Like so many other black people, I am numb.
There were the callous killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. There was a confrontation that could have ended in the same kind of tragedy, when Amy Cooper called the police on Christian Cooper for being black while birdwatching in Manhattan.
I am exhausted.
I am tired of constant state-sanctioned violence against black lives. I am tired of existing as black in spaces that do not see our humanity. After a difficult weekend, many of us are now back in workplaces — physical or virtual — where we are in the minority.
The fact is, Amy Coopers are everywhere — even when you work in progressive environments like I do.
Racism is not conservative or liberal. It is not limited to one ideology. It’s easy to simplify it when President Trump urges governors to “dominate” protesters, but in liberal spaces, we witness a racism that is particularly sinister. It sneaks up on you like a seemingly adorable, loving puppy who abruptly bites you out of nowhere.
At work, it’s places that pride themselves on being inclusive. They want you to feel part of the team, part of helping to “make the organization better” — right up until you actually start pointing out how they could do better.
Then the retaliations — small and big — start.
Just as Amy Cooper made herself the victim, those supposedly sympathetic bosses and co-workers can turn on you when you point out the ways in which they are not consistent with the values they pride. Unlike Amy Cooper, however, it’s easier for them to escape the consequences of their actions.
Our work is critiqued more harshly than our white colleagues, others take credit for our ideas, white staffers are allowed more leniency for their “life stuff” and “necessary” errands.
And our pay suffers.
Many talented people of color have just a few options: find a way to deal with it, move on to another organization that hopefully is better or start your own organization or business. I know plenty in all three categories, especially those who became entrepreneurs. Many times, it just doesn’t feel like there is another choice.
To be sure, not every white person in the progressive movement who holds a leadership position behaves this way or is oblivious to their blind spots. Many take their professed values seriously and are dedicated to learning what it means to move toward real racial justice. I have met and worked with these people. There was the former colleague of mine who offered to go to human resources on my behalf when she saw injustice play out in front of her. But more often, I meet the person who is causing the injustice.
To make systemic progress, more white people need to be willing to use their privilege to make a commitment and put their own livelihood and comfort at risk. That is the only way.
We need less defensiveness, fewer token fists raised at a rally, fewer blank squares on Instagram. What good are solidarity tweets of #FollowBlackWomen when you don’t hire, support and promote black women? To make real progress, the world needs fewer Runs with Ahmaud and more challenges to local elected officials.
What else can you do?
Those with the resources should fund the organizations led by the black people working tirelessly to advocate for their communities.
Hire more black consultants and pay them for their expertise. That would be more effective than shifting those needed resources to white-led organizations without the know-how or motivation to respectfully work with or turn out black people or other communities of color.
As we discuss more about what it will take to get toward a world with racial justice at its center, we need to have these honest discussions about insidious systemic racism.
That’s the only way to achieve the just world the progressive movement envisions.