One of the most popular posts we’ve ever written was a Letter to Middle Class Black America. It began on an iPhone almost two years before publishing it while crammed in the back of a Delta jet after a brief but grueling business trip.
That post was an open invitation to those of us who have the means to re-design and refocus their lives, starting with their relationship with money. It was a request to overcome hesitation and discomfort; to acknowledge the issues staring our community squarely in the face and consider the FIRE movement as a viable pathway to freedom.
This post is different.
The sentiment in this post derives from a different chamber in our hearts; one that is admittedly filled with less hope and deep frustration. Recently, we’ve sat back and witnessed a dizzying array of reactions to the Botham Jean trial. You know, the one where a white, female, off-duty Dallas police officer claimed she thought she was entering her own apartment, only to find out she was in someone else’s.
Out of fear and God knows what else, she decided to shoot and kill that man in his home. Rather than acknowledge her error and attempt to save his life, she focused her attention inward and chose scrambling to save her job than taking simple measures to save his life. For this, she was convicted of murder and upon conviction was met with forgiveness from family members of the victim, the bailiff and the judge of the courtroom. Almost 48 hours after the verdict was delivered, the key witness in the case, a black man and neighbor to Botham Jean was shot and killed.
That’s all I have to say about that.
To say more is to invite greater pain and anguish into my heart. To say more is to add another cement block onto an already weary pair of shoulders. To say more is an attempt to top off an already overflowing tank filled with the blood of black bodies who have lost their lives for no justifiable reason.
Instead, I’ll turn my attention to the vast space separating the two worlds I live in. Through the lens of social media, in one world, I see silence, business as usual and excitement over the arrival of pumpkin spiced beverages. Just another Thursday.
In the other world, my black world, I see a community traumatized by the recent events, heated debates online about the tenets of Christianity, the lingering effects of slavery, and pure unadulterated outrage. Just another Thursday.
Moments like this are at the heart of why we are pursuing financial independence and encouraging the black community to do so.While FI doesn't solve all of your problems it does give you the flexibility to attend to the parts of your life that need attention, without fear of losing your livelihood. Click To Tweet
Here’s what I know.
The day after there is an incident that puts black America on high alert, we still have to get up and go to work. WE have to take that pain, tuck it deep into our spirit, apply a mask of strength and perform in a world where our trauma isn’t acknowledged. I’ve been there.
Not too long ago, while our country was in the midst of an incredibly sad streak of high profile shootings of black men by white police officers, I was on a business trip to a Southern US resort destination. I was visiting a beach-side property to meet with the management team and discuss ways to improve performance and strengthen our business relationship.
Before the meeting, I was watching the news in my hotel room, bracing for another riot all while just outside my window, I can see blissfully ignorant and unaffected guests sip beer and play volleyball. During that meeting, the person I met with was repeatedly offensive, and disrespectful towards me and the co-worker I’d brought along for the meeting. But as expected, I maintained my composure and let it slide; choosing to prioritize the well being of my work-self over my real-self.
On another business trip to a popular midwestern town, I chose to grab breakfast at an IHOP before heading to the airport. During my breakfast, I was questioned by the server for what felt like hours before he decided to do his job and take my order. “What was I doing in town”? What hotel was I staying at? Why would the business owners want to meet with me? I hated giving him my corporate credit card, because then I knew he would know more about me than I wanted him to.
If his cold, dead blue eyes weren’t an indicator of how he felt about having to serve me, the tattoos on his hand told me everything I needed to know. Between his trigger finger and thumb he had an emblem [tattoo] that I later discovered was a symbol of white supremacy.
I could go on. There was the time I had to train and supervise a fellow chef who was an open skinhead and had a swastika carved into the wooden handle of his spatula. The time a white coworker inappropriately touched a senior executive at a business cocktail hour, got caught urinating in a public area, roamed the streets outside drunk AF and still got promoted months later. Or the time a police officer almost ran me over in his patrol car in a Waffle House parking lot and then threatened to throw me in jail for “reacting” the way I did.
This is not normal or okay, and yet…it is.
It is generally accepted and widely known that in the workplace and in society, a bias exists. That bias works in the favor of some, but not all. Meanwhile, black people who are in positions of influence are encouraged to be grateful, suck it up and get this money despite what we see and experience. This is not sustainable.
The trauma so many of us have internalized is not like the mess a child makes after having too many sweets. You can’t just wipe it under a rug under the guise of “out of sight, out of mind“. We shouldn’t assume the trauma we absorb or the micro-aggressions we experience on a daily basis can be covered up by flesh-toned Fenty products; that a good workout is all you need to burn the extra serving of hatred you digested or that a good comedy on Netflix is just what the doctor ordered.
That energy has to go somewhere and if left unchecked it can trigger mental health issues, toxic behaviors and even hyper-consumerism. At best, many of the popular attempts to cope with the pain we feel in knowing we live in an unjust world are flimsy. Over time, ignoring that tension seeps into our homes, tampers with power dynamics and fuels conflict. There isn’t a corner of our lives that isn’t impacted because wherever we go, our spirit follows.
We need time to heal. We need the right to heal
We need to be able to afford to heal and deal with the challenges we’re faced with on a daily basis. We need time to make doctor’s appointments, meet with therapists, to care for our bodies, to take mental health breaks for the betterment of ourselves and the communities we are a part of. Otherwise, we’re all participating in a system that encourages us to ignore our pain and compartmentalize our trauma.
This won’t end well.
I don’t know what Botham Jean’s mother does for a living, but rest assured, after all of this is over, she may have to get up and go to work. My guess is when she does, she will be greeted with warmth, understanding and words of encouragement. She will be told to “take as much time as she needs”…”go home, we got this?”
But what about you?
You may not have lost someone you know in this latest struggle but after internalizing years of injustice, watching it play out on social media, the news, seeing it re-enacted on film, reading books that put it in historical context and going into places that don’t acknowledge it’s existence, what will you be greeted with on Monday?
When a well-meaning, blissfully unaware coworker tells you they had an amazing weekend at their friend’s uncles lake house, will you acknowledge your grief then? Will you tell them you spent the weekend drowning in your sorrows because it’s all just…too much? Or will you utter yet another canned response… “It was good, we just hung out at the house. Kept it simple“.
How long do you suppose you’ll be able to swallow this pain? How many times can you think twice about liking a post, sharing a touchy article or simply saying how you really feel on facebook because you fear your white co-workers will see it and opportunities to grow your career may be stripped from you? Why should you have to choose between your likelihood of promotion and your right to express grief? What is the cost of ignoring your truth?
Achieving financial independence may not create automatic happiness, but it will at least give you the freedom to exercise your first amendment right without concern of losing your livelihood. It will at least give you the flexibility to take some time without asking for permission. It will give you the freedom to be and speak your truth without fear that you’re throwing your career away. And if that’s not reason enough to pursue it, then I don’t know what else to tell you.