Doctor: Your cortisol levels are literally off the chart; they are showing major stress. What’s going on? Is work crazy?
Me: No, I’m black. Like yesterday, I went to Trader Joe’s. When leaving, the shopping center, there was a guy on one corner yelling “white power,” and one on another corner yelling “nigger, nigger, nigger.” This was 12:30 Monday afternoon.
Doctor: Oh, what am I thinking of course. It’s my white perspective, I totally missed that.
Me: Look stuff like this happens all the time, we [the black community] don’t say anything because people assume, we did something to provoke this. It’s uncomfortable for white people to readily acknowledge this vileness. Since George Floyd, things have been exacerbated. This is what systemic racism looks like; for some people, their way of life is threatened, their beliefs are challenged. Systemic by nature means it’s ongoing. What you see in my lab work is the result.
The alt-right, white supremacist represent 3% of Americans. In a 2017 survey, 8 percent of respondents said they supported white nationalism as a group or movement, and 31 percent of Americans polled strongly or somewhat agreed that “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage. I am a numbers person; therefore, I assume that 31% of the people I deal with on a daily basis, 3 out of 10, think of me as less than. I don’t have the luxury to think otherwise. I don’t have the nativity to think, these people do not exist in corporate America; they do.
A peer in Belgium once said, executives make a decision and move on as if the decision is implemented and working. It feels a little like this now. There is acknowledgement there is a problem, but it is not remedied. It’s like, oh yes, the house has a leaky roof. There are photos of the leaky roof, maybe a few bids on fixing the leaky roof and plans for a new house without a leaky roof, but today, the roof is still leaking. I did not expect a quick fix. I just wasn’t prepared for the vitriol and blacklash that followed; hence the off the chart cortisol reading. The first enslaved people were kidnapped and arrived in the US in 1619, the emancipation was 1865, that’s 246 years of enslavement. Followed by 155 years of all manner of evil to ensure free from slavery did not mean equal by crafting laws, policies and things like community covenant to keep African Americans out. After all, America must protect and preserve its White European heritage? And given that belief held by 31% of Americans, I should not be surprised at someone was yelling White Power in the middle of the day at a shopping plaza.
If a problem is properly defined, actions start to have an impact on song the problem. Often symptoms or challenges are mislabeled as problems. George Floyd was a symptom and law enforcement is a challenge; both stemming from the problem of systemic racism. Often, we get stuck in a loop, we keep addressing the symptoms and the challenges and not the problem and wonder why nothing has changed. This week consider problems versus symptoms & challenges and what it means to transform.