Why Black Lives Matter to this White Chick

Between the World

Recently finished reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and pondering his perspective of reality and what it means to me. The beauty of reading a book is, if you let it, it can expand your view of the world and your experience. I can travel to Antarctica and vicariously experience the long dark cold winter with the scientists living on isolated outposts. In Between the World and Me Coates takes us on an inward journey to live as a person with dark-hued skin in America.

I have often thought that moving through life as a woman was an approximation of what it is like to be a person of color. It may be on the same spectrum of fear and lack of control or power in society. As a woman, people project all sorts of judgements and assumptions based on my sex, regardless of what I do, say or wear. After reading Coates I realize that being a woman is a 2 or 3 on the spectrum, being gay is probably a 5 or 6 and being black is an 8.

This need to have an group to scapegoat or villify is a chronic problem for humankind. At different times Irish people, Italian people, or Japanese people have been others in our “American Dream”–the one we tell ourselves about who we are as a nation and as a society. Today Mexicans or Muslims fill that role in the story. Unfortunately for black people and for our nation as a whole, they have been a constant “them” in the us vs. them since our country began: first as slaves, then as expendable workers and disenfranchised citizens and now as convicts.


I thought of Brian Keenan‘s brilliant book An Evil Cradling. He chronicled his long captivity as a hostage of the conflict in Lebanon. He observed so much about what it means to be human and wisely observed that his jailors were really the captives–captured by an ideology and a false reality. By knowing this he experienced freedom in spite of his chains. I read this book in 1999 after it was recommended in a Dublin pub crawl and it has impacted me profoundly. I thought about it again after reading Between the World and Me and realized that in this drama none of us is free.

By believing in a false reality about the American Dream–one that increasingly does not match the facts or people’s experience and that requires that a large swath of the population be made Other or as Trump likes to say, losers–I am actually a captive too. But I want true freedom. I want to be myself and for every other person to be the person God created them to be regardless of constructs like race or sex or national or religious identity.

I do not think this a Dream: American or Martin Luther King Junior’s or any other kind. What it requires is to awaken. “Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.” (Coates, p 7)

The world you and I live in will not know peace or ecological healing until we find a way to face reality, to accept some sacrifice and suffering, and to feel pain without numbing agents, and to know that we are not special and yet, that each of us is a reflection of the divine.



Leaders Repair Relationships

Warning: If you keep Jon Stewart on a pedestal and only like reading high praise for the man, stop reading now.

Jon Stewart is filming his last show today and a lot of journalists (Fresh Air, NY Times, etc.) are covering this event. I have a routine of watching the previous day’s show on the internet over lunch and Jon Stewart is the only anchor I have known on The Daily Show. I miss the Colbert Report because it went away entirely. I hope when Trevor Noah takes over I will remain enthusiastic about watching it over lunch.

I marvel at his intelligence and wit, but I have occasionally witnessed his thin skin showing through when he interviews guests or is parrying attacks from Fox News and others. And then I listened to Marc Maron’s podcast interview with former Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac. He tells his story about the incident that ultimately led to his leaving the Daily Show. He expressed a difference of opinion to Jon Stewart about how Stewart chose to respond to an event. Cenac’s opinion was informed by his experience with race as a black man in America and unfortunately Stewart took it personally and responded in anger (perhaps rage).

And then Stewart did not repair with Cenac and so ultimately Wyatt Cenac found working at the Daily Show so uncomfortable he left the show.

First, I want to share that I have done the same thing (losing it to the point of screaming) to an employee of mine. And I eventually learned to feel truly sorry. It took about 4 months of executive coaching before I could recognize how damaging what I did was to the other person. By that time my employee had moved to the other side of the country for a new job and my team had gone through hours of team building using tools from John Gottman’s research. I never repaired with the individual though.

I am not proud of this fact. And having experienced this lapse in my leadership, I have compassion for Jon Stewart and have an idea of why he may not have been able to repair his relationship with Wyatt Cenac.

I also know that leaders repair relationships. It was a much longer journey to really learn this lesson. It was only when I had experienced CTI’s Co-Active Leadership Program that I locked in the learning about how to clear with people and keep relationships in good trim. It takes a lot of conscious effort and it means I have to deal with my own “stuff” (and by stuff I mean shit).

Maybe this is part of Jon Stewart’s decision to leave. Maybe he does not feel his current job gives him the bandwidth to deal with these personal issues. We have no way of really knowing; however, I can still learn from the WTF podcast interview. I do not think Jon Stewart is a racist or a rage machine, just as I am not the sum of my episode with my employee. And this is the same Jon Stewart who did the delightful interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates. I wish him all the best and I will still miss him.