In response to the violence against Black and African-American people and the wave of protests and unrest across the country, we’re sharing some of the perspectives of our Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni.
I am sad, frustrated, angry, and exhausted. I’ve wanted to write this for several days. I stopped, started, revised, and rewrote it a dozen times. In the meantime, I’ve been watching, listening, discussing, reading…and reflecting. As is my nature, contemplation overruled instant reaction. As an entrepreneur, I’m already in solution mode. But that is for another blog post. This one is about processing and being authentic. Now is the time.
Do you see me?
The death of George Floyd is devastating beyond words. It’s been pointed out so, so many times. This is yet another example of systemic racism that perpetuates within the dynamics of our American society. It’s heart-wrenching to know that his family and friends must forever be tortured by a video capturing his last moments while being murdered…by the police. And just as horrifying to me is the senseless repetition of these events, over and over — filmed or not. It is a gut punch, leaving me breathless. I pride myself on resilience. Getting back on the horse when I fall. Looking for the silver lining and moving forward. For the first time in a long time, however, I’ve been stunned and stopped in my tracks. Maybe I’ve been blind or in denial, but this just feels different.
Do you see me?
My parents raised me on the themes of education, religion, and service (If you want more on that, I’d encourage you to read my mom’s book). This foundation has given me so much. And I’m very keenly aware that the environment my family raised me in, and the sacrifices of those who came before me were immensely influential on my good fortunes.
So I ponder…Am I:
An educated BLACK MAN in America?
A successful BLACK MAN in America?
A servant leader BLACK MAN in America?
A Godly BLACK MAN in America?
A BLACK MAN in America who values relationships and community?
A BLACK MAN in America who mentors and listens?
Do you see me?
As an African American, I’ve learned that my blessings don’t come without cost. While frustrating and at times exhausting, I’ve accepted that there is a price. The extra eyes on me in the store. The conspicuousness of being the only person of color in the room. Shouldering the burden of “representing” others who look like me, knowing that one miscue could spoil things for those who come next. Having to pace my walk to create distance between me and a young woman walking ahead of me. Or to present the least possible threatening posture on the elevator, so as to assuage the fears of the only other rider. And knowing that a certain percentage of business interactions where I’m the “seller” will be squashed… simply because the “buyer” holds unspoken bias to my background or skin color.
As an African American, I’ve learned that my blessings don’t come without cost.
I’ve come to terms with these disadvantages. I do hope to see these hurdles erode away for my kids and their generation. And so I work away at that cause, bit by bit, relationship by relationship, person by person.
These are realities, however, I’ve learned to live with for myself.
But then…Ahmaud Arbery. And Christian Cooper. And Breonna Taylor. And George Floyd. All in alarmingly rapid succession.
This reveals something different.
Do you see me?
I can be simply bird watching in the park, following the rules as society requests. But I’ll be shown that any polite request for equal adherence, can result in a life-threatening outcome.
Know your place.
Jogging alone in my own upper-middle-class neighborhood could result in a life-threatening outcome.
You don’t belong here.
If the police are busting down my door, justified or not, there may be nothing I can do to avoid a life-threatening outcome.
You fit the profile.
Unintentional circumstances or coincidences like passing a bad $20 bill could result in a life-threatening outcome.
You are assumed guilty until proven otherwise.
So is it simply that I am A BLACK MAN IN AMERICA…no adjectives visible, no enhancing qualities need apply?
Do you see me?
I say all this not looking for personal sympathy. I recognize that I am blessed beyond measure. We are all unique. But I am not special. I am not an exception. EVERY black American is worthy of being viewed with full humanity and for the beauty and richness of the gifts endowed within him or her. My hope is rather that you recognize ALL, as you would me, with dignity and respect. I speak out now for my children, and their children, and for all those in the black community who have fewer opportunities and resources than I.
As African Americans, we are citizens with ALL the rights entitled thereto. And we represent the full breadth of culture, professions, and society that is the American tapestry. And yet, I don’t wear my resume when I walk out the door. I can’t adorn my character like a shiny coat. I do wear my brown skin. When you are black in America, you wear your skin…always.
I and all my black brothers…we are George Floyd. We are all Ahmaud Arbery. And all my black sisters are Breonna Taylor. They are all Sandra Bland.
I am proud to be a black American. I am happy to have BLACK in all caps. But I know that I am not just that, nor are any of my African American brothers and sisters. Maybe we can move towards having EVERY INDIVIDUAL’S qualities, achievements, and gifts CAPITALIZED too…
Now…which me do you really see?
Dan Kihanya, MBA 96, is an entrepreneur and the founder of Founders Unfound, an online platform to showcase underrepresented minority founders whose startups are ready for seed funding.