21 #SayHisName : Botham Jean
We break from our normal formatted shows to share our feelings on the killing of Botham Jean by police.
Hosts: Zach | Latricia
Zach: What's up, y'all? This is Zach.
Latricia: And this is Latricia.
Zach: And you're listening to Living Corporate. We've said it a few times before, but I want to reiterate - Living Corporate is not a current events podcast. Our content has been consistently evergreen, however that isn't the goal to itself, right? Like, we started Living Corporate to have authentic, courageous discussions around topics that explore the perspectives of folks that are often ignored in the workplace. So we're gonna break from our typical format and talk about Botham Jean, but at a larger level, black death at the hands of police, the effect it has on black observers--particularly those in the workplace--and what companies at large can do, and what professionals can do, and not do, to promote empathy and allyship. Latricia, can you talk about how you felt when you heard the news of Botham Jean?
Latricia: Yeah, it was really tough. It's been a day now, and I'm still processing everything. But yeah, it was a normal Friday for me. Woke up, got on client calls, different meetings, and I didn't really have enough time to open my phone and check Instagram 'cause I was so busy that morning, and then maybe around noon I check Instagram and I see very--it seemed like a very familiar face all over my IG, and I'm kind of confused as to what's going on, and I read the story, I see that another black man has been shot down by the police, and it's someone basically in my own backyard. We live in the same city. We're actually previous coworkers, and it was just unbelievable. I just remember the articles over and over again and hoping, you know, maybe he was shot but he's not dead because I just could not--I just couldn't believe it. It was tough, and I will--I wasn't able to focus at work at all. I just shut down. And, you know, I know I had, like, different things that I needed to get done for the day, but in that moment I was just like, "I can't." Like, I'm sitting here, like, trying to work, but I'm still on Instagram, still--you know, I have the TV on, I'm watching the news, I'm--you know, I have different people reaching out to me, and I just couldn't focus, and so that day I just had to shut down early, yesterday. How about you, Zach? How'd you feel when you heard the news?
Zach: Yeah. So--so at first I just--like, I saw it because--I was in the middle of my work day, so I saw it, and it didn't--it didn't resonate to me as to what was going on, right? So I was like, "Okay, what is this? So you're saying he was in his apartment, and he opened up the door and he was killed in his own apartment by the police?" And there was--like, for me, my initial feeling was just complete just--again, just--I don't--I don't want to say shocked, but I--somehow I was shocked, I guess because as many times as we've seen this happen before, this one seemed to be just so, if somehow possible, even more egregious and indefensible than all these others indefensible moments, right? This man was just exi--looking at the story, it's like he was just existing in his home. He opens the door and he was murdered, and for me it--then I went from being, like, just shocked and confused to being, like, angry because of the way that the story is being shared, which is "So a police officer thought it was their apartment and then shot the person who opened the door because they thought it was an intruder?" And it's like--it's like, look, I try not to be overly arrogant, but, like, don't insult my intelligence. That statement in itself doesn't even make any sense. Like, that's the--I'm calling shenanigans on that. That's ridiculous. So then--so then it went from just disbelief, shock, to anger, to then just mournful, right? And, you know, all these deaths are close to home. You know, they could be my brothers, my sisters, my parents, my friends. They could be you. They could be me. And I know we've talked about this on the mental wellness episode, but this one was jarring because our profiles are so similar. Black man. Minister. Super close to his mom, and he's in consulting. And, you know, I had to step away and just allow myself a few tears before I kind of got back to work 'cause I was working with others, and, you know, other people, they heard about the news and it was kind of like, "Oh. Hm, okay," but, you know, on my flight back home, you know, I had a window seat, and man, I just put on some music and I wept. I wept. I cried really hard. You know, Latricia, you and I, we exchanged a lot of text messages about this. You know, do you feel as if you have the emotional liberty to, like, mourn these things at work?
Latricia: Yeah. It's interesting because we were in two different settings when this happened, right? You were actually physically in the workplace around other people. Every Friday I work from home, and so like you did on your flight back home, I wept. I cried and cried, and the tears just came out, you know, here and there. And, you know, being in my own home, right, I can do that. I have this space. I feel like I'm protected in my own home to do those types of things, but to be honest with you, no. I feel like when I'm in the workplace I just have to work through it, and it sucks because I don't feel like it's a reason--I don't feel like it's reasonable to other people when I mention things like this and how it affects me mentally. Even yesterday, you know, I contemplated over and over again, like, "Do I tell a coworker how I'm feeling right now?" And if I do that, you know, will they think--will, like, they understand where I'm coming from? Will this be a valid reason to grieve in their mind? But surprisingly I did--you know, I've learned to be a lot more open. I think the Living Corporate podcast has helped me build up a lot more courage to speak about some of these things, and I did have a conversation with some coworkers on Friday, and I let them know, like, "Hey, I don't know if you saw this in the news, but it's really bothering me," and, you know, we exchanged a couple of text messages, and they were very understanding, and so, I mean, I was very fortunate that, you know, I'm really close with my coworkers and they tend to be open-minded people, but it was difficult, right? It's just not natural for me to have those types of conversations with my coworkers.
Zach: Yeah. No, I feel the same way, and so, you know, multiple studies have shown that witnessing death or hearing about the death of black people can produce PTSD-like symptoms for black people. So to your point, like, consider feeling like that, but everyone around you who doesn't look like you is just continuing on like life is normal, right? So emotionally, like, you're on an island, and you feel stuck. You're confused. You're mad. You may be scared, and you're ignored, right? So it's like I already feel--I already feel like this. So then compounded by respectability politics, and to your point around, like, feeling as if, you know, I won't be seen as reasonable, or I may be seen as out of control or just emotionally unstable, which then could affect my financial well-being, you know? It's just--you feel even more isolated, and I guess for me historically that's always been the case. Like, so starting from, like, Trayvon Martin, which I recognize was a police-involved murder of a black person, but Mike Brown, right? So every--each one of these situations. If there's ever a situation where a black person was killed on camera by the state, you know, I would have coworkers--never once has anyone been like--one, just keep your opinions to yourself. There's always some type of opinion being shared, and it's always, it's consistently been "Well, we need to know all the facts." "Well, you know, it seems as if they had a criminal record," and, you know, "It seems as if though they should've just been complying." And so I'm in the middle of hearing all of this. I am a black person. I'm hearing my coworkers--who I'm gonna have to work with, and my job, my livelihood, is built upon and dependent upon me working with them--hear them make these statements. Meanwhile, I'm mourning, right? And so it's just tough. Like, you just feel stuck.
Latricia: Yeah, it is. It's so interesting some of the different things that you bring up, like respectability politics and how they always insert themselves into situations like this, and they're often used to completely reject the validity behind some of our concerns around police brutality. And it's even tough for me to say this, but this situation with Botham Jean is very interesting because we know that he worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers. That's literally in almost every single headline in the news. He was extremely intelligent, went to, you know, Harding University, recognized by chancellors and, you know, obviously very smart if you work at a very competitive firm. And so now it's kind of interesting, right? Like, I feel like a lot more people are kind of engaging in the conversation. Granted we don't know all the facts, and I've still heard the "we don't know all the facts" commentary, but it's interesting though, Zach. Like, I don't know if you--I don't know if this is gonna be what wakes people up, and if it is it's unfortunate that, you know, this is what it takes - more black men dying, more black women dying, but I feel like a lot more people are starting to somewhat engage in this conversation, a lot more people that don't look like us.
Zach: Yeah, no. And to be clear, right, like, there'd be--there are times when I've talked to people, you know, who don't care about black and brown folks dying at the hands of police, and I've told them in confidence--I say--and it's always professional, but it's very direct, and I say, "Look, recognize that you have--you have coworkers that look like the people that are being killed in the media, so there should be a level of empathy from you because it could easily be a coworker," and to your point about the fact that you used to work at this company, he was a coworker to thousands of people, to so many people, and regardless of--regardless of the fact that if he wasn't intelligent, which he was, if he wasn't a minister--and everyone is saying he was a community servant and of course very engaged and loving with his family. If he was none of those things, he was still a human being. But it compounds the fact that he was someone--he was someone on this earth that was, quote unquote, doing the right thing, simply existing, and now he's gone. And so now people are hopefully, to your point, paying attention and having these discussions, but it goes beyond just having discussions about it after the fact. It's about being present and empathetic and aware, generally speaking, just, like, every day. And, you know, what's gonna frustrate me but I'm sure it's gonna be part of the narrative is "Oh, he was one of the good ones." It's like, "Look, all of these people are human beings, and none of these people deserved to die." It's frustrating that people have to--like, stuff has to be brought to your front door before you can empathize. And, like, he shouldn't have--he shouldn't have been murdered senselessly liked this for people to open their eyes. There's been fifty-'leven deaths of black people. I mean, we'll talk about this later in the show, but we're gonna--we'll point you to resources and research that shows the amount of death and trauma that black folks have been going through by the hands--at the hands of police, right? And, like, this is not new. I'm just--and I'm frustrated. Like, you know, this might be the only show where everyone's really hearing me, like, genuinely upset. Right? Like, I'm hurt. Let's keep it going. So I known that we've come together, and we have a list of some things that we wanted to talk about, so why don't you go ahead and talk about that, Latricia?
Latricia: Yeah. So, you know, what can we do when it comes to how we address these things in the workplace? We don't have all the answers. You know, I brainstorm about these things all the time, and I think from, you know, the C-Suite level, you know, what can we do? These corporations have so much power and influence and, you know, the list is so long, but I still get stuck. Like, I start to think about, you know, coalitions that can be built and, you know, voting and things like that, but then I just wonder, like, how is this really gonna impact the day-to-day experiences of black and brown people? And so I thought about it, and I was like, "Okay, well, let's just--" I thought about it and I said, "Let's just scale this back a bit and look at this at a more micro level. What can we do in the workplace as coworkers to address situations like this when they come up?" And unfortunately it's happening way too often, and so Zach and I were kind of thinking about it, and there's three things that, you know, we think are really important to remember at times like this. One is to not ignore pain. And so we talked about our pain throughout this episode. We've both been very open and honest about how this has affected us, you know? It's been 48 hours now, and it's important to be able to grieve, right? It's a human response to tragedy, and so when it comes to, you know, being able to mourn or grieve, you do need the support from your coworkers. One thing that we talked about on a past episode related to mental wellness when I interviewed Dr. Tobi Odunsi was the concept of calling in black, you know? It may sound funny, but it's real. If you need to tell your manager or your coworker or, you know, staff that you manage that you need time to grieve in a situation like this, allow yourself that time. Don't--you know, be reason--I mean, obviously, you know, if you have things that have to get done, you know, figure out a plan to get it done, or if you don't have the time to figure out a plan don't, you know? Take the time out for yourself to grieve and, you know, as a coworker it's important to be understanding when someone needs that time.
Zach: So two is empathy, and so--you know, empathy means putting yourself in that person's shoes, but, like, let me just be really frank, right, about, like, just a practical definition of empathy. When a black person is dealing with, or you know that--you can tell. You ask them or they bring it up or if you see something in the news of someone dying at the hands of police and they happen to be a black person, just pause and imagine if that person was white, right? So how would you feel if that person was white? Okay. So then those feelings, just apply them to that situation and then you have empathy, right? So empathy is regarding someone else's situation as your own. Empathy is imagining and positioning yourself to think about that situation practically affecting you. I think it's just so easy. I remember--during the Ferguson protests, I remember--I was at work. I just remember coworkers being like, "Okay, yeah, we get it. He died. Okay, we get it. All right." Like, "What's the big deal? People die every day," or "They're going about it the wrong way," or whatever. And even more recently the kneeling, the protests against systemic injustice and police brutality and systemic racism, right? People talking about "That's just the wrong way to do it," "That's the wrong platform," "This is disrespectful," "I don't understand what they're talking about," "The real issue is black-on-black crime," and whatever else other talking points you want to have. Like, just imagine that it was a white person going through whatever it is that that black person is going through. Just put a white person--just replace the black person with a white person. We know that empathy exists. Like, I've seen people practice empathy with others. I've seen it. There was a situation when, like, that kid was bullied. He was bullied, and he was, like, an elementary school kid. He was bullied, and they raised like a hundred something thousand dollars for that kid, right? Because he was being bullied, and it was--so they decided to empathize by supporting that child and family financially, right? So it's not as if we can't empathize, it's about making a choice to empathize by viewing that person as equal to you and a part of your community, and I do believe that we're more similar than we are different.
Latricia: And the third thing is to be authentic during situations like this. So this really does piggyback off of showing that empathy, and I can give an example of authenticity. So the great thing that I really do enjoy about my job is the opportunity to travel. It can suck sometimes with personal life, but it has afforded me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, and so a young Nigerian girl from Dallas, Texas, is not as likely to come across, you know, a 40-year-old Egyptian man from Boston, Massachusetts and call him her friend. I've had that opportunity to meet all different types of people, and I was really surprised on Friday when multiple coworkers reached out to me just to check on me and see how I was doing, and none of them were black. They were different races, different sexualities, different age groups, young and older, and I really did appreciate that, and I appreciated it because they were being authentic. I know for some people they may feel like, you know, a black person dies and so you have to text the only black person you know or you have to text the first black person you can think of. And, you know, that can make some people uncomfortable, and I completely understand that, and I've felt uncomfortable in situations like that before as well, but when I know it's authentic and it's coming from a true place of just, you know, someone caring and someone trying to be understanding and making sure that I'm doing okay, that really makes this job so much better. I think, you know, as Corporate America becomes more and more diverse, we have the opportunity to get to know more people on an authentic level, not just, you know, as your coworker who you manage or they manage you, but just a person and as people. So I will say, like, that really did help me cope yesterday when I received all of those heartwarming messages from my coworkers, and like I said before, it really does help.
Zach: I mean, 'cause in these moments--and I think--what I really think that people don't recognize is that in these moments when--when you kill someone, when you murder somebody, you're making a statement about your position on their humanity. And so when someone is killed, someone is murdered, someone dies at the hand of someone else, especially when they did nothing wrong, and it's ignored or there's some kind of, like, off-handed, back-handed comment made about it, whether you recognize it or not, you're dehumanizing that person who died and, to a certain extent, you're dehumanizing yourself because we're all supposed to be a part of the same community, right? Like, the colorblind people or all these folks. Like, there's only one race, the human race. Okay, so then if there's only one race, the human race, how can you be so dismissive of someone else's pain? How can you not empathize? And how can you not practice authenticity here? They're a human being. And so I know for me, to your point, like, I had a couple of friends--I had some white colleagues and friends who reached out to me as well, and those moments mean a lot for me as well because there's so many times in those situations where I just want to--I just want someone just to encourage me and the fact that I'm a--I'm a human being. If you go back and you look at the civil rights protests, men were walking around with signs that just said, "I am a man." Like, "I'm a man." That was the statement, and I think that it's easy if you're in the majority class to dismiss or undervalue how powerful it is just for someone to acknowledge and affirm your humanity, but it goes so far. It goes so far. Living Corporate, we exist to push against systems and norms that were not created with people of color in mind, and so while I don't know--and Latricia, we don't know, like, the perfect answer here. I do know that voting to change laws and measures of accountability is an actionable step.
Latricia: Yep. I totally agree, and I know voting can be intimidating when we start to talk about voting at a more local level, but there are a lot of really great resources out there that can help you to stay informed and stay engaged in the voting system.
Zach: Yeah, and so let's do this before we wrap up. We want to point folks to resources to mobilize them for action, so one of my favorites and the one that we're gonna be linking in this show is JoinCampaignZero.org. So they're all about ending police brutality of black and brown people in America. It's not rhetoric though. Like, they have resources and tools to help you engage critically and civically to let your voice be heard. So we all have that information in the show notes. Latricia, before we go, any other thoughts?
Latricia: I'm just glad that we used this space to have this conversation. That's really why we created Living Corporate, and as Zach mentioned, this is not our typical format for the show, and we just really wanted to have this--take this time out to just express how we feel, and we hope that everyone that's listening is encouraged to be more open about these conversations. If we just keep it all within ourselves and we don't allow ourselves to have those conversations, then we're not gonna be able to push forward.
Zach: Absolutely. And that does it for us on the Living Corporate podcast. This has been Zach.
Latricia: And this is Latricia.
Kiara: Living Corporate is a podcast by Living Corporate, LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins. Our theme music was produced by Ken Brown. Additional music production by Antoine Franklin from Musical Elevation. Post-production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and living-corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.