American Experiment: Toxic Relationship

As the body count of unarmed Black Americans murdered by state-sanctioned violence continues to rise, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the United States and its citizens of color.

America is like a parent who tells you “you ain’t nothing, you ain’t never gonna be nothing” and when you prove them wrong by building your city, your Greenwood, or your Rosewood, they burn it down and leave you to fend for yourself.

America is like a sibling in denial about their status as “favorite” who insists if you would just call Mom and Dad more often but refrain from pointing out the disparities between your treatment in the education, housing, employment, healthcare, and justice systems, they just might treat you better.

America is like the grandparent who gives your cousins free land, free housing, access to better education and jobs, who looks the other way when they are committing crimes and then wonders why you aren’t as successful.

America is like a fiancé who asks you to work three jobs to support his medical internship or be lover and secretary while he builds a business then when he gains success, has an affair with a white girl.

America is like a spouse who asks you to show your love and preserve your union by serving in the War of Rebellion, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam, etc. and then when you get home, denies your existence.

America is like your family who, after adopting some children from Europe, takes your room and makes your other sibling do all the chores.

The United States wants love and loyalty from a population to which it has primarily offered hate. I’m sure a relationship expert would point out the toxicity and probably advise any client experiencing this kind of abuse to leave.

But what if the toxic relationship is with your country of birth? What do you do then?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: The Re-education of the United States

If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself.” ~ Carter Godwin Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

Let me say up front that this only marginally about Candace Owens (Farmer). In case you aren’t familiar with Owens, she is a former anti-conservative, turned conservative and enjoys “approved-Negro” status among Trump supporters. In her latest self-proclaimed rant, she seems to mis-read an entire world erupting in protest after the government-sanctioned death of George Floyd, to declare him a “violent criminal” who should not be depicted as a martyr or a hero by the media. Her words have earned her the wrath of her many detractors who consistently deride her as, among other things, an attention seeker, a self-hating troll, a white supremacist or an apologist for white supremacy.

I don’t know that anyone has depicted Floyd as anything other than someone who did not deserve to die in the manner and for the reason he died. He wasn’t a martyr in that he did not choose to die; in fact he begged for his life and was met with indifference.

I also don’t know that Owens is an adherent of white supremacy which is defined as “the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society.” I don’t know how she feels about herself or about being a black women in this country.

I do know she is not the only descendant of the enslaved, brought to this country in chains, who seems aligned with the dominant culture beliefs of this country, namely white supremacy. That shouldn’t be surprising; white supremacy permeates ALL U.S. systems and ALL U.S. citizens have been indoctrinated through those systems and socialization to believe in the superiority of white people and the inferiority of non white people, especially black people.

The United States’ education system, in particular, continues to perpetuate a whitewashed version of our history that elevates whites as heroic, while ignoring the violence of whites toward non whites. As noted teacher, lecturer, and diversity trainer Jane Elliott says, “If you participated in the U. S. education system and don’t believe in white supremacy, you weren’t paying attention.”

The lessons learned in the education system are reinforced by the housing system which has historically made homeownership more difficult and less beneficial for blacks people; by employment and healthcare systems that have kept many black people underemployed and unhealthy; and by a “justice” system that has criminalized black and brown skin.

The resulting disparities are misrepresented as evidence supporting white supremacy instead of what they really are — the consequences of systems intent on maintaining the status quo.

Even when black people overcome systemic oppression, according to Robin DiAngelo author of White Fragility, their success only reinforces America’s belief in the myths of individualism (which says that we are each unique and stand apart from others), and meritocracy (anyone can succeed if he or she works hard) and “obscures the reality of ongoing institutional white control.”

Candace Owens may really believe what she says or she may be taking advantage of an opportunity to boost her profile and conservative bonafides. I’m not going to expend any additional energy her or anyone else stuck on dominant culture beliefs about superiority of inferiority. Instead, I’m going to focus my energy on encouraging those who have felt or feel inferior or superior to recognize that the systems intent on generating those feelings and outcomes prevent the U.S. from achieving its ideal and educate themselves accordingly.

As the U.S. demographics shift and the majority white population declines, change is inevitable. That change is already reflected in the youngest generations; the huge protests we’ve seen in this country are less about one person and reflect the dissatisfaction many, especially the increasingly diverse Generations Y and Z, feel with the status quo. And we will either be a country led by a minority or we can create a country where all are seen equally and treated equitably.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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.”


Broken Trust

It sometimes seems that those who have been the most marginalized in this country seem afraid to trust positive change, afraid to loose the little bit they have, afraid to believe in plans that could improve their housing, their communities, even their way of life.

But is it fair to expect those who have been intentionally prevented access to the wealth of one of the richest countries in the world, to suddenly trust people offering help without asking what is needed, people making promises when previous promises have been perverted, or people making plans for a community without including the community in the planning process?

“The Obama Foundation’s plans to build the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park have sparked a complicated, and at times emotional, conversation about race, class, segregation, privilege and power on the South Side.

The conversation has raised delicate and fragile issues: who gets a voice in the discussion, who gets heard, who gets action, and how the history of racial and class segregation shapes expectations.” ~ Lolly Bowean, Contact Reporter, Chicago Tribune

Inhale Agreement, Exhale Alienation…
Inhale Inclusion, Exhale Isolation…
Inhale Negotiation, Exhale Segregation…
Just Breathe…


Poverty Shaming

I was surprised to see a former military leader suggest the presence of robots at a fast food restaurant was the result of workers demanding an increase in the minimum wage.

There was no blame for the housing industry which has made it difficult for a person with one minimum wage job to afford a place to live or energy companies which are enjoying record setting profits while charging record-setting prices or any other entity which has contributed to a higher cost of living in this country.

Nope. All blame was directed at workers trying to keep their heads above water.

I guess I just expected a little more compassion…

The income-inequality trajectory observed in the United States is largely due to massive educational inequalities, combined with a tax system that grew less progressive…” ~ Beatrice Dupuy, Newsweek

Inhale Compassion, Exhale Inequality…
Inhale Compassion, Exhale Greed…
Inhale Compassion, Exhale Excess…
Just Breathe


Citizens All

I heard a former Army officer claim a level of U.S citizenship above those who had not served. But we don’t convey citizenry based on military service, race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation; all born or naturalized in the U.S have the same rights and responsibilities.

At least, that’s what our founding documents proclaim…

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”  14th Amendment

Inhale Equality, Exhale Exclusivity…
Inhale Responsibility, Exhale Avoiding Duty…
Inhale Citizenry, Exhale Captivity…
Just Breathe


Civic Duty

I had my first civilian jury duty last week. I WANTED to serve, although just for a short case, and that’s exactly what happened. I haven’t been able to format my experience in a way that fits this space but I know it was vastly different from the other jurors because of how we responded to the information we were give.

The trail reinforced for me the need to have defendants judged by their peers. And since we live in a country that incarcerates black and brown people at 5.1 and 1.4 (respectively) times the rate of whites, to me, that means more people of color need to be in the jury box.

Inhale Civic Duty, Exhale Excuses…
Inhale Fairness, Exhale Prejudice…
Inhale Justice, Exhale Systemic Injustice…
Just Breathe


Who Am I?

How do the descendants of the colonized, de-colonize ourselves? How do we recognize what is ours and what has been imposed on us? How do we differentiate between behaviors indigenous to our ancestors or adopted to survive in an environment where they were desired and despised? And does it matter to our current reality?

“Who are you?” Wakandan greeting, Black Panther

Inhale Whole, Exhale Broken…
Inhale Reclaimed, Exhale Disconnected…
Inhale Culture, Exhale Acculturated…
Just Breathe


American Experiment: Dominant Impact

The permissions granted to white Americans but denied to America’s citizens of color have created a sense of entitlement among the former and often sucked the hope of life from the latter.

A European, middle-class, “Christian” culture dominating all social constructs in this country has given white males in particular the confidence to act on whatever good or evil impulse they have.

Black Americans, on the other hand, frequently withhold permissions from themselves and their children to take life-affirming actions because of a sometimes imagined but often real risk of life-altering consequences.

… the fear he hears in the voices of his elders is…another fear, a fear that the child, in challenging the white world’s assumptions, was putting himself in the path of destruction.” ~ James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time


Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

Irony Deficient: Part 3

Each wave of immigrants to this country has been “othered” by the entrenched immigrants already here. Every group fighting for equality and authenticity has been “othered” by those who have won their battles. How ironic that once our own “tribe” achieves recognition, we don’t support the struggles of others to enjoy the full rights and privileges of being Americans.

“..belonging and inclusion [is] the only sustainable solution to the problem of othering.” ~ john a. powell and Stephen Menendian, Inclusiveness and Belonging

Inhale Welcoming, Exhale “Othering”…
Inhale Belonging, Exhale Excluding…
Inhale Including, Exhale Hostility…
Just Breathe