June 2017 Archives

June 12, 2017


When my colleague dropped a note in the #random slack channel polling for readers of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time,” I responded. In truth, I’d not yet read it, but I had been struck by his stirring perspectives when I encountered the documentary he hosted about San Francisco when I wrote a bit about the complexities of being a professional black male in the area. I had made a note to read more from him, and this implied lie to my coworker prompted me to make a weekend’s work of it.

I started it as I travelled to Canada, and by the time I got back I’d finished it—and gained an entirely new view of myself and the world. Baldwin puts forth a few groundbreaking assertions.

First a foremost, a black person must not come to believe that which society believes about him/her. The range in which the black person operates is prescribed narrow, and there is no expectation for a black person to step beyond that range except in prescribed ways. These ways, of course, are white ways: the practices and principles which permit acceptance into a culture that is defined by and designed for white people and the preservation of their power.

Second, the culture of white people is abhorrent. It is based upon white superiority and non-white inferiority. It “burdens” the white man with correcting the savage ways of others, often in cruel and immoral ways. There is no white triumph that is not violent, no pinnacle or glorious era that isn’t marked by brutish, greedy amassing of power. It has always been about power and the ability to control, to enforce, to compel—and the fear of losing that power.

Third, no sane non-white person should ever desire to be accepted by white people into their culture except that they be brainwashed into accepting that which society believes about them. There is no place of honor for the non-white in that world, nor is that worldview appropriate for this world of whites and non-whites. It is not reflective of reality; white is not superior (or inferior) to non-white. It seems silly to even assert that it is, but notice the visceral reactions to phrases like “black lives matter” or “black is beautiful.”

Fourth, it is not for us, non-whites, to be accepted by white people, but for white people to be accepted by us. There is a perception of immediate threat to white power and control when non-white perspectives take equal footing, as just noted. This is immature, to be kind. In such immaturity, fears are revealed which illuminate who the white person really is. Fear of other equal cultures creates the nigger, the chink and the spic. Fear of powerful retributive justice creates the thug, the gangbanger. Fear of a brown, non-Christian worldview creates the war on terror, and so on. These are names and concepts direct from their worldview, which we are wise (as previously noted) to not accept. We must instead reject these views for the troubling misperceptions that they are and insist upon a more realistic and accepting worldview for our America.

Fifth, black Americans are true Americans. We were born here: brought over as property and disconnected from our heritage, treated as subhuman for centuries and then marginalized for generations. We may not be the true Native American, but we are most certainly America’s original cultural product. This country belongs to us in a way that, when realized, is amazing. It is our responsibility, then to make America not “great again” (ugh) but what it should be—and to help all Americans become their best self.

Finally, pity them to avoid being consumed by their anger and hatred. The goal is not to identify and take down enemies; it is to enlighten minds and use that expanded awareness to improve life for all Americans—even all humanity. There are white people who understand this and are consciously developing themselves, which is arduous and is commendable. White people are not our adversaries, though sometimes it seems an opponent is all some ever look for. Ignorance and illusion is our enemy. It is our burden to show our best example—our most beautiful self—and extend the logic of love, the true tool of the oppressed.

Stacked next to my recent reflections, this is paradigm changing for me. It springs new life into who I am and where I want to be.

June 9, 2017

returning to me

When my CEO asked me to be involved in finding others who do what I do, it was a proud moment. I remembered my first week on the job and this same person saying essentially, “I’m not sure what you do, but they say we need you… looking forward to your work!” Now, eighteen months later, I had earned my employment it seemed.

When he suggested that I not just be involved but consider leading, managing a team of peers, instead of showing excitement and eagerness to grow I responded vaguely, becoming demure at subsequent mentions. I told myself it was my long-running avoidance of being someone’s boss, but as I considered it more, it was easy to see that was not true.

Why was I resisting growth and opportunity? How did I become this hesitant and uncertain about my abilities? A bit of soul searching was in order. I came to recognize a self-imposed restriction on being my best; I’ve been actively avoiding being great. Allow me to step off of my “win and lose as a team” soapbox and point a few fingers at my first few months in California.

When I moved west, I left my position as an assistant communications director for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church for a 6-month contract-to-hire role as a support agent at Twitter. I’d never done customer support; the role was pitched as more user advocacy than customer service, so I figured my past peddling user experience would serve well. It did not. When I asked my team leads what personas were used in determining our responses to users, “what’s a persona?” was the only reply. Instead of pushing the envelope and encouraging a new approach I let it drop and focused on my conversion.

You see, I’d already bumped into invisible boundaries. My manager and his manager called me into a room, concerned about a tweet-based discussion I was having with my mutual friends on their opinion of Twitter. They felt my tweets were “telling the user they were wrong,” not disagreeing with the opinion of my friends and debating points civilly. Having just abandoned a position where my words and actions were necessarily scrutinized, I was a bit heartbroken to see the same happening here for much less logical a reason. I changed how I used my Twitter account, created private accounts, and followed the party line.

I’d already been in the habit of biting my lip. During my interview process I felt I hit it off with one of my interviewees, but when I showed up for work, I perceived a cold shoulder. There was nothing I could do that would elicit more than a two word answer out of this person’s mouth, and it unnerved me. They were also a fairly central figure on my team, so that perceived polarized interaction often translated into awkwardness socializing with other peers. In true East Coast fashion I intended to tell him about himself, but in discussing my frustrations with my sister she reminded me, “you’re not there to win friends; you’re there to convert to a full time position. I put my head down and focused on my key objective.

It was no surprise to me, then, that when I was asked by several Adventist-run media outlets to share my experience in the tech world I got the thumbs down from Twitter’s communication team. This previously unknown dude from the support team came asking permission to be interviewed by magazines and send media clips to TV stations overseas—it didn’t make any sense. “I’m sure you spend a lot of time on this,” they said (I’d done a single take in the minutes before coming into the office), “but we have a select list of people who speak on behalf of the company.” I waved it off and gave up trying to be who I was and just focused on being who was needed for my job.

Twitter wasn’t all bad; it was by no means a prison sentence, and in fact my job became a bit of a haven from the stresses I’d been feeling in my personal life. On top of those burdens, when I reached out to people who I considered family—as well as professional counselors—for advice on communicating with someone we both loved dearly, what I received in return was very hurtful opinions about me, my ability, and my relationship with my spouse.

So my abilities, my voice, my sense of belonging, my financial freedom—all these things stripped from me in perhaps my first 90 days in California? Twenty-seven hundred miles away from anyone who I was certain valued me for who I am? I am at fault for choosing acceptance over authenticity, but the circumstances certainly didn’t help.

So here we are now. All of that? Past. But somehow that past was still holding my future captive.

So the question is: how does one undo this binding and return to being me? How do I relearn what I’m capable of, self acceptance and self belief? How do I reengage and by doing so give even more reason others can believe what I’m selling? And how long does that process take? Opportunities don’t last forever.