As a diversity and inclusion (D&I) leader at Cognizant, I’m always planning for the next big D&I event. June, for instance, is filled with many Pride celebrations, virtual and otherwise. But instead of seeing coverage of upcoming LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations, I’m watching news coverage and having conversations with friends and family members about the senseless deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Black men and women who were killed for seemingly no reason other than their skin color and lack of privilege. These deaths have led to protests, both peaceful and riotous.
Black people have died at the hands of the police – and even by citizens acting as police – since the U.S. was founded, and these are not the first protests against police brutality. But it seems there’s something different this time. At long last, I’m not just seeing Blacks proclaiming that Black Lives Matter. Crowds of protestors are filled with all races, ethnicities, genders and ages.
We’re in a perfect storm. COVID-19 keeps people home. Social media use rises as many people are stuck inside, some without work to keep them busy. Video clips of Black men being harassed or killed are shared on social media and go viral, but not just on Black Twitter. It seems that Americans of all races and backgrounds now see and finally believe the prejudice and racism that Blacks endure.
This is nothing new for Black people who have known that Black Lives Matter for years. We’ve battled the KKK, police dogs and water hoses, as well as ”Karens” who’ve called the cops on us for something as minor as barbequing. And we’ve been seeing videos of Black men and women being harassed and killed on social media since cell phone video became a thing.
As the mother of a 13-year-old Black boy who will soon outgrow his cuteness, I fear for him whenever he leaves home without me. If he and his friends are involved in a prank such as toilet-papering houses, will he be the only one charged if he’s with his mostly White friends? When he can drive in a few years, will he be pulled over by police simply for “driving while Black”?
America is a rough place for Black boys and men, but Black women are fearful too. I remember the time I was pulled over by a police officer for changing lanes without signaling, just as Sandra Bland was. Thankfully, my parents taught me early on what I had to do to survive a police stop – just as many other Black parents teach their children as they come of age. I quickly pulled out my driver’s license and registration, rolled down the window, put my hands on the steering wheel and prepared myself to greet the officer with a friendly, “Hello, officer. How can I assist you today?” This police encounter ended OK for me. But they don’t always.
Allies: A Universal Need
As a Black woman, I’m glad to see allies take a stand and be heard. Black people need allies just as the LGBTQ+ community does. Some may argue we need allies even more. Those in the LGBTQ+ community can choose the time and place to disclose their sexual orientation, if they choose to do so at all; as a Black person, you cannot change the color of your skin if you end up in a precarious situation. We need allies to help in the fight against racial injustice and inequality. Here are some ways you can be an ally to the Black community.
- Be compassionate – and listen. It’s traumatic seeing people who look like you or a family member being harassed or killed. Be kind and compassionate. Ask how your Black colleagues are doing and coping during this time. Ask what they think about institutional racism, inequality and the protests – then listen carefully to better understand their point of view, without criticizing. Please realize that some Black people are so traumatized by the recurrent nature of these senseless deaths that they don’t want to talk. Talk to non-Black friends, family and colleagues about racism and inequality, and discuss what you can do to make a difference. Include your children in these discussions. Unfortunately, they must be introduced to racism at a young age so they can understand the absurdity of it and continue the necessary work of dismantling racial inequality for future generations.
- If you see prejudice or mistreatment, call it out – and if necessary, record it. Who would have believed a White woman would call the cops on a Black man for asking her to leash her dog in a park that requires leashes – telling authorities that he was threatening her and her dog? Because of the video of the incident that took place in the Ramble in New York’s Central Park, we all believe it now. You must also call out prejudice and racist actions when Black people are not present. Silence is complicity.
- Seek out and get involved with your company’s affinity or employee resource group for Black people. Cognizant’s African American and Latinx Group (AALG) is our affinity group for African American and Latinx people and allies. AALG holds monthly meetings and regularly hosts Candid Conversation panel discussions. Allies are always welcome.
- Donate or volunteer with organizations such as Color of Change, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) or Black Lives Matter. Some people consider “Black Lives Matter” to be controversial. We know all lives matter, yet during this time when racial inequality against Blacks is so prevalent, let’s focus on Black lives first. Let’s ensure that Blacks are valued and that we are not being brutalized by or dying at the hands of police. We must intensify the battle against racial injustice. Turn words into action. Signing a petition is only a first step. Do your part by seeking out organizations focused on racial equality in your own community.
- Mentor and sponsor Black colleagues at work. People typically choose to mentor and sponsor those who look like or remind them of themselves. Step out of your comfort zone and mentor or sponsor a Black colleague. Learn about their career, experiences and interests. Recommend them for projects. Make sure your Black colleagues are included in all relevant business discussions and happenings – virtually or otherwise – even those that only the inner circle knows about.
Confronting Racism Together
Right now, many Black people are frustrated, outraged and exhausted. Frustrated about seeing how our community is disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Outraged about seeing our brothers and sisters senselessly and brutally killed. Exhausted about acting like we’re OK when we’re dealing with generations of racial trauma and institutional racism. We need allies to check their privilege and stand with us. Join us in the fight against racial injustice.
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