What’s in a name?

Were you named after your grandmother?  Was there an actor or actress that had a nice name that your parents wanted you to be called too?  Do your siblings have names that start with the same letter?  Or end in the same sound?

Were you intentionally named with a name that didn’t sound black?

You can go back and read that again.  Were you intentionally named with a name that did not sound black? Or maybe you were given this advice by a loved one; to not name your children with names that sounded black to give them a better shot in this world with job applications and the like?

This was one of the shocking pieces of information I learned when I began to lean in and learn more about the struggle that my black friends and colleagues have experienced all because of the amount of melanin in their skin.

You guys, this blog is typically reserved for money stuff; tips and tricks with your personal finances. But it also holds a spot for real life stuff.  Often much lighter versions of family, balance and parenting….but putting an end to racism impacts my family, balance, and parenting.  And since I’m on a journey to influence – I want it to impact yours as well.

I don’t know if I’m too late in talking about it, or if rather part of being involved in a movement means that it’s never too late.  I’m not sure of the best way to share, or the right way to share.  I bet that I’m going to say, or write something the wrong way – and I may get corrected or called out for doing it incorrectly.  But I’m going to do it anyway, the only way I know how.

See, I didn’t think that racism was still really, real.  Wow, that was so wrong. Maybe because it wasn’t overt and in my face, or somehow chose not to see it.  I knew that there were hateful people in this world, but I thought that it was few and far between.  I hadn’t considered the day to day actions that a black person takes to go about their business and stay safe.  Safe. I rarely think about my safety.

See, I invited all of the black caregivers on my team to a video call series, over a 4 week period to share their experiences of racism with the leadership team if they were willing to give us their advice on how to keep racism out of the workplace, let alone our lives, and how to do better frankly.

I struggled with it even being right for me to ask questions?  These folks aren’t obligated to help with my learning deficiency, but I was so grateful that there were willing to share.

I am a privileged white woman. I didn’t really know that before. I was ignorant.  I’m choosing not to be ignorant any longer.  So, I listened as a starting point . I asked these questions.

What has your experience been with racism?

I found out why I’ve been privileged as a white woman as tears filled my eyes while chills raced through my body.

  • I wasn’t named Sarah because it didn’t sound black.
  • I didn’t think twice about how my kids’ names sounded when reading through the baby book of names.
  • I never experienced being called derogatory names on the school bus at the tender age of 5.
  • I’m not familiar with being one of only a handful of people in my school, workplace, or neighborhood that look like me.
  • I wasn’t taught in high school by an individual known to be in the KKK, and sent to summer school because of the color of my skin.
  • I wasn’t coached by my parents on how to properly respond to a police officer if pulled over.
  • I’ve never had a gun pulled on me as I was reaching for my license and insurance card.
  • I’ve never had to explain why I keep my hair a certain way.
  • I have never had to explain to my child that their skin is NOT dirty, even though another child would not play with them for that reason.
  • It’s never been surprising to someone that I sound intellectual, after clarifying my race over a telephone insurance exchange application.
  • I’ve never considered dressing a certain way before going to a high-end department store.
  • It has never crossed my mind that I shouldn’t go into certain neighborhoods because it was known to be anti-black.  Or has it, in the reverse?  Have I consciously or unconsciously avoided some neighborhoods, school districts, or areas of town because of what I’ve heard?

I’ve been asking myself what stories I may have been telling myself.  Were they learned?  Did I make judgement calls inadvertently for some reason?  Do I have reprogramming to do?  Yes.

Growing up in a rural town that was easily 98% white, I wasn’t exposed to many other individuals with diverse backgrounds or different skin pigments.  So, I didn’t learn much about my brothers and sisters with black skin.  I didn’t know that I needed to.  I was taught that skin color doesn’t matter. 

But here were jokes; especially by those in an older generation.  The black jokes that I heard were along the lines of ‘strong manual labor’ or the size of a black man’s….shoe.  Harmless?  Maybe to the joke teller.  But not to those that heard it. It has the ability to influence the way that we think of an entire race.

Are all black people strong and have the ability to do manual labor?  No.

Do all black men have giant…feet?  No.

Racism, in any form is taught not inherited.  We must do better, for future generations.

What can we do differently in our workplace to support you as a person of color?

  1. Don’t meet a quota: don’t hire someone just because they’re black.  Hire the individuals that have the skills you need to fill the job.
  2. Don’t treat anyone any differently, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, social class or gender.  Period.
  3. Don’t include me in a committee or opportunity just because of the color of my skin, but include me because you value my opinion.  And maybe as a bonus – you want my diverse background and experiences for a different perspective.

I asked, what can we do next – how best can I share what we’re learning from you with our larger team?  What’s the right format?

I didn’t want to share the fact that we were having these meetings with my larger team, if it could appear that we were doing the “right thing” by having these conversations.  This wasn’t about my decision to offer up this meeting series or invite our leadership team to listen in.  This is not about me at all. This was about the learning.  The understanding that was long overdue…and just scratched the surface.

What are you motives? What are your intentions?  If it comes from a good place in your heart – than you should follow it. That was their response.  So, I’m following my heart.  I’m sharing what was shared with me as a starting point.

How do we stop racism?  Or how do we start to stop racism?

  • Don’t go support a black business because it’s trendy right now.  Support because of their offerings.
  • Don’t donate to a cause or charity to ease your conscience about how you may have felt in the past.  Donate because of the value it provides.
  • This is a great start, was what I heard – talking about it. But it needs to be an ongoing conversation.  Once the protests die down and the pandemic is behind us – and things go back to normal we must keep the conversation, the learning and sharing moving forward so that we can see true change.
  • We need to change our education system to be more supportive of diversity, give more opportunities to those of color with less privilege. Remove the barriers. Educate around culture.
  • It’s going to be a difficult journey. Stay the course.

I’m still not sure if I should use the world black when describing someone.  It doesn’t matter to me what color their skin was, but it may be easier to help point out my friend in a crowd if I could say she’s the short black gal over there with glasses.  Or is it more appropriate to say African American?  Or do I still go with the generic, short gal over there with glasses…floral shirt?  Would I say white gal if I was pointing out someone with white skin?  Probably not.  What’s right?  What’s wrong?  I don’t know yet.  This is on my list of questions to continue to research and ask.

White people have to speak up. 

This was the powerful answer that gave me chills once again, and the nod to write this post to share with you.

Keep talking about it, pass it on. Change isn’t going to happen overnight, but we’ll make progress towards a better world.

Thank you for joining me on my my journey to influence.

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