January 25, 2021
Waiting to Exhale
I’ve been sitting on this blog post for nearly two months. When I first wrote it, I was filled with optimism and ready to declare some semblance of a victory. But deep in my subconscious, I knew it wasn’t time to even hint at success, and I wasn’t sure optimism was warranted, either.
Waiting to Exhale
I’ve been sitting on this blog post for nearly two months. WhenI first wrote it, I was filled with optimism and ready to declare some semblance of a victory. But deep in my subconscious, I knew it wasn’t time to even hint at success, and I wasn’t sure optimism was warranted, either.
Then January 6th came around, and my guarded optimism was replaced with the realization that the problem is even worse than we thought. WhileI watched the events unfold, my first thought was not about the attack on democracy. As I watched people scale buildings and push their way through sanctified structures, I thought, “If those people were Black, they would be dead.” I knowI’ve said this before, but It bears repeating.
As I continued to watch, I shed yet another tear as I felt my hope turn to hopelessness. The power of that visual was almost too much to bear. It was a jarring reminder that White lives were worth protecting — even when they are brandishing weapons and shouting threats of rage and murder — and Black ones aren’t, even when their cries are for something as basic as justice and equality. The hurt is deep.
Seeing white supremacy on clear display, I told my husband that I was ready to give up. I told him that things weren’t going to change, not when the systemic issues run so deep. He reminded me that if the people who had come before me had given up, we would be living in a very different nation and I owed it to others to keep moving forward.
Last year, on Saturday, November 13, I learned something about myself: for the previous three years, I’d been holding my breath. I think it started with the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville,Virginia, on August 11, 2017. For me, that was a signal that the next few years were going to be bumpy, and I’d been on edge ever since.
But, on that Saturday afternoon in November, I exhaled as I watched our president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris at their first official public appearance. As I listened to the vice-president-elect give her remarks, tears streamed down my face. Finally, a woman of color would hold the second-highest office in America. I called my daughter, and she was also crying. She, too, never thought she would see it in her lifetime.
For the first time in a long time, I felt that things were going to be alright. That hope could be restored. That love could win over hate. My relief was palpable to those around me. The public outcries forAmerica to reckon with its racist past — and to be direct, its racist present— did not go unheard. Yes, there’s still work to do and progress to be made. But once again, for me, at least, “We shall overcome” wasn’t just a song; it’s a hymn of hope.
There is an essential lesson for Corporate America in Ms.Harris’s ascension. Leaders talk about the importance of mentors throughout one’s career, especially for people who find themselves overlooked, forgotten or marginalized. Mentors are essential, but sponsors/champions are crucial. They can make a big difference in one’s ability to succeed. They are the people in the room advocating for you when you can’t. We only have to look at the recent election for proof. With all due respect to vice-president-elect Harris, her intellect, resilience, and her significant accomplishments, she is the vice-president-elect because a White man who recognized his power and privilege chose to be her champion.
Let’s hope this is just the beginning. Let’s hope that leaders recognize that Black people and all marginalized groups cannot dismantle these oppressive structures alone. We need the help of the power-base, and that base is still primarily white and male. We need you as champions.
I don’t doubt that company leaders meant it when they publicly denounced the treatment of Black people and all people of color. I believed them as they wrote their checks to support organizations fighting for equity and justice. I believe they have teams hard at work developing programs and strengthening their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion efforts. Hiring Black people into your company is only part of the solution. Assigning them mentors is only part of the solution. Real and meaningful progress requires you — the power elite in your company — to be a champion for those who don’t have that privilege. That is when real progress happens. That is when we all can breathe freely.
And now today, is the dawn of a new day – a new era. A return to hope and my unbridled optimism. We usher in a new, principled and highly respected President and a vice president who is a woman of color. And an added bonus — her husband looks like mine. This is indeed a new day. This is how it feels to exhale. This is how it feels when love trumps hate. This is my America.