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.”


Alternate Plan

After planning and executing a few high profile events, I briefly considered event planning as a post Air Force career option. Then I discovered the stress of a demanding career and single parenthood had contributed to a diagnosis of thyroid disease. I recognized I hadn’t handled my busy life as smoothly as I thought I had.

So I reconsidered my phase two career options, resolved to live a more balanced life and reduced activities and acquisitions to what was absolutely necessary to live on purpose.

And so far, so good…

Inhale Reflection, Exhale Rejection…
Inhale Resolution, Exhale Ego…
Inhale Redirection, Exhale Stubbornness…
Just Breathe



I was in the 4th or 5th grade when I realized that lashing out at my siblings when they interrupted my solitude didn’t get me more quiet time; it only got me in trouble. So I resolved to do a better job of controlling my emotions. I frequently failed.

It took me a while to understand that instead of repressing my emotions, I needed to recognize what I was reacting to and choose a rational response that incorporated my feelings and reason. And that mastery is a life long endeavor…

“…every emotion offers information about you that is important. When you ignore your emotions, you ignore that information.” ~ Gary Kukav, The Heart of the Soul

Inhale Realization, Exhale Repression…
Inhale Rationality, Exhale Irrationality…
Inhale Response, Exhale Reaction…
Just Breathe


Emotional Awareness

We can’t prevent, avoid or circumvent our emotions. Our sadness, frustration, anger, hurt, jealousy, etc., are all a part of the human experience. Our emotions are telling us something about how we are processing our experiences. We don’t have to act on them…but we must go through them to get to wholeness.

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” ~ Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Inhale Emotions, Exhale Stoicism…
Inhale Energy, Exhale Avoidance…
Inhale Experiences, Exhale Repression…
Just Breathe


Necessary Solitude

Finding a quiet space when you’re a part of a large family can be difficult but necessary when you tend toward introversion. I have always been an avid reader; as a child I would take my latest biography and try to find a hiding spot where I could lose myself in someone else’s life.

Of course, I didn’t have the awareness to know I was an ambivert or the words to explain why I needed to be alone and I seldom had the agency to not have to explain. I just knew I needed time away from younger siblings, chores and homework and felt relieved when I had quiet time and frustrated when I didn’t.

Inhale Instinct, Exhale Hesitation…
Inhale Awareness, Exhale Uncertainty…
Inhale Action, Exhale Frustration…
Just Breathe



There are all kinds of assessments out there to help you understand more about yourself, whether it’s to understand how you make decisions, how you prefer to receive information, or how you can lead effectively. In fact, I’m convinced that knowledge leading to greater self awareness is the key to effective leadership, to include leading yourself.

Of course, that’s only true if the knowledge informs your behavior. For example, knowing you have the analytical ability to ferret out all the factors affecting a decision is great however, if your analytical strength prevents you from making a decision, then it could be considered a liability.

If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.” ~ Romans 12: 6-8

Inhale Awareness, Exhale Unconsciousness…
Inhale Recognition, Exhale Rejection…
Inhale Insight, Exhale Ignorance…
Just Breathe…