Live my life of a woman…

…For a day and see how you feel

This is the #metoo era. About time!  And unfortunately, it may be the #metoo era for a little while. Because there is so much crap to flush out of the system.  Crap that has been there for so long that people convinced the rest of us that it is a diamond in the rough.  But like I like to say: “if it looks like pooh and smells like pooh, it is 99.9% pooh”.  There is so much to learn about how to come out with hard truth, follow through and make a sustainable change for the community.  But that will be the topic for another blog post. Right now, I want to focus on women situations.

What better way than putting myself in their shoes. At least trying. Because does not matter all my good intentions I will never feel how most women feel. My obligation though is to actively listen to their concern and be at least supportive and of course at best a change agent.

A colleague of mine has been helping, probably without meaning to. But who cares. The important is the result.  It first started a day I met my colleague after she had worked out.  She looked very happy and full of energy that morning. So I said: “working out first thing in the morning suits you well. You have a glee today”. It turned out that she wore make up that morning. Which may or may not be the reason I noticed that glee.  She cheekily answered, “You can not reduce women to the make up she wears”. I know she was joking, still, she was making a good point.  I am a big fan of Alicia Keys not wearing makeup.  Great signal to women in general. And I love what it will convey to my daughter when she is older. “It is ok to not wear makeup if you do not want to. Your body, your rules”.  So how come I made that comment to my colleague? My best guess is unconscious bias.  Not an excuse. More an insight for me to do better.

There is also a second incident where she said, she wanted to make me feel for a few minutes how it feels to be a woman. But I will keep that story for next week.

When doing good leads to more good…

…and when it does not

What do Jackie Robinson and Barack Obama have in common? There both were first. Both first opened a door that was previously locked tight. The first Black player in the Major League Baseball (MLB) in 1947 for Robinson and obviously the first Black president for Obama.  Amazing achievements. We already know that 5 years after Jackie Robinson first game in the MLB, hundreds of other Blacks player were in the league.  Jackie Robinson opened the door.  What we do not know yet is if the door will remain open after Obama.  I do hope there will be many more Black presidents. But maybe not because of moral licensing.

You guessed it by now. This post is more about understand a situation that impacts Black people and I believe is critical to understand to get what you deserve.

Back to moral licensing. This is when people in power – read my previous blog post to understand who I am talking about – after doing something that is morally right, feel better about themselves but to go back to their old habits in a heartbeat. It is like I did a good deed and it excuses all my bad behaviours for the next decade. We all experienced it at some point. This is similar to people saying “I am not a racist, one of my friend is Black”.

Moral licensing is a beautifully sadistic way to control people. Build a door, let the people you like come in all the time, and let a tiny fraction of the people you do not like get in once in a generation. It reminds me of “exclusive” night clubs in NYC, LA, Paris or London. No line, just a crowd of people all over the entrance. The bouncer picks from the crowd the people going in. You see people going in, so there is hope. And at the same time, nobody tells you no you will not get in, so you can’t get really mad. Hope that you may be the lucky one. We all know how that story ends. You do not get into the club.

I do not know how to keep the door open, other than becoming the owner of the door, building our own doors or even breaking them for good.

When you know more than others

and use it right

I was in Berlin last week. A fascinating city. The city of the “unruled”.   Truly a unique city with a complex history. A city that re-invented itself to be one of the coolest city in the world. Yes, you can quote me on that.

During that week, I met 3 fascinating people.  Real sneakerheads.  All in their mid 30’s with a true love and passion for sneakers.  They named themselves “the OG’s”.  I loved the OG’s, I loved their energy for the sneaker culture.  More than 10 years ago, 1 of them was an emerging hip-hop artist, another was a graffiti artist, and the last one was a sneaker collector.  After years of doing their things, they experimented with something new.  Selling second-hand sneakers online.  They started small. Just for fun and see what would come out of it.  To their surprise, the vintage sneakers were selling fast. Really fast.  Long story short, a year later they have a business.  They went from selling a few pairs of sneakers here and there to traveling every month to the US to collect their eBay shopping that they would then resell in Europe.

How did they their business become so successful so quickly? 2 things:

  • They know vintage sneakers better than anyone else.  Fancy people call it “knowledge asymmetry”.  When the average Joe decides to empty his attic and make a few bucks in the process, what he sees is old things taking up space.  The OG’s, on the other hand, see a unique pair of sneakers, from a limited edition that has not been re-edited.  That fancy term, “knowledge asymmetry” means that you can buy something for $10 and resell it for $300 because you know!
  • The OG’s are trendsetters.  Spend enough time obsessing about one thing, you will know it intimately.  The OG’s do not only obsess about sneakers but also about everything surrounding sneakers.  They understand the movement, the trends. In some ways, they can predict what will happen in the streetwear culture better than anyone else in Berlin.  At that point not only you can predict it, you actually can influence the trends.

Let’s recap.  In both cases, they buy low and sell high.  In the first place is because they know better.  In the second case, they create the value by making the sneakers hot.  Here think about the ugly sneakers trend.

The point here is: go beyond information is power.  This is only your first step. Once you have it, milk it as much as you can.  I truly hope the Berlin OG’s will continue to expand their business super fast and dominate that space.

Situation for POC in Europe vs USA

High stakes, high rewards and vice versa

My whole family relocated to the Netherlands.  That is my wife and my 2 kids.  It all happened super quickly because of a good work opportunity.  I asked a friend about a job in Amsterdam end of November, and by mid-December, I had met with 7 of the decision makers and got the job.  Congratulations they told me, we need you in the office asap.  So here I was. moving everybody within about 2 weeks. And 2 weeks extra the house in the US is sold (still pending) and we put an offer on a house here (still pending as well).  Like Jay Z would maybe say, “I’ve got 99 problems, but moving country ain’t one”.  So for my wife and I, the technical part of moving was never a challenge. It is painful, but we know we can do it.

The open question was “what is the best environment for our kids?”  Not in the traditional way people may think.  It is about the racial environment that our kids will be exposed to.  We have a 1-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy. They are mixed race.  The essential question we have was simple.  What country is best for them. And there were 2 views:

  • My view: The US is advancing the racial conversation quickly and could be far ahead of Europe in a few years.
  • My wife’s view:  Black people get shot a lot in the US.

Let me explain my view.  When I look where the US was just 54 years ago before the civil right movement, I am amazed that Obama became President.  The US still has a long way to go, don’t get me wrong.  However, I have to recognize the achievement.  My belief is that the US progressed thanks to (forced) conversations and the support of (reasonable) majority in power.

Now let me contrast the US with Europe. More specifically France. The country I was born in. In France, on the pretense of everybody being French, there are no statistics collected on race. We can not know how many Blacks are unemployed, or the wealth difference between whites and non-whites.  In other words, there are no ways to prove that there are inequalities.

On the flip side, my wife is right.  Black people get shot a lot in the US.  That is a fact.  and that fact means that any racial progress is often offset by the amount of police shooting Blacks.  In some ways, I would probably prefer to live in a country that never had a Black president but that is also not shooting Black people.  Check.  However, when I think hard about this, I do have the feeling that there is potentially a high price to pay to reach racial/gender equality.  And that high price may be people risking their lives for the greater good, to make progress and to live in a world where their great grandchildren will only know about inequalities from reading history books.

Hard decision. All for achieving nirvana. But I am not ok to achieving nirvana risking the life of my children. That’s hypocrisy. Or is it? Do my children have a better chance to have a positive impact on the world by being alive and not fearing for their lives.  Plus they were born in the US. They will always have this connection. Is it something I am telling myself to feel better or is it really what I believe in.  I would probably have to reflect on it in a few months and post a follow up to this blog post.  In the meantime, some more racial awareness is needed in Holland. Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) is a surreal thing to me.  Even in the US, people almost understand that you should not paint your face black when you are white. This is just not ok.

So, unfortunately, there is much material to fuel the fire of this blog in Europe as well.  My hope is that this new chapter in my life will provide a new perspective.

New Life, New Year

It is time to reflect on 2017

I just relocated from Portland, Oregon to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.  This is the reason I did not post last week.  Life took over! This week I decided to fight back and post.

A big change for my family and I.  Because it also coincides with the new year it is a good time to reflect on the impact of this blog on me.  I decided to write this blog to help people who look like me.  It was a very selfless act in honour of all the selfless people I met over the years and contributed to building a better me.  The reality, I tremendously benefited from posting on a weekly basis. Here are the reasons why:

  • A better thinker – I am also on the hunt for new materials for my blog. I carefully listen to news, and I am on the lookout for difficult topics I believe need to be addressed.  Because I want to tell a good story, I have to go beyond the obvious we can hear everywhere and give my personal opinion.  This is a great exercise to always be ready to address challenging questions in real life.
  • A better communicator – Once ideas are clear in your head, putting pen to paper is a formality. That allows me to spend more time giving my personal spin on the story.
  • A better connector – The more I focus on issues affecting people who look like me, the more I am able to connect with people who do not look like me.  Like Aime Cesaire said « plus on est nègre, plus on sera universel. » Translated in my own words as “The more negro you are, the more universal you are”.  A strange paradigm where the more I advocate for Blacks, the more I understand non-Blacks (including whites) and the more I see opportunities for all to come together and be better off as a whole.

I am extremely thankful for all the followers and supporters of this blog. It is my privilege to share my thoughts with you. I hope that you got as much from reading this blog as I got writing it.  Drop a comment or a question anytime. 100% response guaranteed!


Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

My opinion about the reparations

I am for and here how to advocate effectively for it

I am for reparations. I was for before writing this and even more for after writing the first blog post. I am not going to lie, the 2nd blog post put some doubt in me for a minute.  I could stop there really. Instead, I want to contribute. Advocate for the reasons why there should be reparations. And really the arguments for reparations are sounds. People against reparations do not challenge the reasons for reparations. They mainly challenge the mechanics around reparations.  Let’s unpack the arguments against reparations to make our case more compelling.

  1. Blacks in the US are better off economically than Black in the Caribbean or Africa.  OK, maybe.  So what? Is it due to slavery that they are better off? How do you define being better off?  This is the equivalent of saying that Angelina Jolie should not seek justice following the sexual harassment she suffered from Weinstein because today she is better off than other women who did not get harassed.  Enough said
  2. Who to pay reparations to?  I do not know how to answer this question.  It is tricky and could cause a lot of other issues.  That’s just not a good enough reason to not pay reparations.  Getting to the moon was not easy, we still did it.  Decades later we all have as much computing power in our pocket than was necessary to get the first man to the moon.  My point is that a lot of things are hard to do, and we are continuously pushing the limits. Why not push the limits of a cause we know is right?
  3. Where to get the money from?  The new GOP tax law will dig a huge hole in the budget. We are talking billions.  And mostly to make companies and rich people wealthier.  When you want to find money, you can.

The 3 most valid arguments I found against reparations can be crushed in 214 words.  So the reasons for Blacks to still be waiting on reparations has to be deeper, much deeper. And most likely the reasons are emotional.  People have pre-established opinions on topics such as the reparations.  In the majority of cases, people opinions cannot be changed purely with facts and logic. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot explains in my favorite NPR podcast, Hidden Brain, that it is difficult to change false beliefs.  She explains how you need to bring people along with you.  Pushing more facts towards them, actually consolidate their pre-existing opinion.   Instead, with powerful stories, your audience thoughts become more aligned with yours.  When done extremely well, people come to your conclusion before you even have to spell it out.  I feel like that this is what is missing.  All my research found facts. I did not come across how people, on both sides, felt or are currently feeling.

Connecting on the emotional level is key. We need to achieve that first step before there is a chance for any arguments to be received the way they should.

The strength of convictions in negotiations

Convictions are the strongest form of emotions #takeaknee

In the 49ers’ final 2016 preseason game on September 1, 2016, Kaepernick kneeled during the U.S. national anthem rather than sit as he did in their previous games. He explained his decision to switch was an attempt to show more respect to former and current U.S. military members while still protesting.  Following that, Colin decided to opt out of his contract. In other words, he walked away from about $14.5 million for what he believed in. You, like I, know people who would change their beliefs for much less than that.

Despite not being signed by anyone, Kaepernick did not change his mind. Better, he doubled down. He pledged to give $1million “to organizations working in oppressed communities”.  But suddenly the most amazing thing happened.  People started supporting him. First, it was other Black players, members of the clergy, celebrities, etc… the people most likely to sympathize.

Then came the turning point. The president of the United States of America called Colin Kaepernick a “son of a b*tch”.  Everybody who wanted to support Kaepernick but were uncertain suddenly became sure it was the right thing to do.  But if you ask me, the critical part was President Trump telling the NFL team owners what they should do e.g. “get rid of players like that”.  Let’s put things in context, NFL team owners are mostly billionaire white men.  And they surely do not like to be told what to do like a CNN analyst said.

What can Kaepernick’s situation teach us about negotiations?

  • Play big.  You must be prepared to lose a great deal, to win a great deal. Of course, go in your eyes open and understand the consequences.  Considering how woke and conscious Kaepernick is, I bet he did not waste his NFL millions on stupid stuff and he is financially safe.
  • Be resilient.  Once your strategy is set, do not change its course.  There will be lots of temptations to change, but you are likely to lose more by doing so.
  • Force the mistake.  I wrote it before in my post about Steph Curry, patience pays off.  In this case, Kaepernick let his opponents make the wrong move. Their emotions took over.  That’s when the President called him “a son of a b*tch”.
  • Create your own power.  There is power in numbers. Sometimes, it is better to let other people fight on your behalf.
  • It is not personal.  If Kaepernick had made this about himself, it would be over by now.  Because it was about something much bigger than him, it created space for people to join and strengthen his mission.

This is more than a negotiation for Kaepernick.  Yet, he offers many learnings and highlights the benefits of defending your beliefs.

Photo by Alexander Redl on Unsplash