Here we are again. Black History Month. Or, as I like to call it: a farce.
To be clear, African Americans in the United States have not made the "substantive progress" that is spouted left and right. In fact, at least in the business world, we have gone backward. Access has gone backward. Employment rates have gone backward. Representation in the c-suite has gone backward.
So let's forget about appeasing ourselves by "celebrating" Black History Month. We have not shattered stereotypes. We have not made progress. We just haven't.
Sure, we don't use the N-word. ("Thug" is code for that word now.)
But when will we hear people stop saying, "I've got this black friend,"?
When will the rest of the world acknowledge our contributions? Not one month out of the year, but every single day?
And to my African American sisters and brothers, when will we realize that the little bit of progress was made because people were willing to literally lay down their lives? When will we see that we need to support each other as a culture, to open doors for each other, to truly lay ourselves on the line for each other?
It is time to courageously speak the truth. The truth about what it is like THIS day -- this very minute -- to be an African American in the United States.
Here is some truth...
I could not even watch 12 Years a Slave. I did try. But, emotionally, it was just too much to handle. I did watch The Butler, but I cried all the way through. Where is that emotion from the unthinkable wrongs that were done -- and are still being done -- to African Americans?
Here is some more truth...
I recently sat next to a gentleman on a plane from L.A. to Dallas. He was telling me about his family owning 268 acres in a wealthy, upscale Dallas suburb. When I said to him, "You know what is interesting about that? My people never had that chance. We never had that access." He was speechless. And he quit talking to me.
We started out behind. And we will always BE behind, unless the game changes.
And yet more truth...
As an African American today, you want to believe that you will be embraced the same as whites. Judged the same. But that is just not reality.
Just a few weeks ago in a prominent Catholic school located in a large southern city, three white boys and one black boy got in trouble for messing around in the art room. They were told that they were all in trouble. But really only ONE got in trouble. The African American boy.
Why only him?
Or how about this? I was recently at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Mobile, A.L. I noted a huge wall of nothing but framed pictures of white men. When I asked the server who the men in the pictures were, she told me that they were the Mardi Gras kings. I then ask, "Where are the black kings?" She stuttered and quickly said, "Let me get my manager." When her manager could not answer my question, he said, "Let me take your e-mail address and have my manager follow-up with you."
I've never heard from the manager's manager.
This is 2014.
Because racism is still that prevalent. It is. And don't try to fool yourself into thinking it isn't. Whether it's stories like these, or neighbors not speaking to you, or yet again not getting attention at upscale department stores -- those double standards are everywhere. In education. In our government. In the business world.
Here is the ugly truth...
Reverend King's "dream" is not fulfilled. And it's nowhere close to being fulfilled.
Those are the stories -- the real conversations -- that nobody wants to hear. But how in the world can you pull yourself up by your boot-straps in a country that won't even give you a chance?
I'm tired of the fake conversations. I'm tired of the lip service. Of the Black History Month "celebrations." I'm ready for the real conversation.
Because I'm fed up. Angry, even.
It's as though I can physically feel my blood pressure rising as I write this. Literally. And that is not as far-fetched as it may sound.
A recent study released by a research group based at Johns Hopkins University found that:
Black patients who worry or think frequently about race have higher blood pressure than those who don't. The authors (from Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Maryland, Morehouse School of Medicine and Emory University) surveyed 266 patients in urban health clinics in Baltimore between September 2003 and August 2005. Their findings add to a growing body of evidence pointing to a connection between racism and high blood pressure.
(Source: American Renaissance)
So what can I do about it instead of just being fed up and angry? How can I protect my blood pressure -- my health? How can YOU? What can WE do about it?
Simply stated: We can embrace personal empowerment. We can gain knowledge. And we can take action.
Personal empowerment starts with our belief system.
If you've been listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show, you've heard Al Sharpton challenge us to gain some knowledge. The thinking behind his challenge is that most black people don't know enough about the many contributions of other black people.
I couldn't agree more. Listening to him made me stop and think about what else we could do ourselves to step into empowerment, gain knowledge and take action.
Here are some action steps that can help all of us:
1. Stop being black silent.
Call out ignorance wherever and whenever you see it. It's not necessary to be ugly, scream or belittle someone -- but call it out. Samuel Jackson just did that on KTLVA when the news anchor (Sam Rubin) asked him about him being in a Super Bowl commercial (it was Laurence Fishburne). Jackson fired back and told him that not all black, rich men look alike. It was hilarious. Good for him for not giving the anchor a pass. Good for him for calling it out. Silence is endorsement!
2. Get comfortable in our own skin.
We need to let go of the desire to "whiten the line" and enjoy and celebrate our skin color. It's beautiful no matter the hue. Look at the beauty of Lupita Nyong'o, Oscar-nominated actress from 12 Years a Slave. How refreshing to see a beautiful black female present herself and believe in her own beauty.
3. Stop black-on-black crime.
Why are we killing each other? The answer to this question speaks volumes about the value we place on ourselves. We have been conditioned to think less of ourselves since the days of slavery. It is time to step out of the past and see that God created each of us in His likeness.
4. Find our voice. Guard our hearts.
Initiate those courageous conversations that perhaps you've avoided in the past. Call-out racism when you see it or hear it. There is no time to be afraid any longer. And while we're at it, let us not forget to defend our children's right to a great education.
We must do this without becoming aloof or stoic. Guarding our hearts and protecting our spirits is of utmost importance. Not just to accomplish our mission, but to protect our health.
5. Climb the corporate ladder.
It is imperative that we have a place at the table. And we CAN have a place at that table if we work intentionally and with courage. We must remember that this isn't just about us, it is about opening the door for other blacks and people of color. For our children and their future.
Enough is enough, my friends. Let's start taking action. No matter the color of our skin.
Because, oh, how I long, in the words of Reverend King, to "live in a nation where [I] will not be judged by the color of [my] skin but by the content of [my] character."