American Experiment: Caught in the Intersection*

An active-duty friend of mine was fired recently. Despite being described as “hard-charging, high-flying, and mission oriented” (usually positive descriptors in a military setting), those in supervisory positions determined this particular leader did not have sufficient soft skills to continue to lead.

Apparently accountability to published standards was too much for those in subordinate positions, who deemed this leader assertive and ambitious.

Do I even have to identify this leader as a woman?

I’m sure it’s obvious; these traits are only considered negative when displayed by women. The mostly men in her chain of command have freely admitted to urging her to be softer, less strident, more soothing, seemingly oblivious to the extreme sexist, misogynistic, and anachronistic attitudes their comments reveal.

As someone who has frequently and favorably compared the military’s willingness to reward good leadership regardless of gender, to what I’ve experienced post retirement, I was taken aback.

But there’s more. This stellar officer, a frequent presenter at professional conferences, made an “I’m-working-like-a-slave” comment in a moment of stress that was heard by a subordinate who reacted uncomfortably. Apparently, this comment, coupled with concerns about her disposition, required her to be fired, disinvited from presenting at a conference she was scheduled to attend and the subject of a whisper campaign within her professional community.

Before you pronounce her guilty of racism, did I mention this leader is black? Is it necessary to mention the subordinate is a white male?

And without getting into the whole “can black people be racist” argument, I have questions…

What makes any comments uttered by black people about slavery racist? Even Kanye West’s controversial comments about race and slavery were primarily labeled ignorant and inaccurate versus racist.

Doesn’t firing the black woman play into the reality of institutional racism? Isn’t the accusation of racism by a white man and subsequent firing by another white man examples of the white man’s positional power to define reality in a system of white supremacy? Isn’t using the institutional power of the dominant culture to punish a black woman for being something she technically cannot be, exactly what constitutes institutional racism?

Did the black men made aware of the incident acquiesce to defining the incident as racist because they believed it to be so or were they unwilling to push their white counterparts or subordinates to consider a more nuanced interpretation? Were the white women privy to the story outraged by the sexism but unwilling to interrupt the real “ism” by speaking up for a woman they might perceive as uppity?

Black women often find ourselves at the perilous intersection* of race and gender, victims of patriarchy, white fragility, expectations about what is feminine, perceptions that don’t recognize our femininity and stereotypes that mistake our strength for anger. In this space, some are discredited, some are discarded and some die. Those who proudly serve this country are no exception.

After a career spent working hard, sacrificing personally to achieve role model, rock star status, my friend has been devastated.

I pray she recovers.

“There’s a huge double standard and a massive problem going on with weaponized outrage in this country. White men have found a way to destroy women and people of color with their mostly manufactured outrage at comments and actions that make them uncomfortable while being absolutely immune to and vaccinated against the outrage of others.” paraphrase of a Twitter comment by Eugene Gu, MD, a Surgeon-Scientist

*Intersectionality refers to the complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, and yes, intersect—especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups. The term was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in a 1989 essay that asserts that antidiscrimination law, feminist theory, and antiracist politics all fail to address the experiences of black women because of how they each focus on only a single factor. Crenshaw writes that “[b]ecause the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.” Merriam-Webster.com

#AmericanExperiment

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The Safe Zone

If you’re moving forward but not experiencing a little fear, maybe you’re staying in the safe zone, the no fear zone…maybe you’re not risking enough.

Or maybe, instead of actually moving forward, you’re moving in circles, stuck in the same place, in the safe place.

You don’t have to expect fear on your way to purpose, but you have to recognize when you are experiencing fear so fear doesn’t stop you.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“…once we discover [what we are called to do] we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we have in our systems.” ~

Martin Luther King, The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life, a sermon delivered at New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago on April 9, 1967.

 

Inhale Risk, Exhale Resistance…
Inhale Fear, Exhale Inaction…
Inhale Possibilities, Exhale Stagnation…
Just Breathe

#Fear
#JustBreathe

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Assumptions

The fear that stops us doesn’t have to be about something big or super scary…sometimes we’re just afraid of offending or having a conversation that could turn into a confrontation.

I assumed a non-response to a follow up email about swapping a class with another instructor meant the answer was NO. In fact, the non-response was because the instructor did not see my follow up; I found out later, she had anticipated and planned for the swap but forgot to communicate with me.

A simple follow up text or phone call on my part could have yielded the answer I wanted, saved me some energy and allowed me to do what I wanted and needed to do.

I didn’t challenge the assumption so I didn’t get to do what I wanted. I have only myself to blame.

Inhale Affirmation, Exhale Assumption…
Inhale Surety, Exhale Speculation…
Inhale Confidence, Exhale Conjecture…
Just Breathe

#Fear
#JustBreathe

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The B.R.A.K.E.S.

brake: a device for slowing or stopping a vehicle or other moving mechanism by the absorption or transfer of the energy of momentum, usually by means of friction.

I do a workshop called “Release the B.R.A.K.E.S.” which is about all the fear-based beliefs, assumptions, expectations etc. we have that slow us down or even stop us. And even though I understand how the B.R.A.K.E.S. work, it doesn’t mean I’m immune to the negative impact of applying and allowing the B.RA.K.E.S. to stop me from doing the things I want to do.

So I have vowed to challenge everything that gets in my way this year! You have been warned!

“Fear gets its power from our not looking, at either the fear or what we’re afraid of.” ~ Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Inhale Exploration, Exhale Exact Expectations…
Inhale Confrontation, Exhale Fake Reality…
Inhale Challenge, Exhale Limiting Beliefs…
Just Breathe

#Fear
#JustBreathe

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Be Here Now…

In their recent comments to the press, I’ve noticed a lot of Alabama players quoting a Nick Sabanism, “Be Where Your Feet Are.” I know it’s not a new principle from Coach Saban but I don’t recall this particular reflection being repeated as consistently by players prior to this season.

The mental discipline to let go of what just happened, good or bad, and stay in the present moment, to focus on this play, this point, this game is something I admire about the most successful athletes. The maturity to adopt this level of wisdom and incorporate it into their own value system is something I admire specifically about Nick Saban’s disciples.

Inhale Now Exhale Next…
Inhale Present, Exhale Past…
Inhale Here, Exhale Elsewhere…
Just Breathe

#Present
#JustBreathe

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Faithful

There have been many words written to describe the characteristics of Alabama QB Jalen Hurts over the last year. Resilient. Patient. Humble. I’ve written a couple of times about his commitment. But after actually hearing Jalen share his OWN narrative about his journey since being replaced midway during the 2018 National Championship game, I think the word that best describes him is Faithful.

The faith to realize there is a Divine order to his life.
The faith to recognize the experience he’s having is the experience he needs.
The faith to rest in the present as his story unfolds in accordance with God’s unlimited vision for his life.

Voted Most Inspirational by his teammates AFTER losing his starting job, Jalen has never lost his faith.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:34, MSG

Inhale Faith, Exhale Anxiety…
Inhale Focus, Exhale Worry…
Inhale Foundation, Exhale Fear…
Just Breathe

#Faith
#JustBreathe

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Sacrifice

One of the awesome things about planning our parent’s joint 80th birthday party was discovering information, hearing stories and finding pictures we had not known, heard or seen. I came across this never-before-seen-by me picture of my impossibly fresh faced, impressively attired, and incredibly gorgeous Mom and Dad before they became parents.

It was a reminder that my Mom had an identity before she became a mother, and enjoyed activities that didn’t involve my siblings and me. And that my Dad was barely out of college when he temporarily sought employment in Chicago to support his growing family.

The picture led me to a greater appreciation of all the sacrifices they made that allowed us to soar.

Inhale Gratitude, Exhale Taking for Granted…
Inhale Appreciation, Exhale Disregard…
Inhale Acknowledgment, Exhale Dismissal…
Just Breathe

#Gratitude
#JustBreathe

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Grateful for Greatness

I’ve been reflecting the last few days on a couple of weeks full of #BlackGirlMagic and feeling so grateful to have been in the presence of  amazing women, like…
Shanute Brewer, who is exposing her young VISIONaries to STEM subjects like coding;
Jamila Trimuel who is helping 9-18 year-old girls discover their purpose, passion and perserverance;
April Ervin, who just published her first book and is trying to help Superwomen save themselves;
Eva Kennedy, who is focused on helping women in transition find clarity;

Mox.E Women support the professional and personal development of women in leadership.

the women of Mox.E who empower women to live their purpose;
Dr. Yashika N. Tippett, the founding principal of Air Force Academy High School, who just brought the first flight training program to the Chicagoland area;
Tammera Holmes, the founder and CEO of AeroStar, who is creating bonafide pilots for an airline industry with a looming shortage of them;

So happy to see AeroStar Founder Tammera Holmes at the YWPL 40 Under 40 induction! Photo by Travon Prentis, TCP Photography.

Young Women Professionals League members, who are focused on developing siSTAR leaders holistically;
Aunt Oprah and FFL (Forever First Lady) Michelle Obama, who are showing the way;
my sister Vanessa Smith, who has successfully led her business for over 20 years
and my daughter, Renise Alexander, who is pursuing her passion for travel by any means necessary!

I am so grateful for your examples of excellence, persistence and resilience. You inspire hope…you inspire greatness.

#Gratitude
#Greatness

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My Leadership Team

I’m a lifelong learner who prefers reading as my primary source of information. I suspect the solitude of reading recharges me in a way I don’t receive from other media.

So I am grateful to be here in the time of leadership gurus like my some of my favs, John Maxwell, Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman and T.D. Jakes.

I am grateful that I can pull up over 40 English versions (plus audio!) of the Bible on my phone (thanks Pastor Craig for YouVersion)!

I’m grateful the Tao Te Ching has been interpreted by the late Wayne Dyer, that Marianne Williamson has shared her lessons from A Course in Miracles and that Iyanla VanZant has made lessons of her own life.

And when I’m not reading, I’m so grateful that a black woman created her OWN media empire which exposes me to thought leaders from a variety of perspectives.

I’m sopping up every drop of wisdom they have to offer, then offering what I’ve learned to anyone who wants it and thanking God for my “team” and my circle of influence!

Inhale Gratitude, Exhale Taking for Granted…
Inhale Wisdom, Exhale Withholding Knowledge…
Inhale Influence, Exhale Ignoring Needs…
Just Breathe

#Leadership
#JustBreathe

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Life Decisions

A friend of mine said she was mad at God when the choice she made didn’t work out the way she planned. And I started to question her… then I remembered the stupid thing I did when I didn’t pay attention to my inner knowing, the God voice whispering, the feeling in my gut.

I thought about the clear revelation I didn’t hear … the thing right in front of me that I didn’t see … the mistakes made more than once.

And I shut my mouth.

“People ruin their lives by their own stupidity, so why does God always get blamed?” Proverbs 19:3 MSG

Inhale Discernment, Exhale Disregarding Your Knowing…
Inhale Action, Exhale Discounting Your Options…
Inhale Ownership, Exhale Diminishing Your Responsibility…
Just Breathe

#Leadership
#JustBreathe

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