How do we instill change? How do we as individuals, support and understand one another? These were the questions I asked myself when I felt a strong desire to say or do something in the fight for diversity, equality, and inclusion.
You may ask yourself, as I did, but what can I do? Well, I read articles, listened to experts, authors, and advocates on topics such as unconscious bias, discrimination, and racism. At first, I became overwhelmed by all the information. It was like an enormous tree of knowledge with an endless span of branches. I took all this information and put it on paper. But when I read it, I realized my mind had unconsciously taken over and I was spinning on a rollercoaster of emotions, and I had to get off. I needed a break; I needed a new direction and approach. Suddenly I realized, it was not the stories, struggles, and challenges of the world that I need; it was reflecting on my own. The very next day, I experienced something that changed how I felt and thought about being a black woman today.
The day started like any other day. I got up, had some coffee, I got nudged by my husband, as I started to fall asleep while watching the morning news, so I sat up straight to keep myself awake. The top news stories were the same as yesterday, the alarming rate increase of COVID-19 cases and another unfortunate clash with a person of color and the police.
Then I realized it was time to get moving! I started my daily routine, also known in my house as morning madness, and got out the door almost on time. I dropped my youngest three children at daycare and as I was walking out the building, there were two police officers at the counter getting information for the activity center in the same building. Remembering that I also needed to get something at the front desk, I waited until I was called up to the open window. When I got there, I completely drew a blank, not remembering what I needed. Was it just "mom's brain?" No, I didn't think so. I then realized I was experiencing a little anxiety standing next to the two white police officers. I got the information I needed and walked past the officers, averting eye contact at any cost. I felt uncomfortable. And judging by the way they also tried not to make eye contact, they were equally uncomfortable. For the first time in my life, and because of the changing dynamics happening in our communities, I felt this way simply because I am a person of color.
As a working mother and a wife, I thought that homeschooling my seven-year-old and keeping four kids under the age of eight, and myself, from going stir crazy during the current pandemic was the biggest challenge I would face this year. But as the racial tensions rose, and another black life was taken too soon, I realized that I must face an even more significant challenge: Talking to my children about racism and unconscious bias. But how would I start this? Would they even understand? Being a black woman married to a biracial (Hispanic and White) man, we always knew we would have to speak to our children about the beauty and differences of both sides of their heritage. But there was an unexpected path made for us, and our family did not grow with the addition of biological children but through embryo donation and surrogacy, fostering and adoption. We have been blessed with two brown biracial (black and white) and two (as I like to call them) "blonde and blues."
After a seven-year wait, we were so happy to bring home our first blonde and blue, a baby boy. I was so excited to be a mom! And with the miracle of modern science, I was able to bond with my son and breastfeed, even though a surrogate carried him. To my sadness, this euphoria was short-lived as I became subject to unconscious (or conscious) bias. I was stared at, not because I was breastfeeding my son in public, because there are 3 other mothers within eyesight doing the same. My glares were due to the very adorable, white legs and feet peeking out of the privacy drape. The stares and confusion would continue for years as I took my son to circle time and was asked how long I have been a nanny. Or to the first trip to the dentist and the dental assistant was asking me if I had any proof that my blonde and blue was my son. She was also the first one my two-year-old son hears the word “adopted” from.
It has been more than seven years since I became a mother and unfortunately little has changed. This is proven every time when I have my youngest child, my other blonde and blue, with me at the grocery store. The stares are still there. When my daughter is walking (less than four feet behind me) and I turn to see her walking and eating her cookie, I notice the stop, stares and searching, from other shoppers, trying to find the “parent” for her. When I call her and try to get her to catch up, the look does not turn to the relief of knowing she is not alone, but one of confusion. Or the shopper who comments, “it’s cute she calls you Mommy.” Then there is the anxiety that I have when that adorable two-year-old has had enough of shopping and I am walking to my car with a screaming toddler who does not look like me. I always wonder if an alert will be called in before I can finish getting the groceries in the car. It has been seven years but just last week, while walking into daycare with all four of my children, a woman asked me how I got roped into bringing everyone else’s kids with me. It’s almost second nature to say, “Nope, they’re all mine.” Which is usually followed by their funny or off-topic reply to cover or erase their embarrassment.
So how do we talk to our children about race? I believe we first must have open, respectful conversations with one another. Educate ourselves on the struggles and challenges that not only people of color experience but the differences that come with gender, race, and religion. If we are not willing to acknowledge that “family” comes in many different shapes and colors, we will not be able to remove the bias when viewing something different. How young should we start? When I picked up my four-year-old blonde and blue from preschool, I overhead (another blonde and blue) asking him where his “real mommy” was. I then realized it is not just families that are different that need to have this conversation but all families. And what does that look like? Well, I had no warning when my two-year-old daughter, out of the blue, says, “I’m white, mommy is brown.” So, I just rolled with it and we went through our family tree with white, brown, and black and added “is beautiful” after every distinction. Most importantly, I always end with “Is that your family?” I am happy and filled with love and joy when she answers, “Yes! My family.”
So how do we as individuals, stand together and make a change? Most importantly, how do we ensure that it is done with sensitivity, respect, compassion and understanding? This can only be achieved with communication. Open and sharing in dialogue that helps us to continue to learn and grow. And what a unique opportunity places like the workplace provide for us! This is a natural space where diversity in many ways, surrounds us. These are people that we didn’t necessarily choose to spend our time with but are now spending much of our days together. Perhaps giving opportunities in these spaces to share our own experiences, listen to each other with the intention of understanding, and not just responding, and allowing ourselves the opportunity to learn and grow as people. Sharing our experiences and creating an inclusive society and workspace, one in which people are free to bring their whole selves, without fear, and with the understanding that although different in many ways, we all have a story to tell.
For that reason, HRx Services is planning to host a discussion where we can connect, from the workplace perspective, and talk through inclusion in the workplace, unconscious bias and share our stories and learn from one another. More details to come, but we invite you to join us for Coffee and Conversations. Our goal is to create an opportunity to learn, listen, and be heard in a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment.