I don’t know that I have anything particularly insightful to say about the deaths of Alton Sterling or Philandro Castile, or regarding the deaths of police officers in Dallas.
There are other more important voices to be heard, including the families of the victims and all of those putting their lives on the line in the on-going protests.
But the events of the past few weeks have surely been cause for further introspection – and in case it’s of use to others – I’ll share those below.
One additional note: for me, there has often been an inverse correlation between the intensity of a situation and my emotional tenor. When blood is boiling around me, my blood cools – this has had both positive and negative effects in my life, and in part explains the tone of this post.
How has Black Lives Matter affected me?
I feel the issue in a way I never did before. Working in education in New Orleans, I’ve surely been exposed to the idea that too often black lives don’t matter. But there is nothing as visceral is video. Watching Tamir Rice being slain; Walter Scott being mowed down – the videos have dug into my conscience – and they have forced me to emotionally and intellectually confront a dark corner of America that I don’t experience in my day-to-day life.
It’s made me question myself. In my younger days, I was more willing to throw myself into the most difficult situations. As a law student, I lived in a war torn Sierra Leone and worked at an international war crimes tribunal because I thought I could be a part of serving those who had been devastated by violence. I thought much less about my own well-being in those days. Now, when I watch the protests, I wonder: do I still have it in me? How much am I willing to sacrifice my own well-being for others? Or am I only willing to do good if I’m well compensated and get to work with my friends in a cool organization? I also am struck with deep admiration for those who do have it in them.
It’s made me question my role. Due to some combination of temperament, intellectual interest, and ego – I’m wired to be a doer and not an ally. It’s much easier for me to throw myself into something if I’m a leader in the charge. I’m realizing how difficult it is for me to throw myself into something when I’m a walk on player in the fight. Despite my heritage (my father was African-American and mother is an Indian immigrant), I’ve never deeply internalized either of these cultural identities; they are surely part of who I am, and they make me different than white Americans, but still, I find myself on the outside looking in… perhaps I need to broaden my definition of what it means to be a leader.
It’s made me listen more: Reading the twitter feeds and blogs and Facebook posts of Black Lives Matter leaders has drilled into me that you can’t understand something without listening to those who are most affected by it. This doesn’t mean data and analysis is not useful, only that it will always be incomplete. Additionally, I’ve also found myself reading Fox News a little bit more, as I’ve tried to deepen my understanding of those who are troubled by Black Lives Matter. This has also made me empathize with the dangers that good cops face in very difficult situations.
It’s driven home a view that we need to hold physical peace as sacred: In watching the videos of black people being killed – as well as police officers being killed – there has been one constant refrain in my head: couldn’t death have been avoided? As a nation, if I had one wish, it was that we would be more physically peaceful. Everything can be walked back but death.
So I’ve been affected by Black Lives Matter in deep ways – but what to do?
I’m still struggling with this, so all feedback is appreciated.
First, I want to do my job better. When I’m being lazy, or not thinking things through hard enough, or not being obsessively anxious about solving the hardest problems, I want the videos of the victims to be seared in my brain on replay. I’m in the fortunate position of being able to deploy a lot of capital to increase educational opportunities for black children. And while I don’t think education is the primary issue here, it is the area I have the most control over, so my opportunity for impact is probably greatest. And I do believe that providing great educational opportunities to black children will help them defend themselves against racism, as well as help them fight it. This should not be their burden, but it likely will be.
Second, I want to increase my effort to listen to more diverse voices. It shouldn’t take a video of someone being murdered for me to stay woke. To operationalize this, I’ve set a quarterly goal of reaching out to three people in each city I work in – people who don’t fit neatly into my existing personal and professional circles.
Third – and this more about mindset than immediate action – but I want to better define when and why I’d be willing to accept chaos and upheaval in my own life in order to help others.