On this day, 25 cities in the US are under curfew. Protests and riots are happening around the country. People are demonstrating, angry and frustrated at the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, killed by a white police officer this week. It’s a stark reminder of how racism is a part of the fabric of this country and a beneath the surface “normal” experience of many African Americans.
I will preface this post by saying that I realize this is an uncomfortable topic. What I write about below is just my own experience. If your experience is different than mine, please share it in the comments below. My intent is not to offend you. My intent is to share the power of deep listening. It makes us better leaders and better human beings. The two are inseparable. At the end of this post is a tool to do that.
My week has been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. I am neither black nor white. Truth be told, my race is not a big part of my identity. I was born in Pakistan but grew up from the age of 11 to 19 in Tanzania, Philippines, and Thailand and went to international schools. I have close friends of all races. What I love about them is their ability to go deep in human connection. We have gone through trials and triumphs together. So naturally this week, I reached out to several of them (white and black).
I spoke to my friend Ann (we’ll call her Ann to protect her privacy). She’s the mom of two young African American boys. I shared that I was feeling sad that we’re not in a better place in this country. I wanted to hear about her experience. She spoke about her conversations with her sons about how to put their lives above their pride, to be calm and obey orders when confronted by law enforcement. She spoke about the pain of knowing that no matter how educated her boys are, they will still have the experience of others seeing them as suspicious when walking down the street or jogging in the neighborhood.
We both sat with heavy hearts as she described the visceral experience of watching the George Floyd video. It sent her back to the time she visited South Carolina for her brother’s funeral and had to submit to a body search through airport security — the act of just having to obey someone who has more power because of their uniform. It wasn’t the first time. She travels all over the world for work and only gets consistently flagged for security in South Carolina. These micro-aggressions are exhausting. She is tired.
As I listened, I experienced being moved by her story. It is not part of my experience to be racially profiled. Yet, in that moment, I understood what it is like to feel powerless. It was a shared moment of grieving. I felt more complete as if a thread had been added to the fabric of my humanity as I understood another person’s experience.
Here is a tool to help you discover how you listen. This week see if you can listen at Level 3 or 4. It can change you and change the other person. New solutions can emerge when our hearts are moved. If you are so moved, reach out to check-in with an African American colleague. It may be as simple as: “How are you? You are in my thoughts in this time of high racial tension.” Yes, it can feel awkward. But it will help you develop your emotional intelligence, humanity, and authentic connection.