My latest thinking on personal brands is that the world is being split between large corporations and individuals, that the strengths we have being real people are the only meaningful advantages we have over much larger organizations.
A couple examples – empathy, clarity of mission, ease of making decisions without committee, serving audience/client/customer interests without the managing conflicting stakeholder interests, ability to act quickly, and take a stand without doing a bunch of market research to calculate that stand.
Those advantages, though, mean little without structured beliefs, commitment to change, and resulting action.
Whether, like me, you are deeply troubled by consolidation of corporate wealth, the personal wealth gap in our country, the pandemic death toll, or agree that the most important focus right now is that Black Lives Matter, I’m not sure you get to have an audience and not have a stance, to not let it be known.
In a recent group conversation, someone said, “I’m afraid to talk to African Americans, not because I’m afraid of them, but because I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing.”
response reaction, others jumped on them about that comment. “It’s not about you right now.”
But I’m not sure we bridge gaps without having those conversations.
If you can’t be okay with where someone who sees it differently wants to start the conversation, you have no control over where that conversation eventually ends up because it never starts.
If you have a platform, and you’re afraid to say the wrong thing, offering it to someone else is better than not. If you haven’t thought about it enough, or reflected enough, do that work. Be scared, be uncomfortable, act anyway.
Fear of open conversation about race is a major obstacle to progress, and we’re all responsible for making progress right now. I have this fear.
Am I wrong? Do I not get it?
Good. Tell me.
I think by writing now. Yesterday (two days ago now) I did a racial/prejudice type inventory. Accidentally at first. I was just writing. And then I started to organize it. Every example or interaction with people of color I could think of since first grade.
The conclusion I came to is that I’m a much bigger part of the problem than I let myself think.
Here are just two benefits of privilege I experienced growing up.
In first grade I started a fight with a black classmate. I ended up with my eye cut open and he ended up in trouble. We had a few run-ins over the next few years. I don’t think the teachers ever sided with him, not once. At that 98% white all-boys prep school he made it to about 4th grade before, I’m assuming, being asked to leave.
Same school – one of my friends in middle school was black. By eighth grade he had built a reputation as one of the best students in an incredibly high pressure academic environment. At some point that year, he made the mistake of plagiarizing a paper. One time. He was asked to leave the school.
Contrast that with white me and the myriad of offenses around the same time. Seventh grade alone: dozens of detentions, at least three suspensions.
The sheer amount of acting out it took for me to ultimately get expelled years later, how severe my inability to function had to become to reach the threshold of punishment my black friend received for one mistake one time as a boy, under pressure, pressure likely exacerbated by expectations to overcome what being black in an elite mostly white school meant is unbelievable.
I’d never thought about that before.
I’m also more hopeful than I’ve ever been. Things feel different right now. So many good people have the time and energy to contribute. The advice I’m taking right now is
- Have more uncomfortable conversations
- My exposure to black communities is limited, that needs to change
- Look at how I can play to my strengths to help
- What does long-term commitment to moving from being a part of the problem to a part of the solution, and not burning out doing it look like for me
- How can I start to make amends for my part in propelling systemic racism