Charleston, South Carolina is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world yet it has an ugly past. Almost half of all enslaved Africans who came to the U.S. first arrived in the port of Charleston. This is where I call home and growing up there, the history of racism, prejudice, and elitism was and still is present. If that behavior hasn’t left the Holy City after all these years, you would be a fool to think that it has left America.
What is the American Dream?
There was a point in time where I was proud to call myself an American and I strived to live out the American Dream. I was the kid that thought I did everything right. I was a straight-A student, graduated valedictorian of my high school, and went to college on a full academic scholarship. With all my credentials, I still felt the need to prove that I belonged and had the skills necessary to be in Corporate America and in the technology industry.
The pressure wasn’t there just because I was a woman but also because I was black. My white counterparts would brag about having family ties to several executives yet me being in the room was always questionable. It took a few years to get comfortable in those spaces but honestly, I shouldn’t have had to. You would think that in 2019 seeing a black face wouldn’t be so surprising yet it still is and people have an unconscious bias that they are afraid to acknowledge.
Taking Off the Mask
My experience might vary from others but I think black people would agree that playing both sides is tiring. I played the game for a while but now I refuse to remain silent and ignore the injustices that exist in this country. I cannot turn a blind eye to the daily hatred that is showcased on the news while wearing a smile at work. In my opinion, anyone that considers themselves an ally wouldn’t be able to. If I can’t be my authentic self and talk about what is important to me then why should I be in that space?
My experiences led me to be a diversity and inclusion advocate. I am committed to creating opportunities for people that look like me because I know how it feels to be left out. I recently helped develop a black employee resource group at my company that serves as a space for blacks and allies to discuss empowerment, explore career advancement opportunities for black employees, and connect in ways that our own bias might not let us out in the open.
This fight to eliminate racism, sexism and all those other isms are far from over. A large part of why I love Black History Month is because it allows us to remember the past while focusing and mobilizing to ensure the future is better for our kids and grandkids. Yes, this month is still relevant and is still needed.
4 Ways to Contribute to the Cause
This month is not just important for black people but it should be for all Americans. If you consider yourself an ally, take this month to brush up on the real history and facts beyond what was taught in the history books. That should make you understand why the plight of black Americans is so important. Yes, we want allies but we don’t want allies that are afraid to acknowledge their privilege. If you are committed to being an ally, here are 4 things you can do to contribute to the cause.
#1: Stop bragging about being colorblind.
It’s not cute and it’s not something you should be proud of. Our color is in fact what makes us unique and beautiful. By claiming you don’t see color, you are essentially saying you don’t see me and you don’t care to. You don’t see the injustices that my people have faced for centuries and continue to face. You don’t see the pain and suffering that my ancestors endured at the hands of yours. You should see color. Seeing color isn’t the issue, it’s judging people based on their skin color that is.
#2: Give back internationally but also locally.
It’s nice you give to Feed the Children, you sponsor a kid in Africa, and even visit the orphanages there on your annual mission trips but what are you doing for the poor and impoverished children that live down the street from you? What about the children whose mother is struggling to pay bills because your new luxury high rise in their gentrified neighborhood has raised their rents? In addition to giving back intentionally, you need to make a conscious effort to give back locally to small nonprofits and grassroots organizations.
#3: Speak up when people of color aren’t in the room.
To be a true ally, you must know when and where to speak up. We don’t need you to just rant publicly on Facebook or hold signs at rallies. We need you to call out your family members when they say something in ill taste. We need you to speak up around your coworkers when they make a racist joke or comment. We need you to speak up when people of color are not in the room because your silence will be taken as agreement.
#4: Acknowledge that America was never great.
The America that we learned about from our history books was a fable. Many vital facts were watered down and some were left out completely. America has done a lot of crappy things to its citizens and to other countries. Black people aren’t just complaining for the hell of it. Systematic racism is a thing. Research Gerrymandering, the segregation of public schools, the school to prison pipeline, and how the crack epidemic was handled compared to the opioid crisis. Acknowledge the racist foundation America was built on. If we don’t, how can we move forward?
The American dream seems far-fetched right now but I pray that it is easier to grasp for the generation that is coming up behind us. I hope that one day soon we will achieve that dream that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about. If you are an ally, I thank you for being open to reading stories such as mine and recognizing that not every black experience is the same yet we all need spaces for our voices to be heard. Have our backs like you would want us to have yours and continue to fight for what is right. #SayYES to being an ally!
– Written By LaCrystal Robinson, product marketer + life blogger of Say YES!
One For Women is honored to have LaCrystal Robinson, life blogger of Say YES! share her voice and her important message as part of our One Voice to Hear series.