“Black people disappear in America,” is how a July 7th article in Atlanta Magazine opens. The piece entitled, “Ahmaud Arbery will not be erased,” goes on to detail how his killing was also destined for oblivion, if not for the tenacity of his mother, refusing to settle for the explanation that her son was shot for his involvement with a burglary. Over the course of a few months more details of his killing by vigilantes emerged, eventually leading to three indictments that added to the outrage over the brutal murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd that captured national attention. “In our country and across the world, the attention is being shined on these particular incidences in a way that it has never been before,” says Maya Bordeaux, Founder of Lead with Love Consulting.
Maya and I met in 2009 when we held leadership roles in a Chicagoland healthcare system. We shared the bond of holding demanding jobs while respectively parenting two small children. Once our professional paths took us in different directions, we followed one another on LinkedIn, but otherwise fell out of touch. In my North suburban community, I noticed in group chats that the recent killings of unarmed Blacks was prompting more reflection and questions among parents. It prompted me to reconnect with Maya hoping she could share her perspective as a Black female executive who has worked for, and with, a number of large organization while raising two daughters.
When I asked Maya about the visibility of this crisis she acknowledged that, “This is prompting people to want to know more, to understand more. It felt so unfair. These were innocent people who were murdered just based on the color of their skin.”
Our conversation covered a lot of ground, below are a few excerpts from our exchange I know enlightened me, and I hope other parents may benefit from.
Julia: Maya, thank you again for speaking with me about this important subject. You’ve noted before that people are paying attention to the racism crisis now more than ever. What’s different this time?
Maya: I have concluded…that 2020 has been a year of clarity. And when you think of 20/20 metaphorically, it’s about perfect vision or clarity. It was during a pandemic that we (collectively), across the country and across the world, have a complete laser focus on what is going on, specifically around racism and violence, against Black people. In the past, we would hear about these incidents on the train, at the water cooler at work, at the gym, then we’re off to run into a meeting or to a child’s ballgame.
Many parents I’ve spoken with recognize this as an inflection point in the conversation and opportunity to have a deeper discussion with their children. At the same time, they’re unsure, asking, “How do I explain this to my children?”
I think it’s very important that parents first be educated before they enter into conversation with their children because there is real danger in misinformation…not explaining in a way that can help them incorporate (this) into their own belief systems. Parents need to take time to read, to watch movies. Do that with your children so you’re learning together. Do the hard work. If uninformed, parents risk causing more harm. They need a full appreciation for the history of racism in America to understand how systemic it is and has infiltrated every aspect of our lives for hundreds of years.
You make a great point how as parents we need to broaden our lens and deepen our own understanding of how systemic racism has persisted for centuries. When I’ve brought this up to my own children, they’ve pushed back on the need to know more as they don’t see themselves as racists or perpetuating racism. How do we counter this attitude?
As parents, it’s important to be aware of our own and others tendency towards “othering.” “I’m not racist. My college roommate was Black, and I like her,” or “I don’t do anything to be racist, therefore this isn’t about me.” It’s denial…living in oblivion that leads to more white privilege. If someone, says, I’m not racist. I ask, “So what are you doing to be anti-racist?” This leads to an ah-ha moment almost always.
I like this suggestion as it’s a way to challenge a family member or friend, and ideally get them thinking. To take perspective and consider that passivity towards racism may not be enough. I can imagine this can get uncomfortable at times.
You have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. When we encourage and support people to ask the tough questions and have the tough conversations…it is a tribute and an honor to all of the Black people who have been living this and talking about this for hundreds of years and it was just falling on deaf ears.
As Maya shares, parents can take practical steps, and do small things, to model what it looks like to be anti-racist. She suggests, “It’s challenging people at the dinner table or on Facebook when people are saying something racist or derogatory.” Maya encourages parents to take intentional steps, to have the courage to say, “that is not ok” when observing racism. “It’s going to be hard and uncomfortable, but challenging racism is the right thing to do.”
As parents, the impact of our own behaviors and those of our children may seem inconsequential, but it’s the small, brave steps that help contribute to lasting change.
Resources If you like to read, try any of these:
· “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo
· “‘It Could have Been Me’: Black Attorneys Reflect on George Floyd’s Death and What Comes Next by Dylan Jackson, The American Lawyer
· "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
· “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo
· “How To Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
· “Biased” by Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt
· Talking About Race Web Portal – The National Museum of African American History and Culture
· How to Make This Moment the Turning Point for Real Change by Barack Obama, Medium
· Fighting Racism Even, and Especially, Where We Don’t Realize It Exists by Jeffrey C. Stewart, The New York Times
If you like to watch, try any of these:
· “I Am Not Your Negro”, critically acclaimed film based on James Baldwin’s writings—on Amazon Prime or YouTube
· “Just Mercy” – A film based on civil rights lawyer Bryan Stephenson’s work on death row in Alabama. Free streaming available.
· “Selma” – A film which chronicles the marches of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
· “13th” – A Netflix documentary film exposing the nation’s history of racial inequality within the criminal justice system.
· “When They See Us” – A Netflix miniseries from Ava DuVernary about the true story of the falsely accused Central Park Five.
· “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992” – A documentary film that examines the racial tensions in Los Angeles and the riots over Rodney King’s death.
· “James Baldwin v. William F. Buckley (1965)” – A debate on the question: “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”
If you prefer to listen, here are a few suggestions of podcasts with thoughtful content
o “Code Switch” (NPR) – “A Decade of Watching Black People Die”
o “Witness Black History” (BBC World Service)
o “What A Day” (Crooked Media) – “Protesting 1, 2, 3”
o “The Daily” (The New York Times) – “A Weekend of Pain and Protest”
o “Unlocking Us with Brené Brown” – “Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist
A few other suggestions from the September 2020 issues of Oprah Magazine
· Download: Black Nation, a directory of Black owned businesses
· Read: The 1619 Project @ NYTimes.com
· Follow: #Dothework, Rachel Cargle’s resources on dismanteling systemic racism
Learn more about the historic cover of September's O Magazine at: