We heard the cries from mothers across the world, responding to George Floyd’s final plea, calling his mama begging for help, yearning to be heard one last time. Over the last few weeks, we’ve also heard from protesters in the streets marching in communities from Brooklyn to LA screaming, “No justice, no peace” and “Say her name,” a call to action for our federal and local governments and police departments across the country to do better. A call to hold those accountable for their crimes against the very humans they were meant to protect and serve no matter the color of their skin.
As some of us dust ourselves off, push forward, and return to the world of work, as a Black person, it all feels different. How could it not? Particularly as a Black person going back to an all-white work environment, like I am. I work side by side with white women. My boss is a white woman. The small organization I work for was founded by a white woman.
As the only person of color on staff, and the only Black woman in my office, the Black Lives Matter movement has given me the fuel I’ve long needed to use my authentic voice while at work. While many days over the last few weeks have been emotionally unbearable at times, finding my voice and using it has been the silver lining for me — if there could be such a thing at a time like this.
Don’t get me wrong, I have colleagues who understand and truly want to learn and do better. As my colleagues, but more importantly as white people, they understand the need to act now and to keep putting in the work. They read books on race. They explore the hard questions with interest and commit to improving their understanding of the plight of Black people, my people. They attend trainings in hopes of leaving said training with more self-awareness and an unspoken mandate to go out and be an educated ally, to walk the walk.
Yet I can’t help but fear and wonder with great curiosity if my newfound voice will, after, say, a year has passed, be welcomed the same way. Will using my authentic voice push them into a corner, building walls to shield themselves from the truth of my words? Will I retreat back into the cocoon which has kept me safe throughout my entire professional career? Will I revert to being the woman who toed the line to keep the peace? Will I be the woman who worries that speaking from her heart with passion and authenticity will be seen as a threat instead of a conversation starter? I know I cannot go back to being “that woman” who doesn’t use her voice in the way it is meant to be used.
Trending hashtags like #ShareTheMic attempt to amplify the voices of Black women as white women hand their mics over to Black women for the day, allowing them to be heard — Black women who work in fields like journalism and acting, are business owners, and more. But is the #ShareTheMic Instagram initiative enough? What about the black women who wake up every day, who work in hospitals, who are nurses, who are housekeepers, who work in daycares, who sit in board rooms shoulder to shoulder with people whose skin color does not match theirs — what about those voices?
In a 2019 article in the New York Times, editor and reporter Lauretta Charlton dissects a report called “Being Black in Corporate America.” A year out from when this article was published, I believe we are turning a corner — and we didn’t need a study to get us there. We needed the bravery of everyday people, Black, white, brown, and all bodies willing and able to take a stand against racism, injustice, and fight for equality. George Floyd’s murder in May was, and will remain, the catalyst for the changes ahead of us. They must stick.
For Black women like me, I am hopeful that the words that leave our lips can help tame the troubled waters ahead. The fight for equality in the workplace, the right to be heard, and the battle yet to be won, will continue to propel us forward into what I hope is our new normal.
I, for one, am foregoing the opportunity to mop up the perceived hurt feelings of my white family members, friends, and colleagues. I am standing in my skin, ready to be heard. There has been a shift — albeit a slow one, but it is happening nonetheless. It is spilling over into the workplace and trending hashtags like #blacklivesmatter and #sayhername and #alllivesmatter stir a pot overflowing with emotion.
As a community of many, we are entering a new world and have a better view of what it looks like to give a Black woman her voice back.