In Wake of George Floyd’s Death, Black Professionals Talk Race, Work

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In Wake of George Floyd’s Death, Black Professionals Talk Race, Work

– The cell phone has done more for African American than any legislation or any bill that could have ever been passed Because now for the rest of the world, we’re not just complaining We’ve got evidence, we’ve got footage of how we’re living every single day – We’re not just taken for our word We have to literally say, “We have this on video “Do you believe us now?” – George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed on May 25th after Minneapolis police officers arrested him for allegedly trying to pass off a counterfeit $20 bill Video that emerged showed a white police officer, Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd was handcuffed, pinned to the ground and repeated that he couldn’t breathe The killing of Floyd in police custody sparked nationwide protests, fueled by calls to end the police brutality and systemic racism The Wall Street Journal assembled a group of professionals from around the country, a psychiatry resident, a Ferguson, Missouri restaurant owner, a school principal, an entrepreneur, and a diversity and inclusion manager, who is also the niece of Christian Cooper, a Central Park birdwatcher who asked a white woman to leash her dog, only to have her called 911 to say an African American man was threatening her We sat down with the group virtually to discuss the continued challenges they face in their personal and professional lives as black Americans, and the changes they want to see in this country In one word, can you describe what these past two weeks have been like for you personally? – They have to be overwhelming I’ve been in this situation before with the rioting with the Mike Brown, with my a restaurant being a few doors down from the Ferguson Police Department But I was totally taken by surprise this time I had a heads up when it was 2014 that this could possibly happen And I was at work the day that the riots and the looting happened this time And I left work about 6:00 p.m I waved to the protesters, it was definitely 100% peaceful I was in total support, you know? And had no idea that it was going to go from one extreme to the other – I would say tiring I feel like, yeah, it’s been two weeks since that came up Before that there was Breonna Taylor, there’s Ahmaud Arbery, there was the whole thing that happened with Mr. Cooper in New York City, like this has been an ongoing thing I feel like what happened with George Floyd was kind of the climax of that entire rise of just like black massacre for lack of a better word – Dilan, what do you think? – I would say draining, a lot of people reaching out, asking questions about what they can and should be doing and this tug and pull between wanting to be there and respond, as well as recognizing that there’s probably a greater necessity for self-care now more than other in our community And when you take all of those things in one, and there’s the competing interest, which one do you address first? It takes energy, so draining – I struggle with that one word, because I feel like my emotions really just go up and down So I would say more like ever changing I think I’d go from this place of frustration to this place of just exhaustion I’m in Houston, Texas, and so we had about 60,000 people show up downtown and I was down there, and you know, I was able to see just the magnitude and the beauty of the people just coming together to rally around this And 2020 has not been playing games with us – We’ve all gotten this a lot, the how are you questions How have you been answering it? And does your answer differ depending on the race of the person you’re talking to? – I know people have been asking me on a personal level how I am after viewing the video in Central Park with Amy Cooper and my uncle Chris Cooper That’s definitely taken a toll on me personally, on our family The incident with my uncle Chris happened in the morning and George Floyd was killed that evening Within 24 hours we had two national examples of what’s going on – You’re talking about three or four days after the incident with George Floyd, where there was like this sense of, the white world was just going on I probably talked to about six different black males that day, and everybody had the same frustration And they’re like, “Why hasn’t anybody said anything?” And then it almost seemed like something switched, and then saying something became the thing to do Well one, so thank you for acknowledging, this is my everyday life and this is how we live and how we had to adjust to America But then two, we need you to speak up on a regular basis We need you to be addressing this all the time

I think that particularly for the black professional, who in many spaces is the only black face It just adds this additional burden of being an educator Now when I’m talking to a white person, I don’t know that I can always be as honest or share my frustration, particularly in a professional environment I don’t want that to impact my work life I don’t want that to, we can’t always trust that that’s gonna be a safe space, – A lot of the agendas and suggestions and different statements that a lot of companies and corporations are making and a lot of their diversity measures that they’re now undertaking These are things us in the D&I space have been saying forever And it’s kind of interesting that it took a massive shake of the world to really get people to pay attention At the same time I think that really mirrors the black experience in this country We have been saying for 400 years, “This is happening to us “This is bad , this is what we’re experiencing.” – As you were working your way up professionally, did you ever feel like you weren’t able to be yourself in your professional environment? Did you feel that you needed to basically keep some of yourself hidden from colleagues in order to better appeal to them? Jasmine, why don’t we start with you? – I think that being a black woman, being a young black woman, looking even younger than I actually am I am definitely aware of how I’m received in corporate spaces I think that what works against me most more than racial bias is, is perceived age bias Another thing that I have challenges with are kind of stereotypical ideas about black people I am very careful with my emails, with my tone, with the way I speak, my inflection, the look on my face even, it’s very difficult to constantly look at yourself in the mirror while trying to live Sometimes I might have a short response or not respond as well as I should, but I know that if that happens, I’ll be angry forever I’ll be categorized as difficult to deal with – Jamie, I saw you nodding your head a lot there – Oh yeah,. I mean, I think that ultimately the way that I show up in work, I have to, I got about be a thousand every time There are days where I leave work, and I have to literally call a black person, my parents, my sister, my friends, And we literally talk about all the white stuff that happened to us throughout the day All the things people said to us, all the frustrations that we had that we couldn’t share, or we couldn’t say in the way that we wanted to, or how we had to restrain ourselves when somebody put their hands in our hair and wanted to know why it looked like that You almost have to be a completely different person My work self, you’re not talking to the real Jamie Downs, you’re talking to the work Jamie Downs, and he has to be articulate He has to be prepared He has to make sure that everything is together, because people are watching And you know, and that’s the only way to get noticed ‘Cause if you’re mediocre, you won’t stand out But the way to promotions, the way to leadership is, you have to be excellent all the time – It’s an interesting thinking about the stereotype of the Wall Streeter even now, and back when I started on the trading floor And it really hasn’t changed Like there’s a typical person that you think of, and it’s probably not a voice of a Nigerian woman So I just remember starting and looking out into this sea of hundreds of people And if you remove the administrative assistants, seeing only a handful of people that really looked like me So if I were thinking back to like how I approached my career, it was very much so that it wasn’t just thinking, “Oh, that’s the Nigerian girl on the trading floor “or the black girl on the trading floor.” That’s like, “Oh, that’s the girl “that actually knows algorithms really well.” Or, “That’s the girl that is excellent “in financial literacy, and she made a great video “that’s on our global platform.” Or, “That’s the woman that spoke at the CEO’s offsite.” And having my authentic self be that, you view me as someone who is excellent, not just notice the fact that I stand out because of my skin skin color But you notice that I am somebody that performs – What can businesses do to help change things? – It’s been great to have, see these letters from a CEO It’s been great to see people’s social media messages, but what’s the next step? Companies need to first look internally and examine their own corporate policies and ensure that their values reflect what they’re saying to their employees And that has buy in from the bottom up as well as the top down And then consumers can also hold their companies to task by saying, “If you’re not reflective “and you’re not following through, “our business very well can go to the multitude “of competitors that do.” – And a lot of times people look at the riots and everything

that is happening, and they’re trying to say, “How could they destroy their own community?” And the truth is, we don’t own our community, but if we are given the opportunity to buy those buildings, or even help, if they want to help, then put ownership in the black community I’ll promise you, when you own something, you take a different pride in it I saw these big companies like Netflix and Hulu and Amazon standing behind Black Lives Matter And I can remember when they were looking at Black Lives Matter like it was a terrorist group Can you remember that in 2014? Now the tone has totally changed with all this footage of African Americans being killed at the hands of officers innocently Allow us to own what’s in our community, allow us to be grocery store holders But we’re gonna need their help, we’re gonna need their funds, we’re gonna need their training, their information It is a lot of things that we don’t know because we haven’t grown up like them in America, that it’s been passed down from generation to generation to generation If they really want to make a change and do something different, invest in us – To check Kathy’s point, when I shared my story about my uncle on LinkedIn, I definitely hesitated LinkedIn is a professional networking space I was cautious about sharing a personal story, and I was cautious about sharing the story that could be polarizing And when I was writing my post and deciding what hashtags to use, I did not use the Black Lives Matter hashtag I know it can be divisive I wasn’t courageous enough to put Black Lives Matter on a post Now, not even a week later, we’re seeing major companies and corporations parting their lips or writing on paper, Black Lives Matter I think that things have significantly changed and companies are paying attention I think they are starting to make an effort to put their money where their mouths are, supporting different causes, like support civil rights and social justice I think they’re taking a good hard look at their own internal practices in terms of diversity and advancement and inclusion Because again, no one wants to be the next headline No one wants to be the next hashtag No one wants to fumble this opportunity – Just give us a specific conversation that you had with somebody, could be a colleague, a parent, child, just during this whole time that really impacted you – Yeah, I would say it was with my wife, she’s a black woman also from Kansas City We drive to the Midwest all the time And like, we had to come together at some point during this time and literally discuss like a safety plan Like what are we gonna do if we’re pulled over? Who has a camera? Who’s is it that is going to talk to the officer, if something goes left, what is it that we’re going to do? And then having the furthermore conversation of, “Man, how messed up is it that we have “to literally come up with a plan on driving “to go see my in-laws, they’re her parents.” – And the first person that popped to mind is the conversations that I’ve been having with my sister And it’s been because of this backdrop of COVID, for context, she’s an epidemiologist, but also someone who is very passionate and fierce and typically wants to be out there protesting And she’s actually been attending the protest in her car We have these events and it’s like, well, how do you win? Because it’s not a pandemic it’s some kind of other brutality and like, how do you make an impact? Is it stay home or go out? We’re like a tag team duo about like, what are the things that we can do, that we can keep pushing forward on multiple fronts? – So I think about a conversation I had at the protest I saw much of my students there, and kid looks at me, he’s like, “You know, Mr. Downs, I just, “I don’t know what it is “It’s just every time I walk past an officer, “my heart starts beating fast.” And I’m like, “Man, you know,” I’m like, “We’re good “We’re out here, we’re doing this.” He was like, “I know, but you know, what’s stopping him “from doing it? “The tear gas or setting us up, or provoking us “from doing whatever, it’s just crazy out here.” And so I think when I think about that, right, this is a young man who is trying to do the right thing He’s trying to exercise his right as an American citizen And still he’s surrounded by 60,000 people that are aligned with him, that are rooting for the cause that he’s rooting for He’s not doing anything wrong And he’s still surrounded by, to be honest with you, a bunch of black people He’s still aware that he’s a young black man in America He’s still aware that he could potentially be in danger because this society is not for him I just think about the work that we have to do to make our kids feel safe, to make them feel like they belong, to make them feel like they truly have a part of this country And even in that powerful moment, this young black man is still afraid for his life

He’s still afraid that something could happen, and that’s not okay – Kathy, what specific conversations have you had with your son about not just this incident, but just about racism in general? – We talk to my son every day about being a black man and being out We tell him not play his music too loud when he’s in his car driving Just have him make sure his driver’s license is accessible, that he does not have to reach for it He doesn’t have to open anything So they can’t say he’s reaching for a weapon or a gun or a knife Do you ever get stopped by the police, you make sure both of your hands are on the steering wheel And then you ask the officer what are you being stopped for, and you just put both hands up exactly like this And you reach like this for your license to grab it, because you have it assessable You don’t have to go inside to get it And the great thing is because they are so aware because of social media, it’s not a fight They wanna live just as much as you want them to live – How have you been talking to kids about all this? Jamie, you work in a school, I’ll start with you – I had to really decide what I was gonna say What I’d found to be true is the more that I elevate my voice and I empower my students to elevate their voice, the better response we get We have to do better in terms of the opportunities that we provide And I’m saying that as a black school leader, you know, that there’s more that we have to do and that we can’t continue the status quo, because we’re in many ways perpetuating the cycle that’s leading to the school to prison pipeline That’s leading to our students not having the best relationship or being able to have opportunities outside of the school You know, we have an election coming up I need these students to understand that, yes, we’re going to protest Yes, we’re going to advocate for change But one of the biggest ways you do that is by going to the booth and voting – It starts with how you talk to children about what they can do What does it say to tell someone at the age of 10, “Yeah, you could be a private equity investor, “or you should be somebody that should consider running “for election, or you should be the voice of change.” – I work in a school that’s in a low income area in Houston So when you’re talking about, not only do we need people to get in front of students to tell them, “Yes, you can be an investment banker “Yeah, you can be a politician, you can do these things.” But they need to also be people that look like them They need to get back, they need to be a bridge builder We have to take more ownership in terms of making sure that we’re doing things that are connecting students to opportunities and to people who look like us – The thing that I think about our pipeline programs, like especially within getting people into the sciences and within medicine, has been one of the things that which we’ve been trying to give back to, because of the fact that seeing a black doctor, or a black lawyer or something else like that is so unheard of When I walk into a room with a patient who looks like me, they’re practically relieved Like, “Oh, thank God, I can actually talk “about what’s going on and not feel “as though I’m being judged.” Off of like, “Oh, well, do you have diabetes? “Do you have hypertension? “And I haven’t even, I was coming in for a cold, “why are you asking me all these questions?” – My son’s graduation was Sunday, the day after the riots And at that graduation out of, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a graduation that was so tearful Those kids had just come out of those riots that night and they had to graduate, walk across the stage and they all have on a mask Everyone on the stage has on mask And if you could have heard the speeches that these children were giving, they were heart-wrenching What I’ve realized from my own children be in a home born to this, they’re watching more news, not the way that we use to, because they’re younger Of course all social media, but the conversation is constant about what’s happening And not just looking at clothes and how to do your eyebrows and all this anymore They are so focused on what is happening in the world My husband and I, we were talking about Colin Kaepernick He had the most– – Who’s done a tough job by the way.” – Yeah, yeah, he’s taken a knee He did the most silent protest that anyone could ever, ever do And he had all the worst things in the world happened to him and all that man did was take a knee And so you got the young people that are watching him, and they feel like, this happened to him, this silent protest and this man lost everything he had So I think this new generation is gonna find a way And what I love about it, these demonstrations have been white and black together, because this is their generation, and I believe they are gonna make a change They’re gonna force a change to happen – Terrell, you were talking about how racism is a public health crisis, explain it – And there’s a robust amount of literature that looks at the effects of stress and trauma on the body I think one of the things that we don’t necessarily talk

about is how African Americans for example, and others, have to deal with this stress of walking around a racialized environment How many of us have gone through our education and educational programs, having to be singled out because of their color I remember in eighth grade, I was literally sold as a slave, as a means of teaching everyone else in that class about what slavery was And like, you know, that was traumatic to me Or in how many of us, like as we’re driving our car around, our heart rate increases when a cop is behind us These are traumas that we may pass on to our children genetically, not even on some, not even how we socialize our kids, but just basically how we internalize and carry our trauma This is like a Russian nesting doll of like the various different times, the various different ways of which that we experience racism, whether it’s individual, whether it’s systemic, whether it’s institutional And all of those things all come together as a means of being very challenging for black people to kind of ascend and to generate wealth and to self-determine for the most part and do that without having to feel as though in some way they’re being held back – I just can’t help but wonder like the trauma of kind of doing the black math that people have to do in today, which is, “If I wear this, “then will I be okay?” Or, “This person used a racial slur towards me “and what, is it statistically safe “for me to engage or not?” Or, “If I get stopped by somebody and if I do these actions, “put my hands where they’re supposed to and wait “to ask if it’s okay to reach for something, “will I be okay?” And I have an older brother who is autistic So when these events happen, the first thing that I start thinking about is him And the fact that one, he’s existing while being a black man, period Secondly, goodness forbid, somebody misinterprets his disability, besides just being a black man as a cause for danger And like, I can totally admit that there’s times that I’ve been totally paralyzed, called my parents, made sure that he knows what to do in all these scenarios, that he’s been quizzed, that he knows the “right” equation of things to do that will hopefully keep him as safe as possible – Raise your hand if you think this time is different, that there will be meaningful change – I do, I do – Can I stick it halfway up? – Yeah, I have it halfway – Explain – I don’t think this– – If a halfway is allowed, can it be like a here, here and here? – That’s the problem though, I think that because we’re so hesitant, right? Because, and it’s also because we don’t wanna disappoint ourselves, right? We’re trying to protect our hope in the world, in this country, right? I was also hopeful that that election wasn’t true, but it was, I can no longer be like, “You know what, “I’m too frustrated to have this conversation.” And so I think that I have to be hopeful that it’s gonna change, but I’m also going to give my all to making sure that it changes I think our leaders fail to act because we don’t do everything in our power to hold them accountable – I’m a mother to a preteen I know as black and brown people we’ve been talking to our children about their place in the world since they’ve been born, since they’ve been able to talk I know that there are certain conversations that parents of black boys have that are very difficult conversations My daughter has been out of school since mid-March because of COVID Normally my daughter would know what was going on, kind of in the news and in the world, because they would discuss it in their classrooms Our students are missing these educational opportunities and are relying on us as parents or as caregivers to let them know what’s going on in the world, to have these conversations and heighten their awareness And I think the teenagers, the students that are in college right now, the people that are coming behind us, I see a lot of passion I see a lot of hunger, and I see though a desire for better – The strange positive externality of COVID is the fact that there’s a lot more people online, scrolling, consuming the news to be awoken to what’s happening and what’s been happening And you know, this crave for education, this crave for consumption, has made it so that way it’s a lot more people than just black voices also wanting to push for something more The reason why it’s half way is because it doesn’t just stop with a week It actually is that accountability factor that says “We’re not stopping tomorrow “We’re not stopping next week “We’re thinking about both the short-term “and the long-term impact that it’s going to take, “and expecting accountability along the way.” – I think that the dynamic that I’ll be remissed if we didn’t address though is,

ultimately we all went to college We all have opportunities We all are connected to networks that we are going to drive because of our privilege and our experiences that have allowed us to do that There are tons of black kids that go to schools, that live in communities that are underfunded under resourced, and so as a society, we have to press pause and take a hard look If we truly want the United States to be a country that is equal opportunity for all, then we gotta provide equal access – People are saying, “What do you want “from these companies? “What do you want from these leaders?” Tell them, we have an opportunity now where we can put on the table what it is we’re asking for – From my own experience with myself and with my children, it is normally the students that get that money are the cream of the top of the students They are the kids that’s already doing the things that they should be doing They are the kids that show up for everything These are the kids who’re probably gonna make it regardless, without all the other stuff, because of the parenting behind them But I think in the system it has to be a change How do we change the life of a C student? – I agree, but at the same time, also the people who were at the cream of the crop are there despite substantial challenges I agree that there are a lot of different opportunities for businesses to come in and other places to try to generate wealth within the black community But I also think that there’s a huge barrier there in regards to how black children, black adolescents, black adults are treated as though they’re second class citizens, or at the very least as though that like you have to damn near prove your exception The part that requires more work is trying to tease out this aspect of like, when I see a young black male with a hoodie on, why am I afraid seeing them come down the street? Why do I think that this person is going to hurt me? If I see a kid that’s struggling with a C, how do I, instead of saying, “You know what, “this is all that this kid couldn’t do.” How can I encourage this young black kid to do better? And so when it comes to white people asking, “What I can do and what I can do to help?” It’s like, “One, I need you to address “these underlying biases that you have, “I need you to come at it from a place of like, “how can I elevate you?” (upbeat music)