We Can’t Fix What We Won’t Face

This past Saturday I was interviewed for a new podcast series a young alumni of Howard University recently launched called “HU Move Makers”. I enjoyed the interview immensely despite feeling slightly embarrassed that I had forgotten some of the answers on the history of my beloved alma mater. Nevertheless, it also allowed me to get some interviewing practice for my own soon to be launched podcast series entitled “It’s Easy Son.”

I have done a number of interviews over the years, and this one flowed along well. We got past the discussions around how I became a CFO so young. Other topics included my upbringing in Jamaica, and who were my mentors and advocates through school and my career. There was one familiar question that came up which under normal circumstances I would have answered and dispatched quickly. It was a simple question because of me being a person of color. However, for some reason the interviewer spent some time on the topic for about five minutes or more. For some reason, the question and discussion resonated with me this time in a way I did not expect. It was not until the interview was over and we spoke off microphone that I realized why that one question resonated with me the way it did.

The interviewer asked me how I felt about Mr. Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting. Because the question was asked outside of the formal interview, it had a mental hyperlink of sorts back to the question in the middle of the almost hour long interview. The question during the interview was on the issue of race, diversity and inclusion, but Mr. Arbery’s shooting was not mentioned during the talk. At the end of the interview I was able to contextualize his shooting, and link it back to the question in the interview. Thoughts flooded my mind because of the sinking feeling of “we have been here before and nothing has changed.”

An overarching theme in my responses to both questions (both formal and informal) is an expression I share often: “ We can’t fix what we won’t face.” A simple expression, but one filled with such a powerful truism. It challenges us at our core because the ills of our society are literally hiding in plain sight, yet we lack the collective will to properly address them. This entire topic of race relations, diversity and all their variations are complex ones, but they have one common denominator that always seem to be missing: LOVE!!! Every opportunity I get, I raise this simple missing ingredient to what we are facing on a daily basis both individually and as a global community.

Mr. Arbery’s shooting, in my humble opinion, is another example of the lack of love that some in our society continue to exhibit when it comes to people of color. I am a firm believer that if we lack love, we have no capacity to see beyond what is familiar to us. We can only love the things and people we surround ourselves with frequently. We can only love like minded people from our spheres of influence and comfort. We can even dare to go further and say that our love might be a facade because deep down at our core, we don’t love ourselves. It takes so much energy to hate. We must be exhausted at the end of day carrying such hatred in our hearts. I hasten to say that this generalization is simply to create a juxtaposition for us to sit quietly and ponder what has transpired since February 23, 2020. We have to ask that simple question: Why are we still here?

For those of us who have felt the sting of racism, bigotry, indifference and hostility, we in many ways have created coping mechanisms around activities like jogging or some other form of physical activity. These activities and others are escapes to burn off the stress of it all, and also do something that is beneficial to both our physical and mental health. Now to think we have to add jogging to the list of things we can’t do without concern because of being blessed with this hue of dark skin is another item we have to add to the checklist before leaving our homes. This is especially true if you live in certain states or rural parts of the country. It is another compartment we have to add to our lives.

Since the video of Mr. Arbery’s killing surfaced, we hear some of the old familiar sentiments. “That does not happen around here.” “I never knew that person had such tendencies.” “This is a total shock to this community.” None of the above are true. One thing I learned over the years is that we cannot simply dismiss this issue with “happy talk.” In the case of Mr. Arbery, if the tape had not surfaced we wouldn’t be having this national discussion yet again. It is that same level of inaction on the part of society as a whole that has kept us circling this particular wagon for so long. We seemingly cannot find solutions to it. Every time an event like Mr. Arbery’s shooting happens, I often wonder if God looks at us like he did to the people of Israel, and utter these words, “You have been wandering around in this hill country long enough; turn to the north.” Metaphorically speaking, our north should lead us to a place where there is mutual respect and love for everyone. I have to believe that we will get there. If not, hope dies in this quagmire of mediocrity we have cast for ourselves on this particular matter.

I touched on this issue in my book “It’s Easy Son, Quit Making Things Difficult.” Each decade we go through an exercise where we get outraged and nothing changes. We add new programs that end up being check the box exercises. They never have a lasting change. I wonder why? I know why. Once again, we can’t fix what we won’t face.

This is how I see this current situation. Until people of all races acknowledge that this is a problem, it will continue. Martin Luther King spoke to this point. Malcolm X addressed this point. Marcus Garvey tried to lift the topic to a level of consciousness to share this point. Regardless of the point of view or methodology, I think rational people can admit that to live like this is exhausting. It is even more exhausting for those feeling that they live under a constant state of siege. The mental toll is not to be taken lightly.

If this issue is not addressed comprehensively, the changing demographics in the world guarantee that this exhausting way of life will continue because positions are going to harden. For example, if the predictions that in the year 2027 minority students will surpass majority students on college campuses come to fruition, it has already been baked into the equation for continued exhaustion for us all. You can name anything that most fear is going to happen, and you can see positions and groups hardening their stances to keep things how they are now. We are comfortable right here.

This cannot be our existence forever. This must not be our lot in life as the nations of the world. However, it seems we lack leaders who are willing to sacrifice political or social capital to get this conversation going in a meaningful way. Until we get to that point of embracing that some of us will have to plant trees under which we will never get any shade, we are going to say it is too difficult to start. Then we go through the fits and starts that lead to the self fulfilling prophecy of our current reality that some of us loathe so much.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I will say it again, we can’t fix what we won’t face. The more people who see wrongs and injustices and look away, the longer this will continue. Hiding behind the comfort of our spheres of influence does not change the fact we have to live together in this world. Excusing the abhorrent behaviors of individuals who share our views is horrid regardless of our relationships with them, but it works as long as I am not challenged to change my perceptions of others.

Watching a pandemic decimate black and brown communities, and sending thoughts and prayers does not erase the history of why these communities find themselves in this predicament. Do we as a collective society truly want to investigate the disparities in life expectancy, economics, and social mobility? If yes, we are going to have to open a different conversation. A conversation that is going to be very uncomfortable, because there are interests who are keen on keeping things exactly the way they are now.

As a person who has dedicated a good portion of my life for the cause of young people achieving a college education, I must say that I see signs that future generations are ready for a change. There is an openness to listen to others. Hopefully a move to be more accountable to each other will cause a groundswell of activities geared towards truly having this tough but long overdue conversation. Who knows, but all we can do is hope that they get it right, versus the divide and conquer tactics that some in society seem to promote to this day. It is truly difficult to think “BIG” when small has us firmly in its grasp when it comes to this topic. Despite that, I believe we are being pushed to doing things differently.

The structures that have been in place to control and minimize people of color since our ancestors arrived to the Western Hemisphere are still in place. The remnants of the harm done over that period of time remains to this day. I must believe and hope that future generations of young people of all races will place that history in its proper context. This weekend we had another first that keeps my hopes high for the future generations. Princeton University had its first black valedictorian in its 274 year history. An eye opener to many, but we are trending in the right direction. Celebrating every milestone and accomplishment will keep this issue top of mind for us all. How is it possible that this is the first one in 274 years? That is the wrong question. The right question is; how can we keep this going? Engagement beats apathy everyday of the week.

How do we deal with this? I am glad you asked. We have to enliven our capacity to love others that don’t look like us. We have to be vulnerable and sit in spaces and time to truly learn what others are experiencing. We have to love the fact that we live in this rich tapestry of humanity on a global scale. We have to love the fact that living in a culturally diverse world enriches us all. We have to love the fact that it is okay for someone to think and act differently than we do. We have to love the fact that debate and discord will bring forth the best solutions when we are truly engaged to solve problems. The bottom line is, we have to build up our capacity to LOVE!!!

If it is one thing that this COVID-19 pandemic has given us is time to reflect. We must reflect on what we think is important in our lives as we exist in this world. Do we want to be living and looking over our shoulders every day while driving, working, playing, and now jogging? My prayer is that the folks who are sitting on the sidelines and always sending thoughts and prayers, will get in the game and try to score some real wins for our world. As an eternal optimist, I believe we can get it done, but we have to start at some point. We now need the smart people to help us determine what is the starting point. Mr. Arbery’s death is a good one if you were to ask me, because his untimely demise is yet another reminder of how swiftly life can be ended because we are afraid or unwilling to confront the underlying issues that have existed for so long.