that I think needs to change across the board.

Looking at my questions… Did we discuss how Juneteenth has been received thus far? What have you noticed?

JG – I think that there’s some quarters that are very accepting of it. The moment that it was signed into law, they’re like, let’s roll. Right? Let’s, let’s dig into this. I think there are others who are actively resisting it, because of the perception that it’s a Black holiday. And then there are probably a large swath of people who have absolutely no idea what it is. And so there’s not an act of resistance as much as they’re just in the dark as to what it means.

For the Fourth of July, on social media, we see posts featuring people who are, grilling, they’re doing fireworks, and so on. It’s very a celebratory atmosphere for Fourth of July. It’d be an interesting thing, maybe 20 years from now to see people across the board who are grilling and shooting off fireworks, in that same celebratory mood for Juneteenth. That’s my hope.

To be continued.

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self-care/self-aware

Don’t use news to abuse.

I’ve tried to stay away from social media over the past several weeks. Although I click  on a tweet every now and then when I see it in an article, for the most part, I’ve succeeded. But a few days ago, I noticed that I’ve been drawn to something else. For, although I’ve tried to keep my distance from the Land of Likes, I’ve become a little too fond of my News app.

Have you ever caught yourself doomscrolling for information on everything from the world’s wars to the weather?

I have.

The other day, I asked myself a few questions.

My addiction to the news is an extension of my addiction to social media. What is being fed in my soul when I’m updating myself on the lives of all these people who have nothing to do with me? How is that actually helping me as an individual adult, alive, here and now?

Newsflash: It’s not.

Be careful out there. And above all, be kind to yourself.


Photo via CreateHER Stock Photos

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Mind Your Media

Mind Your Media: Manipulating Martin

“…I have not said to my people ‘get rid of your discontent’.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior – Letter from Birmingham City Jail

Last week on the internet, I noticed someone with a following misinterpreting Dr. Martin Luther King’s words. Since last month was the month of his birth, I shouldn’t have been surprised. 

And although the person’s speech was grandiloquent their intent was clear: They were trying to cast aspersions on people whose means of pursuing justice doesn’t meet their standards. 

They were relying on a classic tactic: The general public has very a very positive image of Dr. King. Yet far too many people believe the substance of King’s anti-racist stance can be found in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Although an important piece of oratory, people are prone to focusing on its inspiring imagery. They overlook something that King and his followers know to be true: Racism is not a simple issue, and it cannot be solved via superficial means. 

In spite of this, many believe that in order to solve racism, people ought to sanitize their language. As far as they’re concerned, people like me must be careful not to offend those who have hurt their fellow humans in the most horrible of ways. 

Yet if one person abuses another, should they not be made aware of the pain that they have caused?

Seeing Dr. King’s words used in an attempt to stifle anti-racist activism, at first, I thought of tagging Dr. Bernice King. She is a master at correcting people who manipulate her father’s words. Thankfully, though, I also remembered something else: Last year among other unread books, I had purchased A Testament of Hope. Edited by James A. Washington, Testament is an anthology of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings and speeches. 

This weekend, I began to read the book’s introduction. As I went, I paused. Suddenly, I felt an urge to flip through its pages. I wanted to see if any particular statements caught my eye. And that’s where today’s quote came from.

Some may woo their audiences with smooth rhetoric. They may try to use statements from Dr. King as a cudgel to degrade Black people. But I want you to know something:

It is not wrong to be uncomfortable with racism. Never mind the ugly lens that some use to frame the outspoken among us. It is not wrong to want people to do better than be bigoted towards their fellow human beings. 

Some really believe that people like me ought to be ashamed for wanting things to change. Those individuals want a of sanitized version of the world where those who harm others do not face consequences. 

As for the words above, I’m thankful for Dr. King. I already knew that works such as his Letter contained sentences that certain people will object to. And in the days to come, I look forward to discovering more of them.


Photo by Unseen Histories via Unsplash

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Mind Your Media

Mind Your Media: The Grand Misunderstanding 

Sometime in January, a thought came to mind:

Privilege may yield power, but it doesn’t automatically bring knowledge. 

– Claire

A few years ago I interviewed a white female professor for a diversity-driven story. Dr. Shelly Tochluk is an expert on challenging white people’s perspectives on bigotry. And she explained something to me about why some Caucasians are so defensive when attempting to tackle racism.

Our conversation centred on allyship. The following is an excerpt from her answer to my question, “Suppose a white person claims that they’re genuinely interested in combating racism. What’s one of the most critical things that they need to [realize]?”

“White people are conditioned to see ourselves as competent, as people who can get things done. We hear that we need to end racism. We hear that white people need to do something. We think we’re supposed to jump in and take charge. We are often like bulls in a china shop. We need to first understand how little we actually know at the beginning. Listening and learning are important.”

When confronted with race-related situations, due to their biases, some white people risk making wrong assumptions. They may misunderstand the gravity of the circumstances involved, as well as their potential psychological impact.

A white person may be aware that racism is wrong. But that doesn’t guarantee that they have an inherent understanding of how to dismantle it. Nevertheless, some of them choose to ignore this fact. They assume because they have Black colleagues, friends, or connections, that by association they possess knowledge of what constitutes racist circumstances or behaviour.

Furthermore, some think that all it takes is associating with Black people to guarantee that they will approach the subject with the appropriate amount of sensitivity. Yet it doesn’t. Especially when they don’t think it requires any.


The Lure of Lackadaisical Dialogue

“I don’t burn crosses on people’s lawns. I don’t use racial slurs. What’s the problem?” That’s where some people’s idea of what constitutes racism begins and ends. And it’s especially troubling when those who think this way have impressionable audiences.

This is the crux of my concerns: People need to pay attention to perspectives that are expressed in the media they consume. Said perspectives can colour their perception of legitimate problems and affect their real-life interactions with those who have a different point of view.

In the current news cycle, misinformation is being discussed quite a bit. However, much of the dialogue is surrounding COVID 19. Yet there’s harm that can come from the willful consumption of misinformation as it relates to other issues. Among them, racism.

And how does the idea of misinformation about racism reveal itself in the media?

It shows up in how people view diversity-related subjects: They seek deeper levels of education on issues when they believe they need to. They do not pursue knowledge about things that they think they’re competent in.

And certain media figures speak ignorantly about the pursuit of justice. Yet as they do so, they convey a sort of confidence. They genuinely believe their assertions, in spite of evidence that it would behoove them to educate themselves about their subject matter.

They simply don’t understand what’s at stake. And yet they do things such as make inane comments, believing they’re being insightful or even entertaining.

After all, everyone should just love each other. Why can’t people just get past their frustrations?

In a perfect world, yes. But…

Overall, they seem to prefer a simple approach to important issues. And they regard people who are too thorough as troublemakers.

But quite frankly, racism isn’t something that persists simply because Black people refuse to get over themselves.

Forget racism for a second. We could be talking about almost any other subject that deserves to be treated with nuance and depth. 

The fact of the matter is that some people ingest what these media figures are saying—not because they’re actually right. But rather, because they have a likability factor. These people are telling them what they want to hear. They provide an ego-driven refuge of sorts.

There’s something some audiences find reassuring in believing that things out there aren’t as bad as “those people” say it is. Even if you don’t think of yourself as an “us vs them” type of person, consider the possibility that you harbour some unconscious biases. Your determination to commit to a skeptical perspective can have broader implications related to things such as how you process information as being either true or false. 

But where was I?

For some, skepticism towards “those people” is where the conspiracy theories kick in:

The Others keep insisting that Such and Such is awful. But that can’t be true. Surely, it’s a part of their Great Plan to do XYZ to us.” 

And their response to The Others?:

Come on in, the water’s fine. And you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Meanwhile, those who are vulnerable are saying “We need help….” And another problem arises from that, because the help that some of us are asking for doesn’t actually begin with help. Rather, it starts with a request for a change in attitude on the part of those who insist that people who point out things such as injustice are lying. And a change in attitude begins with vulnerability, as well as a willingness to consider a change in thinking.

For many, this is too unnerving. 

But do you know what else is unnerving? The perspectives that some have come to take as gospel.

I will not use an exact quote. But, among other things, I once heard a popular pundit claim that those who protest against inequity and injustice are imagining things. He was adamant about it. In fact, as he went on, he was, essentially, insisting that those who long for justice—and aren’t silent about it—aren’t in their right minds. 

More concerning, though, there is the fact that this person is someone who has repeatedly been promoted by someone else, who has an even more popular platform. And their audiences believe what they say.

Powerful people are talking about racism in a trivial way. Do they care about the impact of their words?

I mean really. How are people who are committed to following these media figures’ ideas processing their perspectives? What are they doing with what they learn from these people?

When I think of the consequences, I’m not only considering vulnerable people. 

What happens after you put your faith in a certain type of media’s messaging, and adopt their worldview as your own? When your favourite media people insist on believing that serious issues are simple, how does that affect your interactions in the real world? What are your relationships like with people who aren’t like you?

I’ll be honest. When you insist on adopting a superficial attitude towards serious things, that doesn’t instill confidence in you. In fact, it can make you seem ignorant and inconsiderate. Here, I’m not critiquing you for the sake of being cruel. 

Those adjectives suggest a damaging impact on your relationships—both individually, and with humanity at large. That type of outlook will also undoubtedly affect your ability to understand other people. 

Imagine someone in your circle comes to you, sharing their feelings about a racist encounter or incident. They could be anything from hurt, to angry, to frightened. But most likely, a mixture of all three.

How do you respond? Do you take them seriously? 

If you ardently absorb a certain kind of popular media, likely not. Chances are, you’ll dismiss your contact as being hyperbolic or hysterical. Their concerns aren’t worth listening to.

After all, your media gurus say so.

Please know that I’m speaking from experience, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Time and again, legitimate concerns are met with what may as well be laughter. It’s a frustrating, fatiguing cycle. It’s a battle that seems impossible to win. And it’s one that many of us are tired of repeatedly fighting.

Here’s something for the skeptics to consider: You may understand where Your Favourite Media Figure is coming from on a topic. And they may very well have a prominent platform. But that doesn’t guarantee that what they are saying about their subject matter is actually correct.

At the end of the day, it’s not realistic to expect a difficult, nuanced subject to be simple just because you want it to be.

And a simplistic approach to real-world problems is harmful. As I think about how I long to engage an audience, I’m aware of the following: Some might be more sympathetic towards issues that don’t affect them if I demonstrated some restraint. To them, I suppose it would be more palatable if I adjusted my language. It might be better if I said that adopting a mistrustful approach towards the outcry against injustice was “unproductive”. But people like me can’t afford to mince words. There’s far too much at risk. 


Photos by Conner Baker, Nadine Shaabana, Jassir Jonis, José Léon, and Ayo Ogunseinde.

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