At Brilliant People we are dedicated to creating connection and community in the workplace. Our personality training emphasizes the strengths, struggles, emotional needs, and stress behaviors of the different personality types. Because in order to build a culture of connection and community, you have to be willing to learn what makes others tick, and also make some changes in your own behavior in order to make progress.
The same is true for the communities in which we live. The last several weeks have been difficult due to the recent wrongful deaths and subsequent riots. Voices are being raised around the world demanding justice and equality and not just lip service, but permanent change. I wish that our country wasn’t at what seems like the boiling point. I wish that we could all just treat each other like fellow human beings who are interesting and special because of our differences, but that’s just not the way it is, nor has it ever been. And even though it’s difficult to talk about it, I feel compelled to try and be a part of the solution.
I (Brettne) have 2 beautiful black teenage daughters who also watch and listen to the news and social media, and they are feeling scared and insecure about what the future may hold for them. They’re asking questions like “Will I be treated badly if I’m stopped by the police just because I’m black?” My younger daughter came to me one night last week at about 11 pm with tears streaming down her face. She said she was so scared she couldn’t sleep. When I asked what she was scared of, she said, “I feel like I’m going to die. I don’t want to get shot.” What’s devastating as a mom is that I can’t offer her any reassurance that what she’s afraid of won’t happen. They’ve been raised in a predominantly white household, white neighborhood, and for the last 3 years, a predominantly white city. They’re from Ethiopia, which is the only African country to never be colonized, so they don’t share the history of African Americans born in the U.S. or most Africans on the continent. They’ve never feared white people or felt lesser than because they’ve been treated as equals in our family, with our friends, in their schools and at church. But in the last couple of weeks they’ve been confronted with the truth. That racism in this country is pervasive and systemic. They are having to come to the realization that it doesn’t matter how they feel, what or who they know, or where they’re from. The fact is their skin color has placed a big fat target on their backs.
This has been a year of major upheaval and we’re only 6 months in. First, we were blindsided by a pandemic, unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime where fear of the dangerous virus sent us all home to hide, and paralyzed our country for 3 months. If that wasn’t enough to paralyze us with fear, we then experienced through the media, the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd that mobilized a once-in-a-generation fight for civil rights even in the face of the deadly virus. As dangerous and deadly as COVID-19 is, racism has been plaguing this nation since its birth.
I have to admit, when the protests began, I felt a bit paralyzed at first. I didn’t know what to say, what to do or how to help. I thought about my black friends, and that I could reach out to let them know I was thinking about them, but honestly, I didn’t feel that was really going to make them feel any better. Then I made the calls and just listened. I also took the time to have some serious conversations with my 17 year old daughter, which helped us both process what is going on right now.
Talking with her reminded me that I, too, have my own biases and I shared that with her. Which is interesting because I am Mexican, and I have always been very proud of that, telling anyone who would listen. My grandfather went by the nickname Prieto (Blackie) because he was so dark skinned. When I was a kid, he would come to watch me play softball. He got a kick out of telling people I was his granddaughter and then saying, “Can’t you see the resemblance? It’s all in the eyes.” His were almost black, and mine were bright blue. I loved my grandpa and I’ve embraced people throughout my life from all walks: no matter their color, religion or sexual orientation. But even so, I know there have been times when I’ve experienced unconscious bias. This is what I shared with my daughter as I “outed” myself. I told her of a time in my 20’s where I saw an elderly man crossing the street and the thought I had (which I recognized instantly) was: “Oh, look at that little old Mexican man.” No one was with me and I didn’t say it out loud. I just immediately had the thought, but why? Why did I need to make the distinction that he was Mexican? Why not just the thought that he was elderly? It was like my brain, my internal computer was going through my internal data finder and identified him: elderly, first, Mexican, second. It was second nature for me to do that, and it wasn’t a derogatory reaction. I felt a connection if anything, because I feel a connection to all brown people. It’s just who I am.
Then I was reminded of a story that I was told by a (white) client of mine years ago about the beauty of how children see the world. She said that she was driving down the road with her two young boys and pulled up at a light next to a car that looked exactly like her mother’s. The boys were so excited, but as they got closer, they realized it wasn’t their grandmother. Disappointed, they said: “Oh! That’s not Grandma! She’s got glasses on!” The fact that she was a black woman never crossed their mind. I wasn’t a parent when I heard that story but I got what she was saying: children learn how to view the world from those who raise them. That story told me a lot about my client and helped me realize that bringing up kids in this world is a big responsibility, and the current events prove, we have to do better.
At first glance, Whitney and I look like two caucasian women, but the reality is that as Whitney mentioned earlier, we come from a family of color. Mexicans to be exact, and we have a large extended family of amazing, intelligent brown people. But we’ve heard how unconscious bias and outright racism has affected family members. There are the old stories of our great grandfather who, after arriving from Mexico in the early 1900’s, went to work at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin, TX. His first name was Aristeo and white people had a hard time pronouncing it, so they just called him John. His son, Victor and our grandfather, was a semi-pro baseball player in the 1940s in Michigan, and he told of times when he was refused access to restaurants and hotels as they traveled to out of town games, because of his skin color. He moved the family (our mom and her 3 sisters) back to Austin in the 1950s. Mom graduated high school in the mid 1960s and experienced racism from both sides of the aisle. She looked Mexican which set her apart from the whites, but she didn’t speak Spanish, so the Mexicans wouldn’t accept her either! She then married our white dad, and through the random luck of genetics, Whitney and I, look white, which means the racism stopped with us. I just wish it was because people had become more enlightened, but no, that’s not it. It’s only because of white privilege.
Many of you have experienced this same privilege. There is no blame or accusation in that statement because we get it, but there is an invitation to join us in supporting justice and equality. To do so you’d follow the same principles that we teach through our personality training modules. You’d take the time to listen and understand what makes others tick: their strengths, struggles, stress behaviors, and emotional needs. You’d take the time to determine your own biases and where they come from. Then you’d use all of that information to change your behavior. After all, you can really only change yourself.
Long-held attitudes and behaviors can be difficult to change, but it’s absolutely possible with a positive attitude and a willingness to listen. A core tenet of Brilliant People is to be leaders in our lives. This means our whole lives: at home, at work and at play. Our core values speak to this:
- Always do the right thing.
- Look at the problem through a different lens.
- Be purposeful in word and action. Every day.
But, in sharing those, we also recognize that maybe it’s that second point that is most important right now. Racism has been killing this nation for far too long. Let’s end it now.
We created our slogan last year, but it’s never been more true. The culture (r)evolution starts with you.
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