COVID Update: A Journal Entry

Michigan started reopening businesses and lifting restrictions but the stay at home order was extended. Some of our friends in the salon industry still haven’t received guidance on how or when they’ll be able to reopen doors. Among a list of other industries and individuals, restaurants as hurting as well.

Our daycare, which has remained open for essential workers, is finally accepting children for their summer program. That means the kids go back to daycare June 1st. I have a lot of emotions regarding that decision. The only thing keeping me sane is the reassurance that they have been open and have had no reported cases of COVID-19. I’ve been pressured to provide my return date so I’m thankful for the summer program though my work has continued from home.

I’ve been appalled by people’s behavior. After using the Facebook Snooze for 30 Days feature, my feed is beginning to refill with hatred, venom, and disrespect once more. This time I’m unfriending. Our interactions in the past do not tie us together for life.

Perhaps you’re scared or hurting and you’re lashing out. Maybe this is a low point for you. I understand. I know without a doubt that I have been in that position before and people have unfriended me whether over social media or in real life because of it. I don’t believe that you cannot change or that you’re a terrible person. But we’re not good enough friends to have a heart to heart over it and I need to make the best decision for me.

Maybe you’re not scared or hurting but you’re lashing out in anger. Maybe you think your posts are funny. I get that too. I’ve perpetuated hate toward people I’ve never met out of ignorance or bigotry or a societal influence I didn’t even know was there. I’ve been working on it for a while now but there are days that I come across an article or a post or a different perspective that lays bare my sins. It’s uncomfortable. And condemning.

But let me caution you with this: If you’re a Christian, watch what you’re putting out on social media. Be ready to receive correction and do so with grace. You can have different opinions but let’s do it without hate or shame or mockery of a person or group of people. It’s not a good look and certainly not one you’d be proud to bring to the cross.

Black History = American History

My daughter and I have been talking about black history lately. She just started kindergarten and sometimes I worry that she’s too young to hear about so much pain. That thought is quickly followed by this one: “What a privilege. How nice to be able to protect her from that because she’s young – and white.” More importantly: How misguided.”

I recently attended a fundraiser for Mel Trotter Ministries. It was a purchased luncheon in a packed ballroom with a magnificent keynote speaker. You may know the keynote speaker, Bryan Stevenson, for his law work, his book, perhaps his TED talk, for the Equal Justice Initiative he founded, or maybe from the upcoming movie about his life. (Aside: It stars Michael B. Jordan, it’s based on Stevenson’s book Just Mercy; it looks so good!).

In his speech, similar to his TED talk, Mr. Stevenson spoke about our history. He talked about mass incarceration, a conversation I have just recently started to unfold thanks to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. He talked about lingering hate and fear. And he made a point to mention Germany and Rwanda and how they talk about their history. You will not find a statue of Hitler in Germany; Germans want you to visit the Holocaust memorial. Rwandans want to talk to you about apartheid. But what about Americans? It would seem, based on our remaining statues and lack of memorials to the victims of racial violence, that we don’t really want to discuss our history.

Our history.

I consider myself to be a good person, albeit incredibly flawed. I’ve said terrible, hurtful things – sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose. I’m judgmental and aggressive. I am a sinner to and from my very core. But I’m also an advocate for a change – in myself and in others and in our society and in the world. A believer in grace. I’m an avid learner, capable of being taught. So I’ve been reading books about black history and also about our present. I’m listening to Podcasts and skimming blogs and articles and social media content. I’m reflecting on where I’ve failed as a white ally and where I’m improving.

And I’m starting the dialogue with my young daughter about our heartbreaking history. Our American history. I believe that my job (in part) is to open my ears to the stories passed down. And in opening my ears and the ears of my children, I am opening my eyes to truth. A truth that I believe will reshape our future.

If you have a young child who is capable of grasping some big topics, I recommend picking up Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine. It’s a true story from the Underground Railroad about a man named Henry who lost his family and found freedom from a big wooden box. Based on recommendations, it’s geared to first graders and above but it generated some great conversation between my kindergartner and me!

For a little lighter read, I recommend The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. You’ll need to explain the backstory of the long fence that separates the town but it’s a beautiful story of friendship.

What are you reading? What books can we add to our list?

The Software Conference from a Woman

I attended a software conference last week as a customer. It’s a huge annual event with all day training courses and discussion, talks of future plans, and past accomplishments. There are happy hours and networking opportunities and entertainment. It was my second time attending and the event itself has only improved over time. In general, I had a great time. I learned quite a bit and came back to my office inspired.

There was, of course, still the irritating gender bias. There’s the good conversation that leaves you encouraged until it ends with some comment about your looks wrapped nicely in a comparison and insult to other women: “I have to say, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve sat next to at this conference.”

Trust me when I say, you really don’t.

There’s the behind-your-back call out in a training room filled with a majority of white men exclaiming “You must be a sorority girl!” because you know the difference between an epsilon and a sigma.

The fact that I was in a sorority in college isn’t really the point. It’s the stereotype he was going after, which he later admitted to me claiming it was an attempt to call me the coolest one in the room. And yet it resulted in introducing yet another point of separation between me and my peers.

During a happy hour networking event, I was encouraged to partner with another group because out of the group of 5, there was only 1 female who “hasn’t been with the company for very long and we don’t want her to look like a slut.”

I came home and told my husband about the good, bad, and ugly of my trip and he relayed a different side of the issue from a conference he recently attended. He explained that he was in a conversation with a woman and was surprised by her level of engagement. At several points, he expected the conversation to draw to a close but she would ask one more question. One more question. One more question. Based on his past experiences, he expected her to walk away after light small talk.

Now, I don’t know this woman and I am 100% speculating on their interaction but here’s my perspective based on my own conference experiences: Perhaps this woman came across someone who saw her as an equal and was surprised at the professional level of conversation. Perhaps she held onto that conversation because she wanted to exchange knowledge with her peers. She wanted to network.

If you’re a woman in a male-dominated field, do you find yourself walking away and cutting conversation short because of comments that do not belong in a work environment or because you want to leave a good conversation before it turns?

The thing about bias is that it can be overt or subtle. And the effects of that are also overt or subtle. A woman who fails to network is at a disadvantage. In some cases, the disadvantage is forced on her and in some cases, she may choose the disadvantage having been conditioned by past experiences.

For the longest time, I didn’t understand the need for programs that hold places for minority groups. I’m ashamed to admit that now. When I was younger, I naively believed we should be measured on things like grades and extra curricular activities alone. I didn’t factor opportunity or lack thereof into my equation. And while I was taught to appreciate those programs, I’m afraid to say that my support lacked understanding until I experienced gender bias for myself and really began taking notes.

I know a lot of people who don’t understand how bias plays out in everyday life. Again, I have been one of them and am one of them still. I do not claim to be fully aware of my own biases. But I know that they exist. I have been on both sides of the coin and it has taken me a lifetime to see that for myself.

It’s a difficult topic and I don’t really know how to wrap up this post. There’s no tidying this topic into one nicely wrapped package. It is so muddy and it involves so many different backgrounds. So instead of trying I will leave you with these two positive interactions at the conference:

I was able to talk about my interactions with my coworkers. They’re an amazing group of men, supportive and willing to hear and learn from my experiences. They ask me questions. They may be completely comfortable with the topic or feel completely out of their comfort zone; frankly I don’t know because they keep the line of communication open.

I also had a great conversation about work and the challenges of software evolution and work culture and family life with a man, a conference minority, that I sat next to during an evening of dinner and entertainment. We were sitting at a table of 8-10 and the two of us sat silent for a moment. It took a little time for us both to warm up to the conversation but it was incredibly enjoyable and encouraging and we’ve since reached out as networking contacts.

A Mile A Day: Day 9

Mile 9 complete. I let music surround me on my walk and it turned an external experience internal. Step to the beat. I can do this. 30 days. It’s nothing.

I was a junior or senior in college when a professor apologized to me for his realized prejudice. It’s nothing near what some of us have known from our very first breath but these experiences teach us how to empathize, don’t they?

I joined a sorority a couple of years earlier, unimpressed with the idea but open to spending time with friends I already had who had taken the pledge. I held a position on the executive board. Nothing special. I was a secretary. But I wore the letters on campus and I wore them to his class.

I had no reason to suspect anything different about this professor. But after weeks of mixing up another student and me, he pulled me aside.

“I need to let you know something,” he said.

He went on to confess to me that he continued to confuse me with another student because he didn’t think I’d be capable of producing the caliber of work I produced. At some point during the mix ups, he realized what he was doing and it weighed heavily on him.

I hate to admit it but I laughed it off. He pressed me to accept his apology but I told him it wasn’t a big deal. I was shocked. I didn’t know how to respond to such a brutally honest confession and I let it slide. I don’t think he let himself slide but I may never really know.

The worst part is that is stays with me.

How do you forget something like that? Should you? Should I have felt relieved that he recognized the wrong and tried to right it? Would I have been better off unaware, convinced that out of hundreds of students over the years, it took him longer to know who I was?

Have you ever been confronted with prejudice? How do we fix something if it isn’t discussed? How do we address something without adding responsibility to the innocent?