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.

PRIVILEGES

The good, the bad and the ugly

I’ve been thinking more about privileges since I got my first child, 4 years ago.  It has been a real journey:

  • THE GOOD: I want my kids to benefit from what I have worked so hard to build.  This is giving him a head start.
  • THE BAD: My kids having a head start means some others will be at a disadvantage compared to them.
  • THE UGLY: I am quick to argue that some people with privileges should let them go, while I am working hard to create privileges for my family.  It feels like I do not walk the talk. Not a nice feeling for something who strive to be authentic, 100%.

Let’s rewind this.  First the definition of privilege.  The best way is this video that went viral: 

It is all about the head start you get based on your life situation.  On top, consider this comment that someone wrote on the video.  That is the sharp point for me:

Okay now do the race with blindfolds! Let’s tell all the black kids that there are obstacles in front of them, at every step of the race encourage them to go slow or that it is too hard and dangerous to proceed. Now tell all the white kids that the way is clear and you can go as fast as you like, encourage them the whole way and tell them to run as fast as they can and reach their full potential.” 

Other people having some form of a head start is part of life – unfortunately – and it won’t go away.  What should not be a fact of life, is the people starting already behind being held back by school counsellors telling them to aim low, or by the world showing them that it is not worth trying.

This is how I am planning to avoid the ugly part of my kids having privileges.  Through this blog, and organizations I am involved in, I want to have a positive impact on my community. I want to encourage everybody to reach their full potential. I want to show that does not matter how many 1000’s of people are expecting you to fail, it only takes a handful for you to be successful.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

What is the first thing people would ask if you tell them you got a better job?

Check out what my auntie told me

Now I am back in Europe I see my family more.  During my first trip back home, about 10 family members visited. Among them, was my closest aunt.  I am very close to her in many ways. We lived together for probably 10 years, she looked after me and we are also connected in the sense that we are the 2 most educated people in the family.  This is an important point in this story. We both were lucky to have the opportunity to study.  When I met her face to face, I was thrilled to tell her about my new job! It was opening a world of new opportunities to me.  But to my surprise, when I told her “my new job is much better than my previous one” her response was “Is it more relaxed?”. I was stunned.  It took me a sec to process.

My worldview is “better” = learning+new opportunities. It seemed that in her mind “better” = work less+less stress.  I can explain why. She is actually working a lot, she is stressed and probably making more money than her humble religious lifestyle requires.  She is also closer to retirement age.  All that combined, I can understand her worldview.  The part that bothered me was the impact it can have on people around and in the community.  I have a basic issue with “something” being enough. In my mind there is only one way, and it is up.  Not because I am greedy or because I want to be the richest person in the cemetery.  Rather because this is what I believe it takes for my kids and their kids to be well-off.  I also believe it contributes to giving Blacks a voice. Let me put it simply. If Blacks, as a whole, was the wealthiest community in the US, the killing of Blacks would stop, or would not even have started in the first place.  Maybe it is pure utopia to imagine that Blacks could go from the poorest to the wealthiest community.  Maybe it will take 500 years for it to happen.  Still, it is 10x more energizing to me than thinking of spending 5 stacks on bottle service in Miami every week…

I got carried away here.  My main message is we should all aspire to build wealth.  Using a Chris Rock quote to explain the difference between being rich and wealthy: “Shaquille O’Neal is rich, the guy who is writing Shaq’s paycheck (when he was still playing basketball) is wealthy.

Having the mindset of building wealth, even without being wealthy, is a major step to building the community’s influence and levelling the playing field.  So when you see someone excited about his/her life prospects, encourage them, even if you do not understand it.  You need to fuel the wealth mindset.  Even if that person that person does not become wealthy, that person will be fulfilled and may fuel the mindset of someone else.

Why I do, what I do

Simple question, simple answer

I created this blog a few years ago. I post weekly. I spend 3 hours per week on the blog. I would love to spend a lot more time. I would love to write my book “Negotiating While Black” I would love to impact the lives of so many more people and have my life impacted as well in the process.  But I can not. I have my day job, which I love – in case my colleagues are reading this blog :).  I write about topics relevant to young urban black kids living in major cities and aspiring to better themselves. Everything is based on my personal and professional experiences. It is all about my point of view. No claims are made to be right. I am often wrong. Most importantly, when I write and I am wrong, people call me out on it. It allows me to reflect and maybe still not be right, but at least less wrong.

So why? Why am I dedicating that time? I love seeing happy people. All people. Regardless of sex, age, culture or anything else. Pretty sure I would enjoy seeing happy aliens.  No need to overthink why. Try to be around happy and unhappy people. What do you enjoy most? Mike drop.

Again, why am I writing for Blacks? I feel this is the group I can impact the most through my writing. Because my blog will feel authentic to most other Blacks.  If I talk about not standing next to a store entrance while wearing a black suit, my peeps know why, as it is usually not long before someone mistake you for a security guard. If I talk about crossing the road late at night because a white woman is walking by herself on the pavement I was walking on, again my people will understand that I did that as a preventive move. It hurts less for me to cross than seeing that woman cross or switch her handbag to the side opposite me.  Let’s be super clear! I will support everyone being happy. I will listen and ask questions when I do not understand their situations, or what could be done, just like I did not understand the situation of black women in a previous post.  Because I know how it feels to have other people not understanding you. I just can’t tell that authentic story, the way I can for Blacks.  Still don’t get it twisted.  The more people appreciate diversity the more Blacks or any other minority.  If someone supports gay marriage or women, he is more likely to respect Blacks.  It is as simple as that.

Childish Gambino woke or not…

…because he has a white wife?

Childish Gambino hit the internet hard with his video “this is America“. The video went viral right away! And within hours there were countless interpretations of what every single sign in the video could mean. I mean there were a lot of opinions. Even the time.com gave a detailed analysis of all the race and gun violence references. I do not know if everything was planned but for sure I admire the effort, the intent and the impact that this video had. It got the conversation started.

While a lot of people praised Glover for his work, haters did what they do best. They hated. They hated hard. I am not talking about white haters, racists haters or rap haters, etc… I am talking about African Americans haters. Why did they hate? Because Glover is married to a white woman and he has mixed race kids.  The haters’ argument is that Childish Gambino does not have the right to speak of the African American experience because he is not experiencing the full African American experience. Because he is married to a white woman.  Who is he to take the stage an include dozens of race references when he most likely has not experienced them thanks/because of his Caucasian wife?

I may surprise you on this topic. I partially agree with the haters.  Because his partner is a white woman, Glover is not getting the full African American experience.  I repeat. I agree with the haters on that point.

I am also married to a white woman.  We have 2 lovely mixed-race kids 4 and 1 year old.  I have multiple examples of when I “benefited” from the situation.  Once we had a road trip into deep Oregon. When I say deep, I mean giant Trump billboards by the side of the road, rifles for sale between the bbq and the school supplies, a deer’s head on side of the road (I still dont understand why), deserted stores with bars on the windows..  Yup, just like in scenes of scary movies where a Black guy steps out of a car to ask for directions and gets lynched by the KKK.  So yes, when we stopped in that deserted town, my wife stepped out to ask for directions. Ok, this is an extreme example.  But on a day to day, I noticed the difference as well. In our nice neighbourhood, walking with a white wife seems to make people feel more at ease. At the playground, my wife talking to random parents seems effortless.  On the flip side, when my mom walked the street with my son, people asked her if she was the nanny – my son looks racially ambiguous, he could play a latino, tanned white or a light black kid.

I can only imagine that the difference in people’s behaviour is going to increase as the kids get older.  Picture Black parents with a Black teenage boy with a hoodie compared to a mixed family.

So I get it that some people that suffer every day from the harshest discriminations are annoyed at Glover telling a story, that someone else could tell from a more “authentic” viewpoint.  However, all the haters should appreciate the support.  It is not about who gets the benefits here. We are all fighting for the same worthy cause. And whoever supports the cause, should be welcomed, because they are woke too!

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

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.

“YOU can get away with wearing that”

How to make a bad thing good

I have been hearing this for a while now. Both in the US where I lived for 7 years, and now in the Netherlands where I have been living for 2 months.

I consider myself a visionary when it comes to my swag. That is at least 2 days a week, rest of the time I like to keep it simple. Some other people would consider my style a bit crazy.  I need to post some pics, but to give you an idea, I like my snake imprints hoodie, gold on white, black (or any other colours) sneakers, just got myself a bright red velour hoodie that I am especially proud of, and the list goes on.

And my style has been consistent since I left my consulting job where I had training on how to buy black or blue suits, black shoes, white shirts and black socks.  But somehow, living in Portland everybody could have their own style – or lack of – and it was all good.  When people where saying “you can get away with wearing that [crazy high top red shoes, with an oversized tongue]” I did not pay too much attention to it. It was like… a compliment. People liked my style. I was known for my style.  Europe is different. The style is more consistent, people stand out less. Slim looking sneakers, blue jeans, and a long sleeve shirt or a nice hoodie.  People still style it in crazy ways… But if you ask me, the styles are same same but different.

OK, let’s make a long story short. I now feel that when people are telling me “you can get away with wearing that” there may be several reasons.

  1. I am fly as F@#$, and therefore anything I wear is by default lit. The likelihood that this is the case according to me is 80%. Probably according to other people, 5%
  2. Because I am Black, people think that I can wear anything I want, that I make cool.  The likelihood that this is the case according to me is 70%. Probably according to other people, 95%.

I could spend forever trying to guess what other people are thinking. And I will never know for sure.  What I know, is that “I can get away with that”.  It is great. It means I can make it my brand.  That also makes me unique… and in a world where everyone is seeking attention, being unique is a great asset!

My learning from this experience. This is a case where I could confront people, say that it is a racist consideration and try to make it right.  It would probably be right but I would not gain anything from it.  In successful negotiations, it really feels like it is not all about making things right, but getting ahead and ending up in the best situation to lead to another successful position.  So whenever you may be thinking about “keeping it real”, remember the Dave Chapelle skits, and focus instead on stacking your “wins”, regardless of how small they may be and keep moving forward.  And like Tiffany Haddish mentioned in her book, the best advice she got is “the best way to shut off haters, is success”