How much should I hate slavery’s legacy

The answer is not that obvious… just kidding!

One of my new year resolution was to take a 2 week vacation with my family. A few months later, here I am in Martinique. A French Caribbean island. It is nicknamed the island of flowers. Due to French laws, its coastline is pristine. No high rise hotels nowhere close to the beaches. Actually, what I enjoy most, is to swim out and look back and mostly see trees and the mountains in the background. I have seen more beautiful beaches, but I rarely saw a similar landscape.

A few more facts to set up the scene of the benefits of riding with France. Martinique has benefited greatly to still be part of France. The roads are like 10 times better than the roads in New York state. The Health system is as good as in many places in France. although official unemployment rate is high, especially with young people, they benefit from France min subvention of 551 euros per month. Not meaning that everything is perfect, the high rate of drug related criminality shows the limits, but many of neighboring island envy Martinique.

Let’s talk slavery legacy. Well, no spoiler here. The island was built on slavery. Main crops were coffee, cocoa, and sugar cane. The latter is what caused me a major conundrum this year. Yes only this year, not the other 20 times I visited my parents homeland. Why? my wife. On day 2, we went to visit a former “habitation”, a euphemism to describe a luxurious house where slave masters where living. On this domain, we visited a cocoa plantation. As we walked through the beautiful gardens and old buildings my wife kept asking pertinent questions: “who does this belong to?”; “why all the good jobs are for whites”; etc… and quickly we got to the obvious, yet quiet truth of Martinique. This habitation belongs to slave masters descendent, Bekes as called in Martinique. Although we are being frugal to become Financially Independent, we aimed to buy from locally owned businesses. It was hard in the US, but I truly thought that in Martinique I could easily spend on Black businesses. Well, it was possible until we came to the staple item of the Island: agricultural rum. I should have known. Rum is made from sugar cane. Sugar cane was one of the major crop during slavery. Buying rum benefit descendent of slave owners. That is true for all brand except Neisson, because that brand started after slavery was abolished.

I am bothered. I used to come back from Martinique with some amazing bottles of rum. A 40 year old bottle, limited editions, etc… a true palate reviver.

Now the real question. Am I right to penalize the Bekes? Like my dad said, the pyramid were made by slaves, and I would still visit it (it is on my list). Well the descendent of Pharaohs are dead. and if not dead, they are no longer in power. Martinique may be a unique case in the whole world. 2000 Bekes control 20% of the island wealth, and own 50% of the cultivable land.

How come? In 1793, slavery is abolished in France, after the French revolution. In France, nobility get their head chopped. The same happened in the other French island, Guadeloupe. But the Bekes from Martinique get protected by the Brits. Hence they are probably the only one in the world that still live where they enslaved people and still enjoy the wealth built on the misery of slaves. True, this is the past and it can not be changed. What I can do though, is to choose where I buy my rum. I know it will taste better knowing it has nothing to do with Bekes.

When to open your mouth…

… and when to shut it

Today I could not hold it anymore. I had to say what I thought to an ex-classmate. I had enough and was frustrated that no one else objected to the borderline sectarian opinions. But what does it achieve?

We are a group of 70 people in a WhatsApp group. The group exists for 6 years. We talk about everything. It has been a great source of knowledge and a fantastic way to look at situations from different lenses. The 70 people in the group are without exception bright. Moreover, they come from all other the world and probably represent all the different walks of life.  Ask a question about Greek philosophers or latest trends in Taiwan, someone will have informed insight.  

What went wrong? Other the past couple of months, just like the whole world, conversations started to be more and more about politics. Not just the “classics”, like Trump. The group discussed refugees & migrants in Europe, Brazil presidential elections. That was all good at first for me. We are so different that we have loads of different opinions. But as the conversations were progressing something did not sit right with me.  I could not put my finger on it though. I was not even sure if something was wrong with the conversation or if it was me being in a foul mood for any random reasons. After all, I believe in people having different perspectives, and I am used to respecting them (in my honest opinion), even the wild ones. So how come every time I saw the WhatsApp group notification I started to boil from inside even before reading any new messages.

What is the problem? There are more than one:

  1. Using smoking mirrors to hide your views: Having narrow views and opinions standing for them for what they are. I respect that. I even recognize if you debate and defend your beliefs.  What bothered me is when you pretend your views are not what they are using a series of smoking mirrors.  Especially when it seems that you are using that crafty language to confuse people about your views. The rest of the group and me is no longer debating; this is manipulating at best and lying through your teeth at worst. 
  2. People are jumping on the illiberal bandwagon:  As soon as it became clearer that we were on the edge of intolerant comments, I expected the whole group to jump in and expose the flaws. Wrong. People preferred to deflect, minimize the comments. 
  3. Some & I pretend to ignore the situation: You know when you stumble upon two people fighting in the street, and there are already people looking at them struggling. Nobody is doing anything and as a result, you are also doing nothing. Well, that was the rest of the group and me. I think I was mad at myself for being a bystander for too long. And the reasons why I was a bystander were even worse. How the group perceives you may in some situation have an impact on your future. By default, I, and others perhaps, could tend to wait for things to pass and not disturb the peace. 
  4. Crossing the line: Free speech and opinions have limits. When you start to casually talk about serious issues as if it is not a thing, it should raise a red flag.

I opened my mouth, what’s the point? I know and so should you too by now, that the best way to get someone to change their point of view is to first show empathy, build rapport and engage in a dialogue.  Flat out telling people they are wrong almost never make them change their opinion.

So I initially felt awful. Because I lost the opportunity to productively engage with someone whose achievements I value.  I also disturbed the peace in a well-oiled group. And eventually also burnt some business connections.

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”. I see this message from Kaepernick every day at the moment on my way to the office.  And it reminds me that I need to stand for what I believe. In this situation, it should not have been about me or my feelings. It should have been about what I believe and pushing that cause forward.

Black Pete in the Netherlands

What the F is going on?

I have been dreading this moment ever since we moved to the Netherlands earlier this year: The 6th of December, Saint Nicholas Day.  Putting it simply, Saint Nicholas Day in the Netherlands is the equivalent of Christmas.  On the eve of Saint Nicholas Day children receive presents.  So yes, this is a big deal for kids. They are looking forward to it every year. And although this is not part of our tradition to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, everybody is talking about it and you can see signs of the celebration everywhere in town.

Now you are probably wondering, why are you such a grinch Claude. Christmas and its equivalent cannot be bad. This is underestimating the power of racists. Why? Picture this:  Saint Nicholas (Father Christmas) is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and colourful Moorish dresses commonly known as Black Pete.  Yeah, Black faces are either considered racist around the world. But not in the Netherlands. 

A court ruling was issued today, 16th of November: TV broadcasters will not be stopped from showing the character’s “racist characteristics” on TV.  One broadcaster even justified airing images of Black Pete because “some Petes go down the chimney a lot, therefore they turn properly black.” Look once again at the cover photo. How many times do you have to go up and down a chimney for your skin to be so black, for your hair to curl, and your lips to triple in size and get bright red?  This is beyond stupid, yet a lot of Dutch people see nothing wrong with Black Piet.  Let’s say that the chimney can curl your hair, mask your whole face with the blackest soot and inflate your lips… let’s say that this is even remotely possible… Why do you have to be so realistic with a fictional character that can be at the same time everywhere in the Netherlands and give presents or kidnap naughty kids – for real this is part of the story.  Santa Claus goes up and down chimney with a huge belly and is sparkly clean, and that does not bother any kids in the world!

This is so messed up that even the United Nations have decided to speak out: The UN has called on the Netherlands to change a character that it said had been “experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery.”

So what to do? We initially planned to leave the country and avoid seeing any Black Petes, but this craziness lasts a long time. It started on the 14th of November and will go until at least the 6th of December.  First, we had hope. Especially when my son’s school announced that there will be no Black Petes, only soot Pete

Soot Pete example

If you tell me that this guy went down the chimney, I’ll trust you. His hair is messy but not curly, and his face just has soot. I would still ask how come his white neck fan is so clean… but you know…

But, it would be too easy if everyone had half a brain.  There are still Black Petes dolls in a few stores in town. My wife saw them first on her way to the library. Let me present evidence 1

Black Petes in our city

What did she decide to do? She went in and talked to the shop owner and asked “what can your customers do for you to remove Black Petes from the window”.  This sentence and approach in itself is a good case to review for negotiations:

  • Be the change you want to see: Don’t complain about it, do something against it.  It only takes a few seconds. And like in all negotiations, if you do not ask, you will never get.
  • Say the unexpected: The owners probably expected her to complain, be mad about it and repeat what they have heard already 100 times.  Instead, catch them by surprise. Make them feel awkward.
  • Be solution focused: Double whammy. Not only you surprised them, now they are really confused when you are only focusing on potential solutions (next year we are planning to carry appropriate soot Pete dolls to give away to shop owners – yes, leaving them no excuses)

The great surprise my wife got? on her way back from the library, one of the 3 stores she stopped at removed the dolls. This gives me hope, even though the best school in town, which is right at the end of our street allegedly had a primary school teacher say “we are not only white on the outside, but also on the inside” in reference to the school having only white pupils. But that is for a different blogpost.

Comment below what you think should be done about Black Pete.

Why I continue to write this blog…

It has to do with Charlamagne Tha God

Charlamagne Tha God  he is a successful radio presenter. He has the #1 hip-hop radio show on the planet, the “Breakfast Club”. He is also the author of 2 best sellers: Black Privileges and Shook One.  I read both books in no time! They both are probably the most influential self-development books I have read. Up there with the books from the great Tony Robbins.  Scrap that, better than Tony in my eyes. Why? Because I can more easily relate to Charlamagne. Because he is Black, true, but also because we both seem to have experienced similar experiences. Well, you know… kinda… because he is a multi-millionaire and I am nowhere close.  The other thing is that he keeps it 100.  He talks about something that people do not talk much about in the Black community: Anxiety and how therapy helps.

If you grew up in a Black environment, you probably heard things like: “Why would I go to a shrink, I am not crazy” “Praise God and everything will be fine” “shrinks are only there to steal your money”.  Ask yourself, do you know a Black person who has seen a therapist (or talked about it)?  I did not until Charlamagne.  His stories were so vivid, that I decided to look into options to take care of my mind, the same way I take care of my body.

I train hard at the gym. 3 to 4 times a week. Not 3 reps of bench pressing and spending the rest of the hour chatting to my friends.  A good training is when I feel on the edge of passing out. I have a trainer, I am surrounded by people who are just as motivated and hold me accountable. This is how I give my best.

Now compare this, to what I do for my mental health. True I meditate. At best 3 times a week for 15 min.  True, I belong to a Mastermind group where we talk about deep topics every month. True, I have the most supportive spouse who helps me to express myself and supports me. True, I have wonderful friends I can talk to.  Yet, if I compare it to my ultra-strict training and eating habits, I am nowhere close.

Why does it matter and how does it relates to negotiation. By now, you understand that this blog is more than simple bargaining.  This is about how can you be your best self, have a clear mind and make the right moves every day!  So here is how therapy can help:

  1. We all suffer in some ways from PTSD. If you are like me, you probably thought that PTSD was for war veterans.  No it is not.  Many things can cause trauma.  Like seeing people beaten up real bad for no apparent reasons, or people shot with a bb gun again for no reason, or a gang setting fire to a bus so that the rival gang is stuck and beaten up.  These are things I have seen. And I thought it was no big deal. In hindsight, the way I scan rooms I enter, the extra awareness I have in many situations to this day probably come from these experiences.
  2. Talking to a therapist sounds healthy.  Better to prevent a problem than to cure it.  If everything is great today, excellent.  Still, you probably have some crap from the past that you never dealt with. That you compartmentalized somewhere. Again, around me, people who could just move on where considered tough. I am now convinced that tough people pay the price sooner or later.  And what does it mean anyway to be tough? To be heartless like some of the old school heroes in movies? Rather, I believe in what Charlamagne quoted “to share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable, to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength”.

I am looking for a therapist now. Preferably through an app and that would not cost a crazy amount.  Ideally, I would like to match what I spend on my body on my mind. Not that easy… It seems we are a long way to have a therapist at each street corner, like we do for gyms.  Still, I will try and invest in myself, my whole self. You should too.

 

I loved childhood neighborhood, but I do not want it for my kids

What’s wrong with me?

I grew up in the French “banlieue”. Actually, up to age 5, I lived where the famous movie from Mathieu Kassovitz, “Hate” was filmed. The movie is about 3 friends in their early twenties from immigrant families living in an impoverished multi-ethnic French housing project (a ZUP – zone d’urbanisation prioritaire) in the suburbs of Paris.  Yes, not exactly postcard scenery.  After that, we moved to a “nice” neighborhood. It was 2 min drive away.  It was a huge upgrade, still as a teenager, not many people wanted to visit…

I truly loved my childhood neighborhood. Even in hindsight. I would not change a thing.  I grew up with great friends that are still my best friends 30+ years later.  We played sports all the time, we had each other’s backs in all kind of situations.  We created fun out of nothing.  The parking lot, a car’s sound system, a good playlist some rum and there you have it the best bar in the neighborhood.  A ping pong table in the parking lot, and you have the county championship.  Some chalk to draw the court, 2 tennis racquets, a ball and you have the neighborhood’s French Open.  There was never a dull day.

Now I am building the future of my 2 kids.  It would be logical for me to reproduce my childhood environment.  After all, I really enjoyed it.  So why am I building the exact opposite environment for my kids?  Nobody will be playing loud music on the parking lot or do anything else for that matter on the parking lot. While the parking lot was the place to be when I grew up, There are no parking lots close to our new place.  Kids probably go for rides on someone’s boats or ride their horses.

Now let’s think about what my younger self would say about the lifestyle I am planning for my kids… yeah, it would not be pretty.  So why do I want that lifestyle for my kids?  Moreover, I think that some form of hardship growing up is a real plus.  By 18, I developed a Spiderman-like feel for danger.  I was super aware of my surrounding. Can I see the hands of all the people who just entered the parking lot?  What’s their body language telling me?  I could also remain calm in any situation and see actions in slow motion.  School bus on fire when it is time to go home, no stress, just adrenaline.  Spot the lookouts, understand who they are after and get away from them.  Oh, and drag my friends, who grew up like I want to raise my children because they are walking in the wrong direction.

So, once again, why do I want to keep them away from these lifelong learnings?  I do not know. This is the honest answer.  Maybe it is because the risk is too high. While I turned out good, several of my friends did not.  Maybe because it is normal for parents to offer the best opportunities to their children.  And while my mom offered me the best she could, I want to build on that and do the same for my children.

The short answer is that I do not know.  And I wonder if it matters to know why. The real question is: How to give my children a well-rounded childhood?  Probably encourage them to make the most of the privileges they enjoy.  Push them to aim higher and build wealth for themselves and the community.  All that while finding ways to lift up people from the banlieues, because their dad came from there and if nobody had helped me to come up their lives would be very different.

Photo by Raoul Droog on Unsplash

Why minorities should strive to be wealthy?

If Blacks were the wealthiest community in the US, do you think we would be shot by the police?

Obviously, nobody is trying to be poor.  But the reality is that white men account for the majority of the wealth. Only 3 out of 536 billionaires in the USA are Black.  And only 8% of the millionaires are Black.
There are loads of systematic reasons why minorities are poorer and it will take some time for that to change.  However, regardless of how tough the situation is, there are always some actions that can be taken.  Not saying it is easy, but it is worth trying, if not for you, for your children.
Where to start? let’s begin with a comment I have been hearing for the past 10 years: “I do not want to be the wealthiest of the cemetery”.  This is a French saying translated into English. So let me unpack it for you.  It means that when you die, you are not taking your wealth with you, so you should spend it all while you are alive.  For a long time, I agreed with that principle.  The result? I would make it rain in the club, and enjoy everything money can buy.  Now I am thinking about it differently.  I want to be wealthy (not rich), and I want other Black people to be as well.
Why?  It is not because I am greedy or anything of the sort.  It is because I believe that our community needs a lot more wealthy members to positively influence the lives of the entire community at the local, state and federal level.  I am not talking about a Beyonce or a Jesse Jackson that are figures people will loop up to.  I am talking about your uncle being wealthy, I am talking about your childhood friend being wealthy.  I am talking about people who know the community, are still connected through the community building their wealth and spreading it.  They are the people who would influence the community daily life. And when I say life, I literally mean life.  Let me put it in perspective to truly understand what is at stake.  If Blacks were the wealthiest community in the US, do you think we would be shot by the police?  My guess is that it would have stopped real fast. Or actually, it would not have even started in the first place.

So yes, I am stacking my money now. I am encouraging others to as well. I am trying to build businesses with friends. I am investing in real estate in a nice neighborhood, where I expect my investment to grow.  I am not driving a fancy car, actually, I am riding a bike. And it is not because I have changed, It is not because I forgot where I came from. It is because I want to play my part in lifting up the community. I believe, like Tony Montana, “first you get the money, then you get the power”.

Photo by Javier Reyes on Unsplash

I SHOULD NOT BE HERE…

But here is why I am

I should not be here. It is not me saying it, it is the statistics:

  • Single Black mom, hospital nurse working night shifts

I should not be here. It is not me saying it, it is the French education system:

  • The career advisor was pushing me towards a vocational degree with “unclear” prospects, at best

I should not be here. It is not me saying it.

  • It is my neighbourhood friend: “Why are you reading this magazine for managers, you can’t become one”
  • It is my family: “You should prioritize job stability, the private sector is too rough”

PEOPLE WHO HAD GREAT INTENTIONS FOR ME. PEOPLE WHO WOULD FIGHT FOR ME DID NOT THINK I SHOULD BE WHERE I AM TODAY.

This is what I heard growing up. And it may be easy to dismiss this in hindsight but when you hear it every day, you see it every day, it gets in your head.

So why am I here? I could not have made it alone. Among the 1000’s of people who expected me to fail, I was lucky to meet a handful of people to guide me in France. Most of them looked like me, but not all. They encouraged me to aim higher, they showed me paths I did not even know existed.

Fast forward 10 years later and I experience a whole new level of support in the US. Instead of a handful of people, I meet 100’s of people like me through Black networks and we all support each other. I realize how much can be done together. And it all started with an idea. “Let’s have a Gala” said the President of the Black Ivy Alumni League.  What I saw next was a pure surprise.  People raising their hands, saying they have a mailing list with thousands, another one saying that they have access to several VIP as they work in PR, other having access to liquor sponsors, and so on. Suddenly we went from an idea to a plan with clear steps to make it real.  This is how many members got inspired by the GM of the Knicks doing a keynote, and many more.

Some parts may seem superficial… but when you heard for the majority of your life that you should not expect to amount to much, and suddenly you see this wave of successful people, who look like you, you get inspired. And I am convinced that inspiration is the key to achieving purpose in life.