Yesterday, the company that I work for Iris, held a virtual roundtable to discuss the impact of George Floyd and racism. To be honest, I was skeptical at first – would they have black people organizing the event? (This may seem like a no brainer but, I have seen too many times where black people have been overlooked when organizing events that directly impact them.) They also asked us to share either anonymously, or on the call, our black experience.
I was a little taken aback by this. The news of George Floyd was traumatizing enough but to then relive my own past traumas, I honestly wasn’t sure if I was up for it. While I didn´t know George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery, I knew that they could so easily be me, my father, my brother, or my adorable nephew. I decided to share my story anonymously and geared up for the virtual roundtable.
And it surprised me. I was struck by the vulnerability that the facilitators opened up with – diving headfirst into their stories and experiences as black men and the other stories that followed. While it was so raw to experience I also felt liberated. I was not alone. The injustices that I had experienced had been experienced by so many others. And while there are nuances to each individual experience, collectively we were saying the same thing – that even though we had been treated throughout our lives as less than, that our stories, our experiences mattered. Black Lives Matter. If you had been on that call, you would have no doubt understood, or at least had some insight, into the daily struggles of what it means to exist in this world as a black person.
I felt so empowered, I turned on my camera and briefly shared my current experience of being a black American woman in Germany during the largest civil rights movement in history. I no longer wanted to be anonymous and while it was hard, I felt like it was one of the biggest steps I had ever taken in addressing these deep feelings. Feelings that I had internalized my whole life and rarely opened about for fear of being judged. And so, I want to continue to share my experiences. For little Lisa who went to a predominately white school and prayed every night to have, ‘white girl hair,’ for teenage Lisa who was relentlessly teased for ‘speaking white,’ for current Lisa who is tired of the bullshit and wants to embrace her blackness more than ever, and most importantly for others to see my story and feel empowered to share their own.
Being a Black American professional woman, I have not always been accepted in working environments whether in the US or abroad as I currently live. I remember starting my career and being flummoxed at the lack of diversity. Surely it must have been that specific industry, I thought, but quickly realized that was not the case. Being the only one or one of a handful of people of color is the unfortunate norm.
I have had people do a double-take when I walked into a room as they were expecting a white woman and were quite literally shocked to see me. I have had clients make jokes about marketing ´fried chicken and watermelon´ in Black communities. I have had a colleague say to my face, ‘Just because you know how to talk like white people, does not make you a good person, because you´re not.´
The microaggressions have been countless and almost daily:
‘Oh, you´re so articulate!’
‘You have a master’s degree??!?’
‘Your parents are still together?’
‘What do you think black consumers would think about xyz?’
I´ve sat in workspaces where the entire office was listening to explicit unedited hip-hop and I was the only black person. I had to listen to my coworkers’ rap along with Drake and not self-edit themselves.
Every time I have wanted to change my hairstyle it has caused major anxiety as I know that my co-workers would ask, ‘How did you do? Is that your real hair?’ Or touch it without my permission making me feel like some kind of prop.
When I logged on to work on Tuesday, June 2nd, after the weekend the protests, 24/7 news cycles, and never-ending scrolling on Instagram, I somehow felt embarrassed, as if this was somehow my fault. Can you imagine this emotional landmine? Living outside of the US, I already get teased incessantly about all the things that are ‘wrong with America,’ and now the world was looking at America yet again showcasing our racial injustice. And there was no escape; everyone everywhere was/is talking about it. And that´s a good thing but living it every day as a Black American woman is exhausting. I no longer know how to answer,
‘How are you feeling?’
There´s nothing I can ever do to not be black and there are times in my life when I have seriously not wanted to be black – as a child and as an adult. I´ve just known that life would be easier to be white and I know I´m not alone in that thinking. It´s important for everyone to know the pressures that come along with being black especially as a young professional. The pressure to do more, perform better, speak better just so I can be recognized as equal. The pressure to not come across as angry or too emotional – ever. The pressure to be happy, smiley – at all times. The pressure to even rewrite my anonymous experience over and over to ensure that it´s clear, well-written, and not too heavy so that I don’t make anyone feel, ‘too uncomfortable.’
All, of this to say, I am tired.
My hope is that by reading my story, you understand that my experience is not isolated – it´s the norm. My hope is that my story will allow you to consider your actions and take action against racism whether black people are around or not. I hope that you are open to change, open to being an ally, and open to hearing more.
And, if you are black and reading this, I see you, I feel you, I understand and I’m here with you.