With the violence against African-Americans at the hands of the police, along with the organization and expansion of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the discussion of race has inevitably been brought to the forefront in both our personal and work environments.
Recently, I spoke with a group of friends who all have thriving, successful careers. I connected with them to engage in an honest discussion about how deeply affected we all were by the recent strings of violence against our community and how that pain is translating into our daily lives.
What I learned was actually shocking. Many of them refused to discuss race, #BlackLivesMatter, or their pain with their colleagues.
As a Black executive, your role can be an extremely vulnerable one. Many times there are very few people of color on their teams. It is in this environment that they feel uncomfortable to even bring up any socioeconomic or political issue, much less a hot-button topic like race.
I’ve compiled a few of their responses, which are both emotional and enlightening. They offer a glimpse into life as an executive of color and the weight carried on their shoulders. It is both the weight of being in a position of power and feeling the burden of silence.
“I know that I’m not in a place where I can speak freely and vulnerably without coming off as the angry and sad person that I am. In fact, I’m liable to start crying if I have to talk about it. That’s not a part of myself that I’m at all comfortable with bringing to work. To forums outside of work, sure. But I agree, long-term silence doesn’t help.” – Senior Financial Analyst
“One thing I learned: People at work value your opinion about work and work product. They don’t value your opinion about your personal life, political views, social stances, etc. More often than not, when I am asked my opinion about these killings by the police, I don’t answer because there is no upside. As stated, you will get labeled. I refuse to talk about this at work because my emotional attachment to this issue has nothing to do with my job. Just like when the situation happened in Orlando, I stayed away from conversations other than saying, ‘That was unfortunate and I am sorry for those lost.'” – Accountant
“What’s sad is most business environments, including my own, are choosing to ignore that anything is going on.” – Global Market Director
“At work, I am paid to encourage people to have these ‘difficult conversations,’ but no one wants to hear them. The places that have the conversations [about race and discrimination] lose funds of support. In my office, I can off-hand express my thoughts — ‘Oh wow, look how creative you can be when you don’t have to worry about being shot down in the street and your reputation and family destroyed if it’s not caught on a cell phone.’” – Consultant
The bottom line is we have valid feelings of hurt, sorrow, and frustration regarding what is happening to our community. However, most of those whom I polled share a common thread of belief that nothing said to our non-Black colleagues will be understood, accepted, deemed appropriate to discuss, or genuinely cared about.