I was 21 when I consciously made the choice in my heart and mind: racism doesn’t apply to me. My outcomes are my own. I convinced myself that by sheer willpower I could make myself the exception to the rule. There were examples of people who’ve done this; more by the day. I saw no reason why I couldn’t be one of them. In witnessing the current outcome of the Ferguson trial, I am now more acutely aware of the context and atmosphere in which my exceptionality must occur. This was brought home in a very personal way earlier this year when two of…
I was 21 when I consciously made the choice in my heart and mind: racism doesn’t apply to me. My outcomes are my own. I convinced myself that by sheer willpower I could make myself the exception to the rule.
There were examples of people who’ve done this; more by the day. I saw no reason why I couldn’t be one of them.
In witnessing the current outcome of the Ferguson trial, I am now more acutely aware of the context and atmosphere in which my exceptionality must occur.
This was brought home in a very personal way earlier this year when two of my closest friends and I got into a sticky exchange about race.
An off-color remark was made. Another parried in exchange. Feelings were hurt by all. What happened in 60 seconds has taken several months to repair in friendships that are over six years long.
This is now the 395th year since the beginning of the slave trade in America that as a culture black people are receiving the message through the justice system: your life does not matter.
As much as I choose to believe my life does matter, this is the climate in which my choice is occurring.
In college I took three different classes simultaneously on race-class-gender and matrices of power. By the end of that semester I could tell you how as a black woman I was screwed when it came to my life mattering.
Needless to say, I very quickly gave up that line of academic inquiry. I ceased studying matrices of power and how/why they work to oppress and began ardently studying personal power and how it works to create freedom. I wanted to know how I could have a fulfilling life — in spite of what the statistics say.
For all groups who have experienced systematic oppression, individuals on track for success face a string of impossible choices to solidify an already tenuous existence, let alone successful life.
I say tenuous because in moments like this and like the one I had earlier this year with friends, it is made plain: success or failure never happens in a bubble. I need these friends in my life. I also trust that they need me.
However in witnessing the situation unfold in Ferguson, the question I (and I suspect many black people) quietly ask themselves The Day After is this:
Do they actually need me? When “they” look at “me” does my life matter to “them?”
I am both praying that my life does matter and I am terrified to know the truth.
I’d love to believe that Ferguson is an isolated incident. However as I consider the perceptions of me by non-black gate-keepers to power in my industry (in moments when history repeats itself) I wonder do they quietly ask themselves things like:
Where does she stand?
Is she an angry black woman?
Is she hung up on her race?
Does she actually believe that racism is real?
Why are black people so upset?
Unspoken questions. All signifiers that we’re ready on both sides to put down the historical inheritance passed down to us that whispers: “Notice how she’s not like you. You may not want to share with her. Her life doesn’t matter as much as yours.”
I’m well aware that I live in a rather safe, highly-liberal/progressive, east coast entrepreneurial bubble.
And for those of us in this bubble, this thought may not be what you’d consciously choose to believe. (It’s certainly not what my friends consciously chose to believe despite the wounding remark made. I know because I asked.)
However the tension you may even feel reading this is a sign that you may be ready to take the goggles off. (Because the truth is — they are not you.)
The tension I feel writing this is a sign that I am ready to take them off too. I don’t want to look at my friends and see a nebulous “they.”
It’s a sign that we’re all ready to see the person in front of us as the gift they are.
I don’t want to be the exception to the rule. I want to destroy the rule.
The reality has set in — I can’t “will” myself out of this one alone.
Because while Oprah, Obama and Chenault are real… so is this:
82 percent of non-black men on this dating site show some bias against black women.
76 percent of all millionaires in the U.S. are white. Latinos, Black people and Asian people are at 8 percent each.
While 1 in 10 of all U.S. workers are documented entrepreneurs, businesses owned by Black people have documented lower sales.
My studies in personal power have taught me that the beginning of our power begins in the mind with the choice of what we focus on.
But in moments like these it’s incredibly clear: It’s more than what *I* put my attention on that will create a different conversation about race and justice in the United States. It’s about what *we* put *our* attention on. In each moment of purchase, click-through “swipe,” and share.
I still choose to believe that this shift can be made in a moment. It just needs to be made in *every* moment for the conversation around race to change.
Will it continue to be easy to see one culture and it’s history as the butt of a joke? The lives that don’t really matter? That shouldn’t be taken so seriously?
While I know the painful words exchanged between my friends and I were said in “jest” they are indicative of an under-examined social framework begging for public discourse and healing.
If my friends and I are the micro…
Ferguson is the macro.
It’s the same conversation waiting to be had: what do my choices say about what I actually believe about race?
Our individual choices matter. It’s our individual choices that change the collective conversation.
I offer this prayer for all who know they matter but aren’t sure how to make a difference today.
Let me do good work.
Let my work speak for itself.
Let me live long enough to leave my gift behind when I’m gone.
Let me become capable of the kind of relationships that make it possible.
Let what was only a possibility to me become the new normal for those just like me.
Until the day we all agree: all human life matters. Every human life has a purpose.
Kristen Domingue is a speaker and blogger on the topics of personal brand development and living a purposeful life at kristendomingue.com
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What Your Black Friend Might Think but Not Say About Ferguson